Shipping perishable goods is big business. The global cold chain market is expected to be worth $410 billion by 2028. Lots of people are shipping a lot 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 may have an inkling that you can’t just throw perishable goods into a box and toss them in the mail. But what should you do? You need to package your perishable items correctly, and ship them quickly. Use temperature indicators to show that your perishables have remained in a safe temperature range. Use overnight shipping or the fastest alternative option, and label your packages so that handlers know they contain perishable goods.
Use the Right Insulated Packaging
Insulating your perishable goods appropriately is one of the most important things you can do to make sure they stay nice and fresh all the way to their destination. You should place your perishable food shipment into a styrofoam box with sides at least one-and-a-half inches thick, or line your shipping box with thick styrofoam panels. Double-wrap perishable items that may contain or release liquid in watertight mailer bags. (Don’t seal up live seafood, though, because it should still be alive when it arrives and sealing it up will suffocate it.) Place an absorbent pad in the bottom of the box to collect any liquid the perishable items might release.
Pack Your Perishable Items with Refrigerants
Refrigerants keep your perishable items cool during shipping, so they remain at a safe temperature. This is particularly important for food items that may spoil if allowed to get too warm.
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 should maintain your goods at a temperature range of 32℉ to 60℉. Use gel packs for shipping things like fresh cut flowers, baked goods, chocolate, and live seafood. You can surround your goods with gel packs, as long as they won’t be crushed by the weight of them.
If you need to keep your perishable items completely frozen, use dry ice. You shouldn’t allow dry ice to come into contact with your skin or the food; handle it with sturdy gloves on and wrap it in paper or plastic before you put it inside your shipping cooler. Don’t ship dry ice in an airtight container – it releases carbon dioxide during sublimation and needs to be able to offgas. Your package could burst if the carbon dioxide can’t escape. Pack dry ice in the bottom of your shipping container and put the frozen items on top of it. Use dry ice for things like frozen meat and ice cream.
Use Temperature Indicators to Guarantee Food Safety
USDA guidelines for mail order food safety recommend that most perishable items still be cold or frozen when they arrive and that they should not be eaten if they’re not within a safe temperature range on arrival. But it’s possible for shipments to warm up and then cool down again during shipping, especially if you’re relying on cold shipping. Use temperature indicators so that you know that shipments have remained within the safe temperature zone the entire time they’ve been in transit.
Ship Your Perishables Overnight, If Possible
The faster your perishables arrive, the sooner they can be put into someone’s fridge or freezer and the lower the risk of them spoiling in transit. Always ship your perishables overnight if possible, and if it isn’t possible, choose the fastest alternative. Refrigerant packs only last a couple of days, and food can easily go bad if the shipment 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, putting a “perishable” sticker on the outside of your box will let the carrier know that the package should be delivered quickly and that it should be kept cold as much as possible – they might not be able to put it in a refrigerated truck, but they can at least keep it out of the sun.
The key to keeping your perishables fresh during shipping is to package them with the right insulation and refrigerants, and then get them to the recipient as fast as possible. As long as you follow these guidelines, you should be able to successfully send perishables anywhere in the country.