How to Ship Food: 4 Steps to Ship Perishable Food Safely

Bradley Johnson
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    If you want to learn how to sell food online from home, there are various types of marketplaces suited for this. Custom subscription boxes, selling food in an online marketplace, and selling coffee online are three popular examples of food eCommerce businesses. 

    Of course, selling food online means you have to ship it to customers. Today’s consumers expect products to show up quickly, conveniently, cheaply, and unspoiled. Not to mention the 2022 food trends that are influencing what food businesses sell. Demands for convenience and affordability are no different for food than products sold in a marketplace app or through BlueCart eCommerce.

    If it’s your first time shipping food, it’s important to make shipping issues a thing of the past by learning best practices.

    Continue reading for the essentials of how to ship food, whether perishable or non-perishable items.

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    How to Ship Perishable Food

    Shipping food of any kind should be treated mindfully and with plenty of preparation. If you’re shipping perishable foods like bread, dairy products, or wholesale produce which can bruise, you must know how to mitigate the risk of spoilage. 

    Selling baked goods from home also depends on getting your products to customers before they turn bad. Here’s your guide to shipping perishable food: 

    • Understand your product’s needs. Every product is different, and shipping conditions for one kind of food may be unnecessary for another. If you sell produce, include materials like bubble wrap or air pillows. These materials can be densely packed without placing undue pressure on the food, keeping it safe from harm in transit. If you’re shipping products that are a little firmer, oftentimes extra packing paper is all that’s needed. Test a couple methods and materials until you find a process that works well. 
    • Seal it in an airtight bag. Any food product that’s perishable should be protected from light, air, and moisture. If you haven’t already, add airtight sealing to your warehouse management process flow. This ensures your perishable food products are prepared for shipping the moment they reach the packing table. If it’s useful for the product, consider vacuum sealing your perishables too. This is another safeguard against premature spoilage, though it does require specialized equipment. 
    • Use an appropriately sized container. One of the best ways to protect perishable food and lower shipping costs is to use appropriately sized packages. First, relevant package sizing is easier to work with because you're sure to use less padding material. Second, less empty space in a package means the likelihood of food spoilage is much lower. 
    • Send products out quickly. If there’s one element of shipping to get right, it’s sending packages out as quickly as possible. This doesn’t mean you should eliminate precautions like temperature protection and padding, but it does mean your warehousing processes should be efficient. As soon as a product is packed, move it to shipping staging and get it into your carrier’s hands. 

    Getting food to your customers in a timely fashion is no laughing matter. Make it easy on yourself with our own built-in shipping features. BlueCart’s own shipping tools aggregate the buying power of all our customers to acquire optimal rates from 60+ shipping companies.

    Track shipments, calculate shipping costs by weight, print labels with a shipping label printer, and more. Schedule a demo today to see what BlueCart can do for your business.

    How to Ship Cold Food

    Cold shipping is not an easy task. It requires keeping the product as cold as possible prior to packaging and long after the box has been loaded onto a truck. 

    This may seem next to impossible, but with the right strategies and food technology, it can be done. Here are four essentials for how to ship cold food: 

    • Get the right eCommerce packaging. Putting your cold food into a plain cardboard box or container isn’t going to do the trick. You need to put items in a watertight plastic or Tyvek bag at a minimum to mitigate the spread of moisture. If you have insulated foam packaging or a styrofoam case, that’s even better. The food product(s) and any padding should be able to comfortably fit inside of a closed box or mailer. It's advised to avoid packing peanuts as--in the unlikely event of a leak--they may absorb the moisture and won't do much good to maintain the integrity of your product.
    • Use a gel pack or dry ice. Adding ice packs to your refrigerated or frozen food shipment will keep it cold long after it leaves your warehouse. Be prepared to spend between $3 and $4 each for high-quality ones, but know that your customers will be happy to see them. Dry ice is heavier and more expensive but works perfectly for larger packages. The right amount of dry ice is roughly five pounds for every 24 hours that your food shipment will be in transit. Always use gloves when handling dry ice and place it in a vented bag for shipping (this prevents carbon dioxide gas buildup). 
    • Notify people with a sticker. Unless you’ve hired a cold freight company, chances are your cold food will get shipped with various other products. Place a warning sticker on your boxes for items you want to keep cold as long as possible. The sticker can say something like “Keep Out of Direct Sunlight”, “Keep Refrigerated”, or a similar phrase. It’s no guarantee that shipping drivers will see it or act accordingly, but it increases the likelihood they will. 
    • Choose a shipping option suited for the product. Cold food is a broad label. It may refer to items as small as cheese or as large as a gallon of dairy milk. The shipping service you select should be capable of delivering the item in top condition and without delays. In these scenarios, expedited shipping will be your best option. The heavier or larger the item, the greater the shipping cost.

    How to Ship Food With Dry Ice

    If your products require cool temperatures to stay fresh, you can use dry ice. Dry ice is carbon dioxide in solid form. It’s non-toxic and safe to ship. However, it can be dangerous if you don’t use it correctly.

    Make sure you use clean tongs to move the dry ice, and gloves if you're moving it by hand. Never put dry ice in a pressurized container, because as the dry ice turns into gas, your package may explode. Instead, always package dry ice in a container that has air vents or perforation holes. Any packages utilizing dry ice should be sent via an overnight, 2-day, or 3-day shipping service.

    Most importantly, make sure that your recipient knows what to do when they receive the delivery. Dry ice sublimates, which means it turns into CO2 gas without becoming liquid first. Dry ice should be placed in a well-ventilated area to fully sublimate and never put in a sink, toilet, or bathtub. Because it turns into extremely tough ice when in contact with water, it can freeze pipes if handled improperly.

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    How to Ship Food USPS

    USPS is the largest shipping carrier in the United States, delivering over 120 billion packages every year. Their services are great for sending food packages of varying sizes and weights.

    Whether you’re selling cookies online from your own home or are growing your subscription business, USPS offers affordable and easy-to-understand shipping options.

    Here are five things to know when learning how to ship food with USPS: 

    • Choose proper packaging. It’s tempting to think your packages will sit calmly in a truck while being transported, but this isn’t always the case. The box, bag, or food containers housing your products should prevent breakage at all stages of transportation. If you aren’t sure what the best kind of packaging is, researching what similar products are shipped in will point you in the right direction. 
    • Include some padding. Shipping food is tricky because you have to ensure it doesn’t crumble or spoil. If you’re shipping dry merchandise inventory, some packing paper or air pillows will prevent damage that occurs during transit. If you sell wet, cold, or otherwise temperature-sensitive goods, you’ll need more advanced padding. 
    • Add cold packs or thermal insulators. Some types of food products must be kept at low temperatures to remain in good shape. Including a cold gel pack in your shipments increases the amount of time your food will be. If gel packs are too expensive or bulky, consider thermal insulators. This material blocks external temperature changes while reflecting the existing temperature back into the box. 
    • Select a shipment option. Once you’ve perfected your product packaging, choosing a USPS service is next. There are four services that work well for most food shipments: First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, and USPS Retail Ground. Each service offers different shipment speeds and package sizes, so choose one that’s manageable for your business model.
    • Check your state’s food shipping regulations. Each state has different laws about how food and beverages can be shipped. As long as you have a standard shipping license for the states you’re doing business in, there should be nothing to worry about. This document demonstrates to the local and federal government that you’re a licensed business owner and aren’t shipping illicit goods. 

    How to Ship Food FedEx

    FedEx is one of the most successful shippers in the world, known particularly for their global air freight network. The company delivers over 3 billion packages annually and this number is going up. 

    If you appreciate FedEx’s shipping capabilities and want them to deliver your food products, that’s a great choice. Check out the following to learn how to ship food FedEx: 

    • Designate the right box. Every successful food shipment starts with the right box, and shipping food via FedEx is no exception. Browse the packaging materials you have available and choose the right size for the product. If you aren’t sure what size is a good fit, it’s helpful to read how to measure a box for shipping. It’s a general rule of thumb to leave extra space in the box for padding materials. The more temperature-sensitive your product is, the more room you should leave for cooling materials. 
    • Use insulated containers for products that need it. Most food items need to be kept at least slightly cool during transportation. Putting polystyrene insulated containers into shipping boxes before you add other materials is a smart choice. This material blocks heat from coming in and slows the process of cooler air escaping. They also reinforce cardboard box frames so products are much less likely to get damaged during transit. 
    • Put any liquid coolants or gel packs in sealed bags. It’s not an issue to put liquids in a shipment, but you need to ensure the liquid won’t leak. The best way to prevent spillage is to double bag any ice, water, or material that could become liquid. This way, even if the liquid does go awry, it will spill into the second bag, keeping your product intact and customer satisfied. 
    • Double-check that your packaging meets FedEx requirements. The above information will have you in great shape, but it doesn’t hurt to run additional checks. FedEx’s website is full of shipping How-To guides for various products, including food and beverages. Their guidelines include using refrigeration techniques and materials that match product temperature requirements, using waterproof plastic bags, and increasing the amount of insulation for larger products. 

    How to Ship Food Overnight

    Some food products are so temperature-sensitive or prone to early spoiling that overnighting them is the only option. Taking time now to become familiar with overnight shipping processes will save you time, money, and energy in the long run. 

    Check out the following steps if you’re learning how to ship food overnight: 

    • Prepare your product for rougher handling. Business owners are familiar with the occasional careless handling of packages on trucks. Unfortunately, this risk increases for packages in airplane cargo bays. Verify that your box or special packaging is firmly packed and sealed, then double up on packing tape. Some businesses even shrink wrap their packages, especially if they’re traveling further than a typical order. Any precaution you can take to ensure your package won’t bend, break, or accidentally open up is well worth the time. 
    • Double up on temperature-controlling materials. If you normally ship your products with one gel pack, you may want to consider two. Your customers who order rush shipping should not receive packages with less preparation than those who are just a few minutes away. 
    • Pack items to withstand transportation in any orientation. This means that no matter which direction your package sits or lands, the products inside will remain intact. Planes endure bumpy rides on a regular basis, so your box should be padded enough to prevent damage even if it falls off a shelf or out of a shipping container. 
    • Select an overnight service that fits your budget. By this stage, you should have already researched overnight services, but if not, get the process started. Your overnight carrier should be budget-friendly and offer some kind of guarantee. The point of extra-fast shipping speeds is to deliver a product on time or early with no questions asked. If your carrier doesn’t offer your full money back if this doesn’t happen, consider a different eCommerce shipping company. 
    • Check your carrier’s requirements for perishable overnight shipments. Carriers understand that overnight shipments are high value or urgent, and often both. Accordingly, they should provide a list of requirements on their site before you can pay for a shipping label and send a product out. Take your time in reading through this list of requirements as it may point out something you missed.
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    How to Pack Food for Shipping

    If you’re shipping non-perishable food items, you can use a reusable plastic container. Your vendor may have its own containers that you can use to ship food. - If you’re shipping perishable items, you’ll need to use an insulated container. Keep the food separated from the container to prevent contamination. If you’re shipping coffee beans or a bag of beans, you’ll also want to vacuum seal the bag. This keeps beans fresh, and it also prevents beans from spilling when they’re shipped.

    Frequently Asked Questions About How to Ship Food

    Running an online food business is both fun and rewarding. However, the excitement and profits are contingent upon getting your products to customers safe and sound. 

    Shipping food is pretty straightforward as long as you’re familiar with what’s required. Here are some frequently asked questions and our answers to help: 

    Can I Send Food Through the Mail?

    Yes, you can send food through the mail as long as you adhere to all shipping carrier regulations. Most food products, especially dried, packaged, and shelf-stable items, can be safely shipped in the mail. 

    Items you want to keep fresh--like produce, eggs, dairy, meat, and controlled substances--are often unsafe for shipping. You can ship drinks more effectively after you know how to ship alcohol. However, the other products are at great risk for going bad, if it’s legal to ship one of them at all. 

    If you have fresh products that must be mailed, freeze them first and include useful protective, non-hazardous materials. This includes gel packs, bubble wrap, dry ice, padded containers, and styrofoam packing cases. 

    How Much Does It Cost to Ship Food?

    Every shipment varies, but in general it costs between $1.50 and $2.25 per mile to ship food. Final shipment prices depend on how much food is being shipped, its total travel distance, whether or not you're using international shipping, shipping speed, and package weight. Learn more about how much it costs to ship a package if you have lots of orders going out.

    How Do You Ship Food and Keep It Cold?

    Keep food cold during shipping by placing it in a polystyrene inner container, lining the container or box with aluminum padding, and placing a frozen gel pack on top. This combination prevents temperature leakage, reduces the spread of moisture, and keeps the box intact. 

    Bear in mind that each product is unique, so items that need to be kept at colder temperatures should have sufficient support. Shipping with dry ice or gel packs, or wrapping an item in plastic before packaging it, may help depending on the particular situation. Look at how similar businesses have packaged their goods and determine if it will work for your budget.

    What Types of Coolants Are Used for Shipping Food?

    Coolants are essential when shipping food products and there are various types on the market. Let’s see the main ones.

    1. Dry ice. It is one of the most popular coolants used for shipping food. The main disadvantage of dry ice is that it is considered a hazardous material. Thus, there are various restrictions related to its usage.
    2. Cold packs. There are various types of cold packs available. Even though they dethaw faster compared to dry ice, they have very few shipping restrictions and regulations. Furthermore, cold packs can be frozen and reused. Gel ice packs are the most popular cold packs. They are flexible and can fit in irregular spaces which is a great advantage when packaging products for shipping. Flexible ice packs are another alternative. They are easy to bend and fit in the container. Foam brick ice packs and solid plastic ice packs are other popular alternatives with similar qualities.

    Can You Send Food to Europe?

    Yes, shipping food items from the US to Europe is possible. However, as that journey can be long, perishable food products are not suitable for overseas shipping. Some transportation companies offer specialized services for shipping perishable food products internationally.

    Can You Ship Cooked and Homemade Food?

    Yes, homemade meals can be shipped. It’s important to maintain low temperatures of products in order to avoid spoilage. Keep in mind shipments are sometimes handled roughly. Therefore, it’s not recommended to ship things like cupcakes or other products that might lose their integrity and form during transportation.

    Can I Ship Food Internationally?

    Yes, you can ship food internationally, but this is done strictly at the mailer's risk. However, hundreds of non-perishable food items can be shipped internationally. Always check the country of destination's import requirements for food items before sending anything.

    Some items may be banned for import, or you may need to obtain specific documentation first. Most food items can be shipped internationally as long as they meet package and labeling requirements. The main issue is time. It takes several days and sometimes weeks to get food from the US to other countries.

    If the goods you're sending are perishable, it can go bad before it arrives at its destination. Prepare any goods you're sending overseas with packaging designed to maintain food freshness and minimize mishandling.

    When to Send Food Back at a Restaurant?

    If a restaurant serves you food that appears, smells, or tastes unappetizing, send the dish back to your server. The food may not be fresh enough to eat after a while sitting out on a table.

    How Long Will the Food Keep Cold When Packaged Properly?

    It depends on what food you're sending and how well it's packaged, but you can often keep food cold for 24 to 48 hours after shipping. You can extend this time if you use advanced shipping materials like polystyrene containers. Cold food items need to be kept at certain temperatures for safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) publishes guidelines for shipping temperature regulation. The USDA recommends that you follow these guidelines to keep food at safe temperatures during shipping.

    Can You Ship Food to Someone?

    Yes, you can ship food to someone as long as you're following shipping guidelines and packaging the items well. It's easier to ship non-perishable, non-liquid food items such as cereal, cookies, and snacks. If you want to send food as a gift, include gift wrapping as an extra touch. When sending food, be sure to include instructions on proper care and storage of the item.

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    Shipping Your Way to Food Business Success

    Running a wholesale or eCommerce food business is full of unique challenges that make each day exciting. Shipping products to customers is certainly one of those challenges. 

    With the right shipping knowledge and tools at your disposal, you’ll send orders out with full confidence that they arrive in great condition. Remember to make your shipping policy easily accessible for current and prospective customers. Successful shipping also keeps your fill rate high, RMA number issuance low, and profits strong.

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