Shipping perishables is big business. The global cold chain market is expected to be worth $410 billion by 2028. Many people ship a large number of perishable items: fresh and frozen food, live animals and insects, medical supplies and biological materials, cut flowers and more.
If you’re reading this, you might be getting the idea that you can’t just throw perishables in a box and drop them in the mail. But what should you do? You must package your perishable items properly and ship them quickly. Use temperature indicators to show that your perishables have been kept in a safe temperature range. Use overnight shipping or the faster alternate option, and label your packages so handlers know they contain perishables.
Use proper insulated packaging
Properly insulating your perishables is one of the most important things you can do to ensure they stay clean and fresh all the way to their destination. You should place your perishable food shipment in a Styrofoam box with sides at least one and a half inches thick, or line your shipping box with thick Styrofoam panels. Wrap perishable items that may contain or release liquid in airtight mailing bags. (However, do not seal live seafood, because it must still be alive when it arrives and sealing will suffocate it.) Place an absorbent pad in the bottom of the box to catch any liquid that perishable items may release.
Pack your perishable items with refrigerants
Coolers keep your perishable items cool during shipping, so they stay at a safe temperature. This is particularly important for foods that can spoil if allowed to get too hot.
Use gel packs if the items you want to ship need to stay cold, but not frozen. Gel packs are a better choice than water ice because gel packs stay frozen, and therefore cold, longer than wet ice packs. Gel packs must keep their products in a temperature range of 32℉ to 60℉. Use gel packs to ship things like fresh cut flowers, baked goods, chocolate, and live seafood. You can surround your products with gel packs, as long as they are not crushed by your weight.
If you need to keep your perishables completely frozen, use dry ice. You must not allow dry ice to come into contact with your skin or food; handle it with heavy duty gloves and wrap it in paper or plastic before placing it inside your transport cooler. Do not ship dry ice in an airtight container – it releases carbon dioxide during sublimation and must be able to release. Your package could explode if the carbon dioxide can’t escape. Pack dry ice in the bottom of your shipping container and place frozen items on top. Use dry ice for things like frozen meat and ice cream.
Use Temperature Indicators to Ensure Food Safety
The USDA guidelines for mail order food safety recommend that most perishable items are still cold or frozen when they arrive and should not be eaten if they are not within a safe temperature range upon arrival. But it’s possible for shipments to get hot and then cold again during shipping, especially if you rely on cold shipping. Use temperature indicators to know that shipments have remained within the safe temperature zone the entire time they have been in transit.
Ship your perishables overnight, if possible
The faster your perishables arrive, the sooner they can be placed in someone’s refrigerator or freezer, and the less risk they will spoil in transit. Always ship your perishables overnight if possible, and if not possible, choose the fastest alternative. Coolant packs only last a couple of days, and food can easily spoil if shipping is delayed.
Label your perishables to ensure careful handling
If your carrier offers cold shipping, they may require you to label your package as perishable anyway, but even if you’re not using cold shipping, placing a “perishable” sticker on the outside of your box will allow you to let the carrier know that the package must be delivered quickly and must be kept cold as much as possible; they may not be able to put it in a refrigerated truck, but at least they can keep it out of the sun.
The key to keeping perishables fresh during shipping is to pack them with the correct insulation and refrigerants, and then get them to the recipient as quickly as possible. As long as you follow these guidelines, you should be able to successfully ship perishables anywhere in the country.