How to Ship Perishable Food Items

As the number of customers buying goods from the comfort of their homes keeps increasing, finding cost-effective ways to safely ship perishable goods becomes a big challenge for eCommerce businesses. Improper shipping methods can damage the food items, making them harmful to eat and causing you to lose money. 

Before you consider setting up an online grocery outlet, you need some important tips for shipping perishable goods. 

What are the Challenges of Shipping Perishable Foods?

Perishable food shipping

Perishable foods are those that lose their value, pose a health risk, or smell bad if they are stored for more than seven calendar days under normal transportation and storage conditions.

Before diving deeper, it is vital to know the factors that make shipping perishable food difficult. These factors include:

Extreme weather conditions

When the weather is extremely hot or cold, it has a significant impact on perishables, particularly if they aren’t adequately packed to survive the severe temperatures. Because temperatures can change, it’s best to use express courier services instead of regular shipping services to keep things from getting spoiled.


Another big concern for perishable foods is humidity, which is combined with heat in general. Gel packs and other coolants can keep frozen perishable food from melting while it’s being shipped.


Another issue that perishable food merchants confront during delivery is spoilage. When food is not adequately packaged in insulated boxes and refrigerated before being delivered to its intended destination, it significantly increases the possibility of spoilage.

How Can I Ship Perishable Foods Safely?

When it comes to shipping perishable foods, every step of the entire transportation process matters. You need to package food properly, adhere to regulations, and deliver it within a specific timeframe.

If you’re moving houses, you can check our previous post on How to Pack Kitchen for Moving. For a safe and effective shipping process, follow these tips:

Step 1: Prepare for Shipping

Consider the nature of the food items you’re transporting and the protection they may demand before taking any action. Foods such as bread and pastries may not need to be refrigerated. Others, such as dairy and fresh fruits and vegetables, can be refrigerated, while frozen foods such as meat and seafood fall into a third category.

Consider the best shipping conditions and temperatures for non-refrigerated commodities and arrange accordingly. Similarly, chilled or frozen foods may require further cooling before delivery. Typically, you’ll need to keep these goods at their proper temperature for almost 30 hours before using them.

Some of these perishables will also need to be safeguarded from injury, such as water damage from thawing, before being packaged. Waterproof or airtight covering, cushioning, or foam inserts are examples of solutions you can utilize.

Step 2: Selecting the Proper Coolants

Foods that have been refrigerated or frozen must be transported at the correct temperature. Shippers use a variety of methods to do this, including:

Insulated boxes: Insulated containers feature a foam cushion on the inside that keeps the temperature cool. The more foam padding there is, the longer the meal will likely stay at the correct temperature.

Insulated boxes for shipping food
Insulated boxes for shipping food

Three-quarter-inch (3/4) thick foam is enough to keep everything cool overnight. One-and-a-half-inch (1.25″) thick packs are ideal for longer trips of one to five days. You can purchase reusable insulated bags from Musbus Store on Amazon.

Dry Ice: Dry ice is an excellent way to regulate freezing temperatures. It’s far colder than typical ice, at -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit. However, because it is basically frozen carbon dioxide, it is classified as a dangerous material. Also, dry ice needs to be handled carefully because direct contact with it could be dangerous.

Ice packs: Even though ice packs may not be as cold as dry ice, they can serve as excellent alternatives. Gel packs, foam bricks, and solid plastic are just a few examples; some are reusable, while others are only used once. Gel packs are the best way to ship food that needs to stay between -32 and -60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Kona Store offers long-lasting ice packs on Amazon.

Step 3: Properly Pack the Food Items

The correct packing method for perishable foods depends majorly on the nature of the food item being shipped.

Wrap non-refrigerated items like apples in breathable packaging and store them in a double-walled cardboard box. To prevent movement, fill any gaps with cushioning material. Bubble wrap and tissue paper are both good options for padding.

Foods that have been refrigerated or frozen may need to be packed first in airtight or waterproof containers. Put the bag in an insulated box, placing cold packs or dry ice around it. Ensure that the total weight of dry ice per box does not exceed 5.5 pounds. Any package containing more dry ice than this may be considered dangerous.

Also, don’t put dry ice in containers with airtight lids because the ice’s gases must be free to escape. Similarly, make sure the ice does not come into direct contact with the food. Place the insulated container into a double-walled cardboard box to finish.

Step 4: Use Proper Labeling

label food for shipping

Every package containing perishable goods must be properly sealed and labeled. The “H” tape sealing technique is recommended by international carriers and logistics organizations such as FedEx. To utilize this method, you should apply three strips of pressure-resistant tape to the seams, top, bottom, and flaps of the box.

Then, in bold font, write “perishable” on the box. With arrow labels, you may additionally indicate which part is up. Apply “Fragile” labels on the box if the delivery contains fragile objects like glass or sensitive food products.

Finally, if you’re packing with dry ice, you need to adhere to international shipping standards for precise labeling. “Dry Ice” or “Carbon Dioxide Solid” and “UN 1845” must be written on the package. You must also include the dry ice’s actual weight in kilos, as well as the sender and recipient’s names and addresses.

Step 5: Choose a Carrier

The last step is to load the bundled shipment onto a carrier. You should have made arrangements with your preferred carrier ahead of time.

When choosing a courier, make sure they provide quick and flawless delivery, which is critical for keeping your items fresh. They should also be able to give you the exact shipping option you need, like next-day or overnight delivery, as well as a reefer if your goods need to be kept cool during shipping.

Some carriers may prefer packages that have less dry ice than is permitted internationally or require more preparation. Consult your carrier about their dry ice restrictions and packaging and handling needs.

Finally, communicate with the recipient frequently so that they are aware of what to expect from the delivery, as well as how to manage dry ice and post-shipment storage requirements.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Perishable Foods?

There is no set price when it comes to shipping perishable food from one place to another. The time, distance, weight, and nature of the food item you’re shipping all influence the amount of money you pay on shipping.

You should also factor in the cost of packing gel and dry ice, which will be determined by the weight of your items and the distance they must travel before reaching the final destination.

To find the most cost-effective shipping service for perishable foods, you need to consider the supplies needed to ship them properly as well as any additional service fees your courier may demand.

Here are some shipping options from the major carriers:

Let’s assume you’re mailing a 5-pound package of perishable food from New York to Los Angeles via USPS; the rate will be calculated via the fastest service for shipping perishable food below:

  • USPS Priority Mail Express 1 business day $78.60
  • USPS Priority Mail 1-3 business days $27.75
  • FedEx First Overnight 1 business day $214.67
  • FedEx Priority Overnight 1 business day $177.24
  • UPS Next Day Air® Next business day $140.84
  • UPS Next Day Air® Early Next business day       $177.07

Important Tips for Shipping Perishable Foods

Perishable item delivery demands meticulous preparation and excellent execution. By putting these ideas together with the above steps, you can create a system that reduces losses and increases profits. If you are shipping other items at the same time, it will be helpful to learn the various ways to ship boxes in our article on How To Ship Boxes.

Prepare for Shipping Conditions

Certain foods can only be transported for a certain amount of time. So, if you want to deliver on time and without any problems, you’ll have to be very careful with your fulfillment plan.

Consider shipping times, cold chain integrity, terminal congestion, and other issues that could impact delivery. With this information, you can plan ahead and make a plan to make sure your products arrive on time and in good condition.

Examine the Shipping Policies

In addition to regulations enforced by international agencies such as the IATA, many countries have their own rules you need to comply with.  These restrictions may specify what perishable goods are allowed to enter or exit the country, as well as packaging standards and other rules. Knowing these rules and regulations in advance will help save time and money.

Keep the Containers Breathable

Even though your cold chain is stable and the goods are delivered on time, things might still go wrong. To avoid this, keep in mind that certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, need to breathe.

Use netting or permeable plastic wrapping to help keep them fresh and guarantee the products arrive in nearly the same state as you sent them.

Obtain insurance

After putting efforts to protect perishables, the truth is that things can go sour in the most unexpected ways. As a result, based on the applicable Incoterms, it’s vital to constantly guarantee your items are adequately insured throughout shipping.

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