Guide to Food Gifts

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump

Food often represents more than nourishment. It can be a way to share traditions, affection, and create a sense of togetherness. Many of the upcoming holidays center around food. Food can be brought to share with others or given as a gift. Sometimes one can get caught up in all of the excitement and forget to step back and think about things such as:

  • Does this food contain any allergens?
  • Was this item canned with a recipe that has been tested and approved by the USDA?
  • How should I store this item until I am able to give it as a gift?

Allergic reactions from food can vary greatly depending on the individual and the exposure. Some reactions can be mild, while others can become very serious and life threatening. If you are making an item to share, it is important not to keep that “secret ingredient” a secret if someone asks how it was made. It is even suggested to include a list of ingredients that were used in the recipe.

The main concern here is that the food may contain an allergen, specifically one of the more common ones such as peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish or shellfish. Communication with others on how and where you created the food is key. For example, someone with a peanut allergy may ask about the chocolate chip cookies you baked. What if these were made the same time that peanut butter cookies were being made? Although there are not peanut products in the chocolate chip cookies, there is a good chance that the chocolate chip cookies may have come in contact with the peanut butter cookies. They then have the potential to cause an allergic reaction. It is important to communicate this to the individual who is asking.

Home canned foods are a beautiful and creative gift to give to friends. However, they can also be one of the riskiest gifts to give depending on how they are prepared. If the food was not canned properly, using a tested USDA recipe, there is a risk for botulism. Botulism is a food borne illness that can cause paralysis and death. The Richmond County Extension Center is a great resource to call if you want to make sure that the recipe you are using is safe.

Do you know if an apple pie should be stored on the counter or in the refrigerator? What about a cheesecake? How long will it be safe to eat? These are important questions to consider as you decide on the recipe you want to make. Storing certain foods at room temperature for extended periods of time can increase the risk of foodborne illness. Pregnant women, older adults, youth, and those with weakened immune systems due to disease are all at an increased risk of foodborne illness.

Let’s keep the memories and traditions around food in the community positive by practicing food safety. The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alyssa Anderson, MS, RDN, LDN at 910-997-8255.