Mailing Food to Troops Overseas: A Guide to Holiday Care Package Do's and Don'ts

Do you have a friend or loved one on active duty overseas? If you'd like to send them a holiday food package this season, go right ahead! But here are a few rules to keep in mind when shipping edible goodies to troops overseas:

DON'T

Don't send homemade goods to soldiers you don't personally know. If you plan to send homemade cookies or treats, you MUST have the name and address of an individual soldier. Troops are instructed to throw away homemade food from people they don't know.
Don't mix food and non-food contents. Because these items are often in the same box for weeks at a time, smells mingle and can ruin food items, i.e. soapy-tasting cookies.
Don't send perishable foods, including meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, dairy, or any other foods that cannot safely be left at room temperature for more than two hours. This includes cookies and cakes with a cream or custard filling.
Don't send alcohol.
Don't send pork or pork products, since they are forbidden for religious reasons.
Don't send high-moisture foods, like pumpkin bread or soft cookies, because of their susceptibility to molds.
Don't send fragile cookies, cakes, or pies, since they probably won't make the trip intact.
Don't send foods containing chocolate, since they could melt.
Don't pack or send any food in glass or other breakable containers.

DO

Do pack foods in clean paper boxes, metal food tins, or plastic boxes or bags.
Do send dried beef or poultry items like beef jerky, turkey jerky or beef slim.
Do send dense and dry baked goods like biscotti, nut bars, shortbread, ginger snaps, crackers, chips, commercially packaged cakes and cookies, and high-sugar goods like fudge, pralines, toffee, and baklava. (The high sugar helps prevent bacterial growth.)
Do vacuum-seal any homemade goods if you want to be EXTRA sure they'll still be safe to eat when they arrive at their destination.
Do send dried nuts, seeds, and fruit, like trail mix.
Do send quality coffee and tea!
Do send canned specialty foods like anchovies, tuna, sardines and dips and spreads.
Do send dehydrated soups, drink mixes, and condiments in unbreakable jars.

HOW TO PACKAGE and MAIL

Important note: The United States Postal Service is the only mail service allowed to send packages to stationed troops. International rates do not apply to military mail delivery.

• Use a USPS Priority APO/FPO/DPO boxes to ship items overseas.
• When mailing homemade baked goods, make sure each piece is individually wrapped and then packed into an unbreakable container. Place the gifts in a sturdy box and cushion with packing peanuts or foam. Seal it securely with packing tape.
• Address labels should be readable from 30 inches. Print CLEARLY. Packages must be addressed to an individual service member. Cover the label with clear tape.
• Label the package "Fragile" and "Perishable Food" in three places: above the address, below the postage stamp, and on the back or bottom of the package.
• Fill out a custom form. Use a PS 2976-A form.
• It usually takes a week to 11 days for packages to arrive at operating bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Kuwait. It can take much longer to arrive at various outlying bases in Afghanistan. It's recommended to send Christmas packages no later than December 7 to ensure arrival by December 25th.

Have you sent food packages to soldiers overseas? If so, share your favorite foods, recipes, and tips!

Related: How To Mail Homemade Bread

(Image: Gregory Han)