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As strange as it might seem to some people, there are many reasons for which you might want to ship some food. For instance, you might want to allow a distant relative to try a particularly nice holiday dish. Or, you might want to send groceries to a distant relative as a way to help them out during rough times. Whatever your reason, we will teach you the correct ways to ship food within the United States.

While on that subject, we should mention that it’s not really worth the extra trouble and expense to ship food internationally. Under most circumstances, it will spoil before it arrives at its destination, making the whole thing pointless. That being said, there are many things you can do to keep food from spoiling in transit, which is obviously the main risk in this process.

Shipping Non-Refrigerated Foods

Shipping non-refrigerated food is definitely a lot easier than shipping refrigerated or frozen foods. You don’t have to worry about maintaining a specific temperature, and that eliminates a lot of hassle. Shipping a non-refrigerated food isn’t all that different from shipping a non-food item. One important difference is that you should wrap such items in plastic wrap so that they will be air-tight. You might consider using a plastic wrap with an antimicrobial liner for added efficiency.

One little thing that you should consider is the use of silica gel or some other desiccant. While heat and cold are usually not a problem for these foods, humidity might become an issue. The earth’s atmosphere is composed of numerous gases, but the two most common of them are oxygen and nitrogen. At lower levels, the atmosphere also contains a lot of water vapor, and this water vapor can become trapped inside an airtight package. When that happens, it will eventually condense into droplets, which can ruin sensitive electronic equipment and other water-sensitive items.

Most non-perishable food has been dehydrated to one extent or another. This just means that someone has cooked all the moisture out of the food on low heat. This lack of moisture ensures that microbes, mold, and other spoilage agents have no sustenance on which to grow. Mold and fungus are pretty tough, but they cannot live without water. That’s why you need a desiccant of some kind in the package. The desiccant will suck up the water vapor before it condenses and becomes a problem.

Unlike most of these others, non-perishable food can be shipped internationally without taking an unreasonable level of risk. Just make sure that you obey all relevant regulations for both the country of origin and the destination country.

Shipping Refrigerated Foods

Shipping refrigerated foods is a little bit more complicated. These foods will quickly spoil if they are not kept cold. For some items, like milk, spoilage can occur in less than a day. For some other items, like butter), you have a couple of days before it truly goes bad. Either way, certain precautions are necessary here.

First, you will want to use an insulated box. A regular cardboard box will not hold the cold temperature for very long, so you need a way to extend that time frame. Styrofoam insulation is one of the more common methods, although it needs to be at least one inch thick. You might be surprised at how good styrofoam can do in this department.

Heat and cold are both forms of energy, and both of them follow similar rules. Heat and cold can be lost in one of two ways: Conduction or convection. Conduction happens when two objects come into contact. If there is a difference in temperature between the two objects, their temperatures will try to equalize. The hotter object will cool down, and the cooler object will heat up until their temperature is more or less equal. This is one of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. Your box can lose energy in this way because it will always be touching the box (or at least touching something that touches the box). Still, physical barriers like bubble wrap and styrofoam will impede conduction.

Convection is a result of the air being heated or cooled. Air that is warmer than its surrounding environment tends to climb while air that is cooler than the environment tends to descend. That’s why your attic is always so hot in the summertime, by the way. A cardboard box can lose heat in this way very easily unless it is both airtight and well-insulated. The insulation traps the cool air in its many microscopic pockets and keeps it from escaping.

When shipping refrigerated items, being airtight and insulated is probably not good enough. If your item is in transit for a day or less, an insulated, airtight box should do just fine. However, most packages will require something to generate cold. Here, you have a variety of options. First, you could go with standard cold packs. We’re talking about those little blue bottles of gel or liquid that you probably have in your freezer. If you use large enough cold packs, they can stay frozen for quite a few hours. Don’t use the instant cold packs because they simply don’t last long enough. Also, they are made with chemicals that can be dangerous to human health if they leak and wind up in the food.

Of course, cold packs do tend to gather condensation on their exterior, and this moisture can be problematic for food items that are stored with them. If you have a cold pack in your freezer, stop right now and take a look at that thing. Chances are, it’s covered in frost. Make sure that cold packs are wiped clean of all frost and ice before being placed in a shipping container. Otherwise, you will get water damage to the box and item when the cold pack finally melts.

Shipping Frozen Foods

Shipping frozen food is the hardest job of all. These foods require a constant temperature that is below freezing, and that’s not an easy thing to obtain. When frozen foods are brought to a grocery store, they are packed in a refrigerated truck. Depending on your shipping company and your budget, you might consider having your package shipped on a refrigerated truck. Some companies, like Federal Express, offer temperature-controlled shipping services that are ideal for frozen foods.

There is another little trick that needs to be discussed here: The use of dry ice. Dry ice is a solid form of carbon dioxide, and it is ideal for frozen-goods shipping. Not only does it generate extremely cold temperatures, but it will last a lot longer than regular ice. Instead of melting, dry ice will sublimate. That’s just a fancy way of saying that it will turn into vapor instead of turning into water. That’s great for shipping because it means that you won’t have to worry about water damage when the cold pack melts.

Unfortunately, dry ice cannot usually be used for international shipping. This is mostly due to the fact that dry ice is made of carbon dioxide. Various environmental regulations exist regarding pure CO2 and its transport across international lines. Not only that, but dry ice can actually cause a rupture in the package if it is left for too long. The long delay times (which often exist when shipping internationally) will create a danger. As the dry ice turns into pure CO2 gas in an airtight container, the gas takes up more room than the ice did. Thus, it can make the package swell or even pop like a balloon.

Dry ice also prevents the danger of frostbite. A piece of dry ice is much colder than normal ice (about -100 degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, you don’t want to touch it with your bare hands. The effect of doing that is kind of like frostbite, except much worse. Always wear gloves when handling dry ice. This extreme cold can also damage the items that you are shipping. Thus, you need to wrap the dry ice in some newspaper or something like that. This should also help the dry ice to last longer.

You should also use the thickest boxes you can get when shipping frozen foods. The thickness of the box will provide even more insulation and help to keep the cold temperature inside the box where it belongs. We would recommend the double-layered boxes with BC-type fluting. It’s also advised that you put the frozen food items in a separate plastic bag to keep them even more isolated from the conditions of the surrounding environment.

Another little trick

If you are going to ship some refrigerated or frozen food, you should try to do it in the wintertime, if possible. When it’s cold outside, it will be much easier to keep things cold inside the box. As a result, your safe storage time will be increased. It’s important to remember that you only have a short window of time to get this package to its destination before it spoils. By doing this when the weather is cold, and shipping to areas that are also cold, you can extend that window of time significantly.

Make Sure You Monitor Your Package

Because food parcels will spoil so quickly, it is a good idea to keep close track of your package. When you send the package out, you should be provided with a tracking number. At any time, you can look up this tracking number on the internet and find out precisely where the package might be. Of course, you will have to check the website of the people who sent the package, whether it’s the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, or any of the others. A USPS tracking number won’t do you any good on the UPS website, so make sure you go to the right place.


We should mention that shipping food is not usually a cheap endeavor, and that’s why a lot of people don’t do so. There are extra taxes and regulations that apply when you start sending food through the mail, and most of them will cause you to spend more money in order to comply. But, if you want to do it anyway, you should not be scared to ship some food. This kind of thing is perfectly safe if done correctly, and we hope that we have helped you to learn all that you need. If you would like to know more, we invite you to fill out the contact form below so that we can keep you updated in the future.