As we continue the season of giving, The Ocean County Health Department  (OCHD) wants everyone to help remember the military men and women serving our nation both at home and overseas this holiday season with gifts of food, but there are safety tips you should to know before sending that package.

Christmas and Hanukkah cookies on plate, elevated view. (Thomas Northcut, Getty Images)

OCHD spokesperson Leslie Terjesen says that there's still a little time to ship food to soldiers and family members in time for holiday cheer, but use care. "We don't want to send somebody something, and then have somebody with a food borne illness afterwards."

Some of the safe foods to ship overseas include, "hard candies, sweets such as pralines and toffee...they have a very high sugar content so there's really not any bacterial growth," said Terjesen.

"They're not perishable and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures," said Terjesen. "Especially being on an airplane and won't brake with rough handling."

Foods to not ship overseas she adds include, "canned goods, because the temperatures can get very high, then very cold and can affect the safety and quality of the food."

As an alternative, consider gift cards that can be redeemed in "a place that they can pickup cheeses or something for their house," Terjesen adds. "Food safety is always a priority."

You also need to be mindful of other restrictions on shipping food items.

Whether your sending food overseas to our service men and women, or sending your famous fruit cake to a relative, Terjesen adds that are certain shipping protocols that need to be followed.

"When you're mailing firm-dry cookies and homemade candies, wrap each piece individually," said Terjesen. "Pack the items in commercially-popped, or air-popped, un-buttered packaging-popcorn or peanuts."

She adds that you want to make sure the box that your using to ship is strong and big enough to accommodate what's inside.

Here is a list of recommended food items to send from the Ocean County Health Department:

  • Hard candies and firm homemade sweets such as pralines and toffee are safe because their high sugar content prevents bacterial growth.
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins and apricots, and commercially-packaged trail mix and nuts, need no refrigeration.
  • Dried beef or poultry, such as beef jerky, turkey jerky, or beef slims are safe to mail. Bacteria cannot multiply in food preserved by removing moisture.
  • Dehydrated soups and fruit drink mixes are lightweight and safe to mail.
  • Regional condiments, such as hot sauce and Cajun seasonings in packets, are useful for spicing up Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
  • Dense and dry baked goods, such as fruit cakes and biscotti, are good choices for mailing because they will not become moldy.
  • Commercially-packaged cookies in airtight tins, dry cookies such as ginger snaps and specialty crackers are good choices.

Here is a list of food items to avoid sending from the Ocean County Health Department:

  • If you are ordering food on the internet, NEVER order any food that requires refrigeration.
  • Do not send canned foods because the temperatures reached during mailing are very high and can affect safety and quality.
  • Do not send high-moisture baked goods, such as pumpkin breads, because they mold easily.
  • Fragile foods, such as delicate cookies, probably won’t make the trip intact.
  • Chocolate in cookies is likely to melt at the high temperatures.

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