Shipping Perishables: Tips and Guidance

How to guarantee your products reach their destination as fresh as when they left.

If you run a business that transports perishable products, you are well aware of the complexities involved in shipping temperature-sensitive items.

When shipping food, pharmaceuticals and plants, there are many factors to consider in maintaining the cold chain for last-mile shipping, making it imperative that you operate an efficient, thoroughly planned packaging and shipping process.

Important factors include:

  • Transit time
  • Temperature to be maintained
  • Ambient temperatures
  • Size and weight of package
  • Transportation budget of package
  • Packaging and refrigerant pack budget

We will go on to outline the key considerations that must be made, and provide guidance on how to ship perishables safely.

Utilize effective insulated packaging

The most important factor when shipping perishables is to use insulated packaging that has been qualified to keep the contents within a specified temperature range throughout the shipping duration. For example, in the food industry it is required by the FDA that all raw protein perishable food items reach their destination at a maximum of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, injectable medicines generally need to stay within 2-8C.

Using the right type of insulated perishable packaging supplies, as well a sufficient amount and correct class of refrigerants such as cold packs, can keep your perishable products within the appropriate temperature range, and safe from spoilage.

Choose an insulated container that is suitable for the products being shipped. This might be an insulated box liner, an insulated bag with corner gussets already made to fit a box, an insulated pouch or an insulated pallet cover, depending on the quantity and size of goods being shipped, and the duration of the transit. These specialized packaging products are available from IPC and are manufactured using advanced thermal materials that substantially inhibit heat transfer.

Chocolate inside a PopupLiner box liner.

“When designing the package, keep it small. The less mass and volume you ship, the easier it is to protect; smaller is better.”

At IPC, we have in-house testing facilities that allow us to test shipments in various environmental conditions, ensuring the packaging will provide adequate insulation during shipment.

Add refrigerant cold packs to enhance performance

Once you have identified the insulated packaging required to effectively maintain the desired temperature within your packages, it is necessary to add refrigerant materials such as frozen gel packs. These cold packs are made of non-toxic acrylic gel, phase change materials – or PCMs – that are created to maintain a variety of temperatures. PCMs are typically used in industrial, high-end food shipments, as well as medical and pharmaceutical applications.  Also, the quantity of cold packs used will determine how cold your package gets, and how long it will stay cold for.

For frozen products, dry ice is another possible option for refrigerating your frozen packages. However, there are also limits on how many pounds of dry ice can be used in a single package, the reason being that the off-gassing is considered to be toxic CO².

Refrigerant cold packs with dry ice.

Choose the appropriate delivery option

Whether you opt for shipping perishables by USPS, FedEx, UPS, or by another carrier, a good rule to follow is to take a note of the exact time taken for each shipment, allowing you to determine the actual time you need to protect your packages for. Keep in mind that if your transit falls on a weekend, delivery may be delayed by 24 to 48 hours. If your shipment gets sent out on a Thursday or Friday, it may sit in a warehouse before making its way to the destination.

Label packages appropriately

Be sure to label all packages properly when shipping items using a shipping company. Clearly label the package ‘Perishable’ and ‘Keep Refrigerated’ to ensure the package is not left in areas with high temperatures for too long. Write a note of the necessary storage requirement, as well as details of the recipient, on the package. Make sure the recipient knows exactly when to expect the package, allowing them place the contents into the refrigerator or freezer immediately upon delivery. Labels such as “This Side Up” can be extremely helpful since pack-outs using refrigerants also require that all components are in place, and any shifting can alter their performance.

It’s also important to remember that the content of packages that are not packed properly can shift during transport, which can greatly alter the performance demonstrated in bench testing or performance qualification. For this reason, it is important to take appropriate action to prevent shifting, by using correct dunnage during early qualification.

An EcoLiner insulated box, filled with meat, vegetables, bread and fresh herbs.

Syringes inside a PopupLiner insulated pouch.

An Insulated delivery bag full of groceries

Be aware of shipping regulations

Cross-border and interstate ecommerce is on the rise, and having a solid understanding of international shipping regulations is essential. Are you allowed to ship food products to Canada? Can you ship dairy products to Mexico? Can I ship marijuana products that contain cannabis, THC or CBD across state lines? Making assumptions about international customs and regulations can be costly. As an example, Australia prohibits the importing of meat products (including dried and smoked meats), as well as fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Also, ‘customs holds’ can be applied to your shipment and this can add 24 to 48 hours to your transit, sometimes more. This should be planned for.

If you offer international shipping, you must always be aware of the regulations of the countries you are shipping to. Even in cases when it may seem fine to mail your products, it may be necessary to obtain a special import license for sending perishables.

Making the above considerations is essential for guaranteeing a successful delivery. Using the right insulated packaging, refrigerants and shipping methods can be the difference between a happy, loyal customer, and a bad review left on social media.

We provide various insulation products specifically designed for shipping perishable item, such as our CooLiner perishable shipping boxes and our advanced GelTech gel packs.

Over the past two decades we have provided effective insulation solutions for companies that sell a diverse range of temperature-sensitive items, many of which operate in the food, drink and pharmaceutical industries. Perishable food items commonly shipped using IPC insulated packaging supplies include fresh and frozen meat and poultry, chocolate, fish and seafood, dairy products such as cheese and milk, fruit and vegetables, meal kits and ingredients, smoothies, baby food, and wine and beer. Pharmaceutical and medical products commonly shipped with insulated boxes and mailers include insulin and blood products.

Related Products

PopupLiner Box Liners

Our insulating box liners are effective thermal inserts that effectively protect your perishables for up to 72 hours.

Refrigerant Gel Pack
Cold Packs

Gel packs, available with various outer coverings, help keep your perishable deliveries within a specified temperature range for even longer shipping durations.

Insulated Shipping

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