When it comes to shipping food perishables, the goal is to have the food arrive safely, intact, and quickly enough to avoid spoilage. Depending on the type of food being shipped, there are many different factors to consider in order to reach this goal. There are also many regulations governing shipping perishables, particularly in the methods used for keeping them fresh. Here we provide a bite-sized guide to helping you get your food perishables where they need to go.
General Guidelines to Safely Shipping Perishables
When it comes to shipping perishables, there are a few general guidelines we recommend you always follow, regardless of what type of perishables you are shipping.
- Ship in a sturdy container, preferably one that can be sealed against leaks (those coming from inside as well as outside the container). If using a box, wrap it in two layers of brown paper for added protection.
- Fill your shipping container completely, using packing material (such a peanuts, bubble wrap, or tissue paper) to fill in any extra space that may remain after you’ve loaded your perishables.
- Clearly label the outside of your package, ensuring the address is correct and clearly written. Use permanent marker or a label secured with packing tape to make sure the address does not smudge or fall off. Also be sure to mark the package as containing perishable food.
- Alert the recipient of the package’s expected arrival date.
- Avoid shipping perishables at the end of the week to ensure they do not sit at the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.
- Because many businesses have limited cold storage space, do not send perishables to a business address without first confirming there will be room to properly store the food.
Safely Shipping Baked Goods
The season for shipping baked goods is upon us, and there are several steps you can take to make sure your candies, cookies, cakes, and pies arrive safely. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure the safe arrival of your baked goods is in selecting durable baked goods to ship. The most durable baked goods are those that are moist, firm, and hard, like pound cakes, quick breads, muffins, unfrosted cakes, seasoned nuts, candies, and some types of cookies. These baked goods hold up against the stresses of traveling through the mail system and should arrive with minimal damage, if properly packaged.
- Use two containers – one for your baked goods and one as the shipping container. With a layer of cushioning between these two containers (in the form of crumpled tissue paper, packing peanuts, or bubble wrap), your baked goods will have an added layer of protection from any impacts the shipping container may sustain.
- Wrap cookies individually or as a pair, back-to-back. If shipping more than only a handful of cookies, package cookies snugly in a tin, using crumpled wax paper between layers to provide additional cushion.
- Ship pound cakes, quick breads, pies, and brownies in disposable aluminum baking pans. The aluminum pans will provide additional support. Cover the pans with wax paper or plastic wrap and then seal the pan in a food storage bag.
- Place candies in individual bonbon cups or papers (or wrap individually in candy wrappers). Pack in layers separated by wax paper. As with the cookies, make sure the container is filled snuggly, using crumpled wax paper to fill any remaining room above the candy.
Safely Shipping Cold Foods
Special considerations must be made when shipping cold foods to guarantee the food is kept at a specific temperature until it arrives at the recipient’s address in order to avoid spoilage. Different temperatures are required for different types of cold foods. For produce, shipping temperatures can range anywhere from 32 up to 50-60 degrees, depending on the type of produce being shipped. For example, apples and broccoli need a temperature range of 32-36 degrees while cucumbers and bananas do well in a range of 55-60. Fresh meat must be kept below 40 degrees at all times to prevent the rapid growth of bacteria. Frozen meats, and other frozen foods such as ice cream, must be kept no warmer than 0 degrees. Be sure to research the ideal shipping conditions for the cold foods you are shipping.
- In order to prevent the spread of disease or pests among certain kinds of produce, there will periodically be restrictions on shipping certain types of produce across state lines. When shipping produce across state lines, be sure to check whether there are restrictions by contacting the State Plant Health Director of the recipient’s state.
- Select the appropriate insulation for foods that must be kept cold or frozen. Insulated foam containers work well for ice cream, seafood, and meat. The thicker the wall of the foam container, the more efficient its insulative properties will be and the less coolant you will need.
- Leaky perishables can wreak havoc on cardboard boxes and can delay, or entirely prevent, your shipments from reaching their recipients. To avoid this, wrap items that can thaw, melt, or otherwise contain liquid in watertight packaging. Line the inside of your shipping container with plastic liner and seal your cold food in a plastic bag.
- Choose the best refrigerant for keeping your cold food shipment at the ideal temperature. Gel packs and dry ice are the best options when it comes to keeping your food at temperature. Regular ice melts too quickly to provide enough of a cooling effect to keep your food at temperature, and when it melts, it has the potential to ruin your shipping container and the food you’re shipping. Generally, gel packs are recommended for foods that need to be kept between 32-60 degrees, while dry ice is better at keeping foods at colder temperatures. Dry ice is considered to be a hazardous material. There are regulations in place that govern shipping dry ice, so be sure to let your package carrier know how much dry ice your shipment contains. Also be sure to clearly mark on the outside of your package that your shipment contains dry ice.
Questions about Safely Shipping Perishables
Do you have specific packaging needs for safely shipping perishables? Contact us today to see how we can provide the packaging you need to ensure your perishables arrive safely.