By Sheila Ryan

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent

Receiving gifts of food along with greetings is a special treat for members of the American armed forces.

It is important to mail food gifts that are not perishable, can tolerate a range of temperatures and won't break with rough handling.

Perishable foods are those that must be kept at 40 degrees or below to remain safe to eat. Meat, poultry, fish and soft cheese are considered perishable foods and should not be mailed. These foods cannot be safely left at room temperature for more than two hours, much less for a week or more in the mail. Foodborne bacteria that may be present grow quickly at temperatures above 40 degrees and someone eating the food can get sick, according to Donna Liess, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent in Weld County.

Food gifts that can be safely mailed include dried products such as jerky, dried fruits, homemade cookies and candy. Low moisture breads like fruitcake and bar cookies are also good candidates for mailing. Food safety specialists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline offer the following advice concerning food gifts for armed forces serving away from home.

--Dried beef jerky, turkey jerky or beef slims are safe to mail. Bacteria can't multiply in food preserved by removing moisture.

--Dehydrated soups and fruit drink mixes are lightweight and safe to mail. Condiments such as hot sauce and seasonings in packets are useful for spicing up Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

-- Canned specialties such as corned beef, shelf-stable hams, anchovies, shrimp, dips, and cracker spreads make nice treats. Recipients should be cautioned not to use any cans that are damaged or swollen. Foods in glass containers should not be mailed because the container can break.

--Dense and dry baked goods such as fruitcakes, biscotti and dry cookies such as gingersnaps are good choices for mailing because they will not become moldy. Commercially packaged cakes and cookies in airtight tins, and crackers are also suitable for sending.

--High-moisture baked goods, like pumpkin bread--while safe at room temperature for a few days--should not be mailed because they will most likely mold before delivery. Fragile foods like delicate cookies won't make the trip intact.

--When mailing firm cookies and homemade candies wrap each piece individually and pack items in commercially popped popcorn or foam packing "peanuts" to help cushion the trip. Place the foods in a sturdy box and seal it securely with packing tape.

--Dried fruits such as raisins and apricots, canned nuts, canned fruit, commercially packaged trail mix or granola need no refrigeration and mail well.

--Hard candies and firm homemade sweets such as fudge, pralines, and toffee are safe to mail because their high sugar content prevents bacterial growth.

--Mail order foods such as shelf-stable summer sausage, cheeses, cakes and snacks can be ordered on the Internet or through mail order catalogs. Do not order any food gifts that must be kept refrigerated.

Further food safety information is available at http://www.fsis.usda.gov.

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