A Few Tips for Shipping Perishable Items

A Few Tips for Shipping Perishable Items While most postal and courier companies allow to ship certain categories of perishable items, they are typically shipped at the mailer’s own risk. It means that it is up to the sender to package them properly and make sure the time in transit isn’t enough for them to start deteriorating. Here are a few tips for shipping perishable items that may come in handy.

Figure out what you can and cannot ship. The term “perishable items” (also perishable matter or simply perishables) refers to anything that can deteriorate while in transit. It most commonly includes different kinds of food, plants, and live animals (our primary focus in this article will be on shipping food). Some categories of perishable items are mailable, while others are not. Before shipping anything perishable, check with your carrier whether it can be mailed.

Keep in mind that domestic and international shipping restrictions may differ. For example, fresh fruit and vegetables usually can be mailed domestically, but not internationally. It is also important to look up the import restrictions of the destination country because some countries have very specific rules regarding the transportation and import of food items and especially plants and animals.

Choose the right carrier and shipping service. There are several things you need to take into account when choosing the right shipping company such as its reputation when it comes to handling and delivering perishables, whether the company ships the type of perishables you want to mail, and whether it offers express delivery. Express delivery is more expensive than regular shipping services, but time is of essence when you’re shipping perishables, and it is worth paying a little more to make sure your perishables don’t deteriorate while they’re being delivered.

Choose the right packaging materials. To properly ship perishable items, you’ll need a sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes, insulation materials, and coolant in case your perishables need to be refrigerated. Depending on the type of perishables you’re shipping, you may also peed packing peanuts or some other cushioning product, absorbent materials, and a plastic liner for the box.

Determine what temperature you need to maintain inside the package. It’s not as hard as you might think: you need to keep your perishables as cold as they were when you acquired them. Generally, fruits or shelf-stable baked goods such as cookies do not require refrigeration, some items need to be kept cold, and some need to be kept frozen.

To keep perishables cold or frozen, you’ll need coolant. There are two main types of coolant you can use for shipping perishables: gel packs and dry ice. Theoretically, you can also use wet ice, but it has many drawbacks including stringent packaging requirements and weight. Gel packs will keep your items cold (between 34ºF and 50ºF / 1ºC and 10ºC), while dry ice will keep them frozen. Keep in mind that some carriers do not allow to ship dry ice internationally, whereas other classify it as a hazardous material that requires special documentation and labeling.

Package and label your perishable items appropriately. When shipping perishables that must stay cold or frozen, it is important to pack them in the right order:

  1. Choose the right insulation. When shipping items that need to be kept frozen, it’s best to use a special Styrofoam container. If you simply need to keep your perishables cold, you can take a sturdy box and line it with Styrofoam sheets, insulated pads or liners, etc.
  2. Line the bottom of the box with absorbent material to capture any condensation or liquid.
  3. Pack the perishable items in watertight plastic bags and place them inside the insulated box.
  4. Surround the items with gel packs. If you’re using dry ice, look up the specific packaging requirements provided by the carrier.
  5. Fill any empty space with crumpled paper, packing peanuts, or another packing material.
  6. Close and seal the insulated box. Place it inside the sturdy outer corrugated cardboard box and seal the external box with packing tape. Make sure to tape the top and bottom of the box, as well as all flaps and seams.
  7. Clearly mark the shipment as “perishable” and don’t forget to add a package orientation label (“This Way Up”) to make sure it is handled properly. If necessary, also mark the shipment as “fragile”.

Ship your package at the right time. If you can’t afford to pay extra for overnight/weekend delivery, you should mail your package early in the week, i.e. between Monday and Wednesday, to make sure it arrives before the weekend. Of course, this tip only works when you’re shipping domestically. When it comes to international shipping, you should check the estimated delivery time and decide whether this time frame works for you.