Cookies and cakes: Send your sturdiest specialties―not those paper-thin butter cookies. Nestle the goods in an airtight plastic container lined with wax paper; fill spaces with bubble wrap.
Meat or fish: Get a foam cooler that’s “thick enough (1 1/2 inches) to maintain a cool temperature,” says Chris Williams, director of operations for Lobster Gram (livelob.com), an online gourmet-food retailer.
Gingerbread houses: Ship small ones, which are less likely to break. Cover with plastic wrap, then place in a box lined with foam and filled with excelsior, a finely shredded wood material sold at packing-supply stores. Finally, double-box.
How to Pack
Prepare the box. Baked goods, such as cookies and gingerbread houses, will probably stay fresh on their own and only need to be surrounded by bubble wrap or excelsior. For perishables such as meat and fish, fill a cooler with dry ice (search for “dry ice” online or in the phone book to find local retailers). Don’t touch dry ice with bare hands, though, or you may get frostbite; wear oven mitts for protection. For items like cheese, which need to stay chilled, not frozen, use gel coolant packs.
Finish the job. Stuff any extra spaces in the cooler with loose fill, then pack the cooler inside a well-cushioned corrugated-cardboard box. Be sure the box can withstand being turned upside down and shaken without the contents moving much.
How to Ship
Waste no time. Overnight shipping is a boon. Send early in the week so the package won’t sit in a warehouse over a weekend, and check that someone will be home when your gift arrives, says Amy Sisti, manager of the mail-order department for Murray’s Cheese, in New York City.
Label accordingly. Write PERISHABLE on the box. This will alert carriers to take special care, but more important, “you want the recipient to open it right away,” says Williams. Funky Feta? Stinky salmon? No thank-you note for you.
Play it safe. If you don’t want to spring for rush shipping, or if you don’t know when Aunt Jenny will be home, consider stay-fresh fare, like coffee beans or candy.