All Things Shipping | Jun 21, 2022

How to Ship Food and Temperature-Sensitive Products

Sarah Rickerd

Advances in shipping technology and logistics have made it easier than ever to ship food and other temperature-sensitive items. In fact, although the global cold chain logistics market was worth almost $248.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2020, its value is expected to almost double to $410+ billion by the year 2028.

Yet, companies hoping to capitalize on new cold shipping capabilities still face challenges getting their packages safely from point A to point B. From proper handling to temperature monitoring, shipping cold items requires extra care and attention at every stage.

With the official start of the summer here and record high temperatures leading up to it, shipping perishable food and other temperature-sensitive products will be as challenging as ever. We’ll outline tips, examples, and best practices in order to ship those products safely to your customers.

What is Cold Chain Logistics?

Cold chain logistics—also referred to as chill chain logistics—encompasses all of the steps involved in shipping temperature-sensitive products from their origin to their final destination.

But cold chain logistics is about more than making sure items are sent on temperature-controlled trucks. Some of the different steps involved in the cold chain logistics process may include:

  • Temperature-controlled warehousing where finished items can be stored before they’re shipped to end customers
  • Contracting with temperature-sensitive fulfillment centers in various regions to minimize the transit time of cold items and avoid melting or overheating
  • Refrigerator trucks (also known as ‘reefer trucks’), which can maintain a consistently cool temperature throughout the delivery process
  • The use of specialized packaging and materials to keep items cool during shipping
  • The involvement of national carriers, regional carriers, and/or local couriers, alongside sophisticated route planning to minimize transit times 
  • Coordination between senders and recipients to ensure temperature-sensitive deliveries are received and processed quickly at their destinations

Some of the different types of organizations that use cold chain logistics include e-commerce companies that sell refrigerated or frozen foods, meal delivery services, and healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, among others.

Tips for Packaging Food and Temperature-Sensitive Products Before Shipping

Choosing the right packaging for your temperature-sensitive products comes down to understanding the specific requirements of your items.

  • Some food and temperature-sensitive products must be maintained at or below freezing (0O F) throughout the delivery process.
  • Some refrigerated items must be kept above 0O F, but below 40O F (the recommended upper limit specified by the USDA’s Mail Order Food Safety policies).
  • Some products may be chilled, but must not be frozen in transit, including many oils, paints, inks, and other industrial liquids.

Keep these considerations in mind as you choose the right packaging, cooling, and in-fill solutions for your items.

  • Start with a foam-insulated shipping container or a sturdy, corrugated box that can handle the additional weight of your cooling product. If you plan to use dry ice, make sure your container doesn’t form an airtight seal, as the carbon dioxide formed by melting dry ice must be allowed to vent out of the box.
  • Choose the cooling solution that will maintain your shipment at the correct temperature. Dry ice, pliable freezer packs, gel packs, foam brick freezer packs, and solid plastic ice packs are commonly used options.
  • Line your cardboard box with insulating material, and tape your cooling solution to the insulation or the box itself. This will prevent movement during transit that could damage your items.
  • Use additional in-fill material—such as bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or foam fill—to cushion your items and provide additional insulation.
  • If your shipment is extremely temperature-sensitive, consider the use of a temperature monitoring device that will ensure the cold chain isn’t broken in transit.
  • Label your box as “Perishable” or with the words “Keep Refrigerated” to help carriers and consumers recognize the time-sensitive nature of your shipment. If you’ll be including dry ice, make sure you label your package with the appropriate hazardous materials language, as required by your carrier.

Examples of E-commerce Businesses Shipping Food and Temperature Sensitive Items

Lohcally Artisan Chocolates | Columbus, OH all-natural, artisan-crafted chocolate confections

For many of us growing up, chocolate was just another sweet fix like all other candies. But for Denise Steele, chocolate was a destination event, a treasure, and a way to connect with her local community. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that she began the process of running her own chocolate business.

Lohcally Artisan Chocolates

She enrolled in the Ecole Chocolat Professional Chocolatier Progam where she graduated with honors. After that, Lohcally was founded in Columbus, OH where chocolates can be purchased in person at local retailers and pop-up shops.

Lohcally chocolates are made with the finest ingredients in the entire industry, use all-natural flavors and colors, are artisan-crafted, use locally sourced ingredients when possible, and exercise social responsibility when sourcing from small cacao farmers.

In order for Lohcally to ensure that people ordering online got the same quality as people shopping in the Columbus area, they had to take a couple of key steps.

When shipping out orders, Denise attempts to have all shipments arrive in customers’ hands within two to three days max. Lohcally Artisan Chocolates’ goodies are packaged with insulation and ice packs to help prevent any chocolate from melting. Even with those processes in place though, anything that exceeds a three-day delivery is a huge risk for Denise and her team. However, using Shippo has given Denise the peace of mind she’s needed when it comes to shipping. Denise exclaims that with Shippo, Lohcally Artisan Chocolates has enabled their business to successfully deliver chocolates across the country due to the fact that “Shippo gives us an affordable rate and enables us to see accurate estimated shipping days.”

Ice packs and ensuring faster deliveries without having to charge too much for shipping has been the recipe for success when shipping Lohcally Artisan Chocolates.

Temujin Foods | House of Handmade Dumplings & Pies

Let’s face it. Between work, kids, school, or any extra-curricular activities we may be a part of, there is little time left for us to cook a delicious and nutritious meal let alone figure out what we want to cook. This was a dilemma Temujin sought to figure out.

Temujin Foods

Born out of dedicated weekends at home prepping for future family dinners, Temujin foods takes a similar process for their customers. All foods are homemade with fresh organic ingredients using a secret family recipe. Packages arrive chilled to help preserve the foods in transit and come in recyclable packaging.

Temujin Foods currently offers Samsa pies, manti dumplings, organic khan dumplings, and organic junior dumplings. All orders placed before midnight on Sundays are delivered on Thursdays the following week. This is to ensure you get the freshest food possible, minimizing the time it needs to be frozen and to arrive at your door.

“For Temujin Foods, Shippo is the best combination of technology, scalability, and value. Our mission to deliver the freshest dumplings and pies to our customers’ doorstep in no time is crucial. Shippo helps us streamline our in-house logistics with the critical regional delivery partners, so every insulated package containing dry ice is delivered in less than 24 hours to any household in California,” shared the founding Ashina Son family.

Temujin is able to ship food by creating a shipping policy that balances the taste of the product with the carrier services they offer. They also currently only ship within the state of California which also limits transit times without having to charge for expedited shipping.

Little Creek | Dry-aged Beef, Grass-fed Lamb, Ranch Goods Delivered

One of the most difficult foods to ship is undoubtedly raw meat. The risk of spoilage is higher than most items due to the increased sensitivity to temperature. But for Justin and Caroline Nelson, founders of Little Creek, they weren’t going to let this challenge stop them from delivering fresh quality meats across the country.

Little Creek Lamb & Beef

Little Creek started out with just four Icelandic sheep. This rare breed is famous for its tender and mild flavor and hasn’t changed much since the time of the Vikings. Within a year, Justin and Caroline began to herd cattle at their ranch in Montana and started selling meat online.

Little Creek now sells dry-aged beef primarily through subscriptions and grass-fed lamb through pre-order during the spring and fall. All meat is antibiotic-free and all livestock is raised with sustainability and soil carbon storage factored in. They also sell other ranch goods such as seasonings, soaps, cleavers, honey, lip balms, and more.

“We love using Shippo because we can ship our non-perishable ranch goods through USPS, and our perishable ranch-raised meats via UPS. Everything is linked to our e-commerce site and makes fulfilling orders so easy for myself and my team. Little Creek Lamb & Beef sends our pasture-raised meats all around the country using dry ice and recyclable insulated box liners. At first, shipping meat felt like an insurmountable challenge, but now we have it down to a science. It’s a humbling experience to be able to feed hundreds of families while also using our sheep and cattle herds to revitalize the landscape and store carbon. We would not have been able to grow so quickly without shipping products, and Shippo has been a wonderful partner!” shared founder, Caroline Nelson.

Shipping with Dry Ice vs. Shipping with Cold Packs 

Of the cooling solutions listed above, dry ice and cold packs are most frequently used by merchants shipping cold products. However, there are pros and cons to each option. Here’s when to use them:

Shipping Dry Ice Packs

  • Use dry ice when shipping frozen items
  • Do not allow dry ice to come into direct contact with food
  • Dry ice should not be used when shipping live seafood or flowers
  • Dry ice may not be allowed in international shipments, depending on your carrier of choice

Ice Packs for Shipping

  • Ice packs are a better choice when deliveries must be kept between 32-60O F
  • Because they are typically reusable, they can be a more environmentally friendly option
  • Carriers have fewer restrictions on the use of ice packs in shipping

Regardless of the cooling solution you choose, make sure to package your items in such a way that they won’t be freezer-burned by dry ice or damaged by the condensation or melting of standard ice packs. Using watertight plastic or vacuum-sealed pouches can help to protect items, while items like fruit that bruise easily might require additional protection when shipped with ice packs.

Carrier Services for Shipping Food and Temperature-Sensitive Items

No matter what packaging you use or how you choose to cool your temperature-sensitive deliveries, no packaging will stay cold forever. That’s why it’s important to choose carrier services that can get your shipments to their destinations as quickly as possible, while also balancing the higher costs associated with expedited shipping.

The following are a few recommendations from the nation’s top carriers on shipping food and other temperature-sensitive items:

Shipping Food and Temperature-Sensitive Items: Best Practices

Although cold shipping comes with complications above and beyond shipping non-refrigerated items, getting it right from the start is critically important. Not only do cold chain logistics failures contribute to product spoilage or waste, but they can also cause the kind of customer dissatisfaction that costs you business. That’s why you always start by selecting packaging that balances cost and temperature considerations.

You’ll also want to ensure that the carrier you’re using to deliver your packages can handle cold shipping. All three major national carriers are able to take in these types of shipments, but each has different rules to take into account. Regional carriers may also have varying rules.

In addition to that, a partner like Shippo can help you properly label your dry ice packages before printing your shipping labels with a simple click of a button. From there, the carrier you’re using will know exactly what to do with the package in order to get it to your customer in time before it spoils.

Sarah Rickerd is a Michigan-based freelance writer covering business, marketing, and technology topics. She is also the owner of Content Conquered, a B2B-focused content marketing consultancy.

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