UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the holidays approach, many people mull over gift selection. Giving someone food is a thoughtful and kind gesture. Giving someone food poisoning? Not so much.
To help gift-givers spread holiday cheer rather than foodborne illness, Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, shared advice for giving and receiving food safely this holiday season:
- Stick with shelf-stable items. Items such as cookies and bread can be shipped easily. But items that require refrigeration are trickier to ship and could spoil if shipped incorrectly.
- Follow approved recipes. Not all recipes from the internet are safe. If you decide to make canned food, follow a research-based recipe. Visit the Penn State Extension website for recipes and guidance on safe canning, from salsa to blueberries. In addition, some foods, such as soups, require pressure canning. For many, it may be easier to package the soup ingredients together in a jar for the recipient to make the soup themselves.
- Avoid certain homemade canned goods. If a research-based recipe or procedure does not exist, then the food should not be made. For example, Bucknavage explained, sometimes people want to make homemade flavored oil by adding garlic or onions to jars with oil. While commercial manufacturers can do this because they have specific procedures, these procedures require higher levels of control than can be accomplished by the home canner.
- If you give something that requires refrigeration, make sure the recipient knows that. They might take it home and put it on the counter. If the item needs to be refrigerated or frozen, write “keep refrigerated” or “keep frozen” on the package.
- When receiving food as a gift, ask questions. Should I refrigerate this? How did you make this? How long will this keep?
- Consider allergen concerns. Many people have allergies — some life-threatening. If the item contains peanuts or walnuts, the container should clearly state that. Also, be aware that items in your kitchen could contaminate food. For example, if you snack on peanuts while baking cookies, those peanut allergens could spread to the cookies.
- Give the gift of food safety. A high-quality food thermometer could prevent undercooking. An oven-safe thermometer for cooking a turkey or a roast is especially useful. A set of cutting boards also could make a wonderful gift for the home chef. Bucknavage said he likes to use the hard plastic ones for meat because they are easy to clean and dishwasher safe.
Hungry for more tips? The Penn State Extension website contains an abundance of resources on food safety.
–Alexandra McLaughlin, Penn State Extension