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How to Ship Food

Shipping food presents a unique challenge, requiring the proper containers and procedures to ensure the food arrives in good condition. From appropriate packaging to temperature control methods, various factors impact your food's quality when it reaches its destination. In addition to explaining how to ship food, we describe what shipping supplies you'll need, how to use dry ice, and answer common questions so you can ship food with minimal issues.

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Use the following links to learn how to ship food:

  1. How to Ship Frozen Food
  2. How to Ship Refrigerated Items
  3. How to Ship Meat
  4. Shipping with Dry Ice
  5. How to Ship Dried Food
  6. Types of Food Shipping Containers
  7. Types of Coolants
  8. Shipping Food FAQ

How to Ship Frozen Food

Frozen food is trickier to ship than any other type of food due to the difficulty in maintaining temperature control, but it is possible. The keys to successfully shipping frozen food are ensuring proper insulation and using appropriate coolants. Pack food tightly in insulated shipping containers with extra-thick walls and check the seal on the container to ensure it functions correctly. You can also add an insulated liner to further protect against temperature changes. Additionally, dry ice is a better coolant for frozen food since it maintains a cold temperature for longer than cold packs.

When shipping frozen food, choose the quickest shipping option available. Overnighting frozen food helps ensure the food arrives without defrosting. Additionally, use packing peanuts or another padding to keep food from shifting, which will warm it up faster.

Here are some other things to know before you decide to ship frozen food:

Restaurant Equipment
  • Frozen foods require dry ice as a coolant, which maintains cold temperatures longer but should be used with caution. Wear gloves and goggles during handling to keep the skin from being exposed and burned.
  • Seal food tightly in a plastic bag. Make sure the food doesn't touch the dry ice.
  • Dry ice and frozen foods generally can't be sent overseas.
  • Check with your shipping carrier to find the amount of dry ice you can use and comply with the carrier's rules.
  • Warn the recipient if the package contains dry ice. Label this clearly on the outside of the container.

How to Ship Refrigerated Items

While shipping refrigerated items does not require as much effort as frozen food, you still need to be extra cautious to keep the food at a safe temperature or to keep temperature-affected items from melting, like chocolate. You can ship perishable foods like fresh fruits and cheeses using insulated packaging, plastic liners, and coolant to keep the food fresh. Unlike frozen food shipping, pack refrigerated items with cold packs rather than dry ice unless the food will be in transit for long periods.

Once the package has been shipped, it is the recipient's job to open it immediately and ensure the food is still cold when it arrives using a food thermometer. Most foods should not be warmer than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is over 41 degrees, the recipient should never eat or test the food.

Here are some other conditions for shipping refrigerated items:

Restaurant Equipment
  • Line the interior of your insulated carrier with cold packs, then place it inside a sturdy corrugated cardboard box.
  • Perishable food should be vacuum sealed or sealed in plastic bags.
  • Mark the package as "Perishable - Keep Refrigerated" on the outside and make sure the label is clearly visible. This warning notifies the recipient that the food needs refrigerated or frozen as soon as they receive it.
  • Make sure the items are not wet and packaged in a leakproof manner. Moisture causes issues with food safety and quality.

How to Ship Meat

Shipping meat is similar to shipping frozen or refrigerated food with a few special considerations. Meat should ideally be shipped overnight, as it needs to stay cold. Since it is perishable, the container should be clearly marked "Keep Refrigerated" on the outside of the box. It should arrive at a temperature less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, even if the meat is smoked, cured, or vacuum-packed.

Since meat is a TCS food, extra insulation and coolant might be necessary to ensure it stays out of the temperature danger zone. An insulated liner helps achieve additional temperature control, as does an insulated shipping container with thick walls. Additionally, use plenty of padding to protect the meat products in transit since they are easily damaged.

Shipping with Dry Ice

Dry ice is a crucial component in shipping frozen or refrigerated food items, but it has many regulations and restrictions associated with it. Since dry ice is a hazardous material, clearly label packages containing dry ice and follow proper shipping and safety regulations. Additionally, check that no dry ice directly contacts food items or bare skin. This mistake can cause frostbite and freezer burn, and it will also decrease the quality of your food.

Below are several common questions about shipping food with dry ice.

What Is Dry Ice?

While regular ice is the solid form of water, dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide. It forms when carbon dioxide gas freezes at extremely cold temperatures, making it perfect for keeping chilled or frozen goods cold during shipping. Moreover, it doesn't create moisture when it melts.

How Long Does Dry Ice Last?

There is no exact answer for how long your dry ice will last since it depends on the storage conditions. If stored correctly, dry ice can typically last anywhere from one to three days. Large quantities of dry ice can last up to five days. If dry ice is left in the open, it will sublimate in a few hours.

How Cold Is Dry Ice?

Dry ice is -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Bare-skin contact causes severe frostbite, so handle it with care.

How to Dispose of Dry Ice

Do not throw dry ice away in the trash or dump it down the drain. Instead, place the dry ice in an open, well-ventilated area. It will sublimate in a few hours.

How to Store Dry Ice

Do not store dry ice in a refrigerator or freezer since both maintain temperatures too warm for it. Instead, keep dry ice in a cooler or insulated foam container. The lid should not be airtight since proper ventilation helps keep the dry ice cold.

Where Can I Get Dry Ice?

You can buy dry ice at grocery stores and butcher shops. The larger your shipment, the more dry ice you need. Surround the food product for uniform freezing, but the dry ice shouldn't directly touch the food.

How Much Does Dry Ice Cost?

The price usually ranges from $1 to $3 per pound. You can get dry ice in snow, pellet, or block form.

How to Ship Dried Food

Non-perishable, dried food items are the easiest to ship since they have a longer shelf life and do not require temperature control. Therefore, you don't need an insulated shipping container, ice packs, or other types of coolant included in the shipping container for shipping items like cookies, chips, or dried fruit. Instead, pack your goods in a sturdy cardboard box with packing peanuts, bubble wrap, or shredded paper as padding. Packing your container in a way that minimizes movement ensures your food arrives at its destination unharmed.

Despite their durability, dried foods should not be subjected to extreme temperatures during shipping, which could damage the integrity of the food. Additionally, they should still be removed from the shipping container and inspected as soon as the items arrive.

Types of Food Shipping Containers

Whether shipping and distributing food to restaurants, catering services, or directly to consumers, selecting the best food shipping containers is vital to ensuring product quality. These containers help maintain temperature control, prevent leakage, and protect your food items from damage during transport. Using the correct packaging for each task helps your package get to the recipient without losing its quality. Tamper-evident containers can keep your food safe from malicious contamination en route.

Below are several types of food shipping containers recommended for your shipments.

Restaurant Equipment

Insulated Shipping Boxes

Insulated shipping boxes are an absolute necessity when shipping frozen or refrigerated perishable food. Typically, these containers are made of foam to provide the best insulation. Whether you ship frozen ribs or pies, you can find boxes of all shapes and sizes to ensure your food is packed securely during transport. However, many states have issued styrofoam bans, which might cause issues when shipping food using these containers.

  • Goes inside the corrugated shipping boxes
  • Thicker foam walls allow food to last longer in transit
  • 3/4” thick foam preserves food overnight, 1 1/2” thick foam preserves food for up to five days
Restaurant Equipment

Plastic Liners

Using plastic liners to wrap food items and line the inside of the insulated box prevents moisture from damaging the other contents. Some people also used insulated box liners as an extra layer of protection against temperature changes. Regardless of which option you choose, check that your liner is watertight and leakproof.

  • Line the inside of the insulated shipping box
  • Double-line items that are more prone to leaking
  • Options for insulated liners for additional temperature protection
Restaurant Equipment

Corrugated Boxes

While some people choose to use coolers as a shipping vessel, the most common outer shell of the food shipping bundle is corrugated boxes. These sturdy boxes protect the contents from damage during handling and in transit. Additionally, they are easy to label and often come with "This Side Up" indicators.

  • Check the box for damage or holes before packing food inside
  • Fully seal the box with recommended packing tape
  • Properly label the box with shipping information, warnings, and instructions

Types of Coolants

Coolants are essential when shipping frozen or perishable food items to ensure your products arrive at their destination unspoiled. There are two primary types of coolants: dry ice and cold packs. Dry ice is typically used for shipping frozen foods since its cold temperature lasts longer than ice packs, but it's considered a hazardous material and has strict shipping regulations.

Cold packs are easy to use and have fewer shipping restrictions than dry ice, but they dethaw faster. Additionally, many can be refrozen and reused multiple times. These coolants are typically used when shipping refrigerated goods and in tandem with dry ice when shipping frozen goods. There are several types of cold packs, each with distinct features that accommodate specific needs.

Restaurant Equipment
  • Gel ice packs: As the most common cold pack, gel ice packs have a flexible design that fits around food containers and into irregular spaces. They are ideal for shipping food, pharmaceuticals, and medical items.
  • Pliable ice packs: Flexible even when frozen, pliable ice packs bend and fold to fit in the side and tops of insulated shipping containers and pan carriers.
  • Foam brick ice packs: Unlike pliable or gel packs, foam brick ice packs retain their shape throughout the freezing and thawing process. They work best when used with soft-sided, foam, or plastic insulated coolers.
  • Solid plastic ice packs: Made from unyielding materials, solid plastic ice packs have a block of ice contained by a layer of durable plastic. They can be challenging to fit in an irregularly packed shipping container.

Shipping Food FAQ

Given the complexity of shipping food, below are answers to some frequently asked questions that will help you avoid common mistakes when you ship food.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn

While it doesn't cause contamination or bacteria growth, freezer burn harms the quality and taste of food. Freezer burn occurs when frozen foods lose moisture and become dehydrated, causing ice crystals to form and discoloration. These factors are pressing concerns when shipping frozen food, especially during the winter when conditions are colder. However, there are several ways to prevent freezer burn from affecting your food during shipping.

Restaurant Equipment
  • Place food inside the insulated container and surround it with cold packs. Fill all the space with packing peanuts to prevent the items from moving around, and ship the insulated container inside a corrugated cardboard box.
  • Refrigerating food before freezing it for shipping prevents food from losing valuable moisture during the freezing process, reducing the risk of freezer burn.
  • Check your containers to ensure that they are airtight. A secure seal keeps frozen food from being exposed to too much airflow, which will further dehydrate the food and cause freezer burn.
  • Wrapping food in wax paper, foil, or plastic wrap within the airtight container adds a layer of protection to prevent moisture loss. This extra step keeps your food hydrated during shipping.

Can You Ship Food Internationally?

Perishable foods that are affected by temperature, including refrigerated and frozen foods, should not be shipped internationally. These foods will spoil before they reach their destination, but non-perishable food can be shipped internationally if you follow regulations. Check your non-perishable food to ensure it complies with the destination country's international shipping restrictions. Food must be sealed, labeled with a list of ingredients, and shipped in the original manufacturer's packaging. Once the package arrives, check with the recipient to ensure they accepted the shipment.

Can You Overnight Food?

Perishable food deteriorates quickly if exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity. Dry goods like nuts and hard candies are not perishable, but seafood, dairy, fresh vegetables, and meat will spoil. Perishable items should be shipped overnight, and food must be labeled appropriately if it requires refrigeration or freezing.

How to Pack Food for Shipping

Packing food correctly during shipping reduces exterior and interior damage, and you need to use the correct containers and coolants for food items. Additionally, pack your food in such a way that it can withstand handling in different orientations without damaging the goods inside. Once your food and coolant are ready, use the following steps to properly pack food for shipping.

Restaurant Equipment
  • Line an insulated foam container with either a single or double watertight plastic liner. This liner prevents moisture from damaging goods if food items begin to melt or thaw.
  • Place the food item and coolant inside the container. Be sure that items will not shift during transport.
  • Put the packed container in a corrugated box or another sturdy container.
  • Place the proper shipping label on the top of the outer box.

Do I Use Dry Ice or Cold Packs for Shipping Meat?

It is best to use a combination of dry ice and cold packs to ensure the meat stays cold, and you need to use dry ice if the meat is frozen. Cold packs are easier to use, are not hazardous, and have fewer shipping regulations and rules. However, they dampen when they thaw and warm up more quickly than dry ice.

In contrast, dry ice lasts longer than cold packs and maintains a colder temperature. It stays dry within the packaging, reducing the risk of moisture damaging food items or packaging. However, it must comply with shipping carrier rules since it is hazardous, and additional safety precautions should be taken.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.

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