Whether you’ve just started a homemade cupcake business or you are in the fish or meat industry, if you sell perishable goods online, you’ll need to know how to properly ship your items.
While larger companies make the process look simple, it is not as easy for small businesses to access all of the tools, equipment, and know-how necessary for safe and cost-effective shipping right off the bat.
Up ahead, we’ll take a look at the basics of what you should know if this is your first foray into shipping perishables, including what materials to use, how to pack your items, and who to partner with when it comes to choosing to ship.
The Best Materials for Shipping Perishables
Heat is your enemy when it comes to shipping perishables, and keeping the heat out means starting with the right materials.
Most companies who ship perishable items use Styrofoam boxes inside cardboard boxes. The insulating effect of Styrofoam can keep foods cool for extended periods of time (along with ice).
If you only have a small amount of food that needs to be kept cool, however, you might simply try Styrofoam cut sheets, which are less expensive. You can get these precut to your desired box size.
Other options for shipping boxes/materials include:
- Insulated pads: Recycled materials provide a more environmentally-friendly solution for perishable shipping.
- Insulation liners (shiny silver with a texture like a bubble wrap): Often wrapped tightly around items that need to be kept cool.
- Air-filled insulation liners: More cost affordable because air is used as insulation.
How to Properly Pack Perishables with Ice
In addition to the boxes you ship in and the packaging materials you use, you’ll also need to use some type of ice to maintain cool temperatures within your packages. You can generally choose between ice packs and dry ice.
Companies that are shipping only refrigerated items should usually choose ice packs. Companies that are shipping frozen items should choose dry ice. Ice packs come in many forms, but one-time-use packs are usually best.
Dry ice is a bit more finicky to work with because it is technically a hazardous material. First of all, packages that contain dry ice need to be labeled as such on the outside of the boxes.
Furthermore, if you end up needing a large amount of dry ice in order to keep your products frozen during the duration of their shipment, you may run into extra fees and charges (when air shipping).
Ensuring Safe Shipping of Perishables
Sending perishable items by mail can be risky. There are serious health hazards associated with consuming food products that have not been adequately chilled or frozen. Especially when it comes to items like meats and cheeses, retailers need to be especially careful.
For this reason, it is recommended that shippers use a temperature indicator in each of their boxes. These are basically small, one-time-use thermometers that make excellent tools for ensuring the safe shipping of perishables. Before shipping, simply attach one of the indicators to the inside of your box.
If the receiver opens it and sees that the indicator has turned red during transit, they know that the box has been in an out-of-tolerance temperature range. This tells them right away that what is inside may be unsafe to consume.
At this point, you should have provided instructions they can use to contact you for customer support.
Choosing a Shipping Company
Lastly, you’ll need to choose a shipping company to partner with. Here, ask yourself this question: “What is the longest amount of time that I have to ship my items, in order to assure their safe arrival to my customers?”
Most retailers who sell perishable items will need to get their boxes delivered within one to two days. FedEx and UPS are usually the best shipping companies to work with if this is your goal. If you are able to work with two-day shipping, this will be the most cost-effective method for most shipping companies.
You’ll probably also need to choose between ground delivery and air delivery. For the most part, the shipping times are about the same. The main difference lies in the cost.
Ground delivery is significantly less expensive than air delivery; however, with companies like UPS, you won’t get a guarantee that your items will be delivered on time with ground shipping.
That said, it is highly likely that your items will arrive on time. Most people who have worked with ground delivery through UPS have had resounding success getting their packages delivered to customers on time within the two-day timeframe.
As you continue making your way in the cottage food e-commerce industry, shipping perishable items should only get easier and more efficient. For now, using this guide as a starting off point, you’ll have a good place to begin in order to ensure safe and cost-effective shipping and happy customers.
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