Food is one of the most difficult items to shipping for a number of reasons. Perishable items need to be kept at a certain temperature to prevent spoilage. Most food items have a set expiration date, which limits how much time they can spend on the road. Many items, including baked goods, produce and chips, are also extremely fragile. A little bit of turbulence could leave your products in pieces or smashed against the side of the container.
Every item requires special handling and strategic planning. Use these tips to learn how to ship food the right way so your products always arrive intact and on time.
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Shipping Time vs. Shipping Costs
The main goal when shipping food is to make sure your food arrives well before it is set to expire without charging your customers a small fortune just to have their food delivered. Food shipping costs range dramatically based on volume, weight and the method of transportation. Air freight is by far the fastest and most expensive, but it comes with strict weight limitations. Ground and ocean freight are much less expensive, but it can take anywhere from several days to several months for your goods to arrive.
When choosing a shipping route, consider how long your products can survive on the road before they expire. Choose the slowest method possible while still ensuring safe arrival to save money.
For perishable items, it’s best to limit transit time to just 30 hours or less, according to UPS. Many companies use overnight, one or two-day express shipping to deliver perishable foods as quickly as possible. Non-perishable goods can usually last months, if not years, without expiring, so consider shipping these items by ground or ocean freight instead.
You can store your refrigerated goods inside a temperature-controlled container, such as a portable refrigerator or icebox, or use cooling products to lower the temperature inside the container. Refrigerated containers can be expensive to transport. Use dry ice to transport frozen items and gel packs to ship refrigerated items that need to be kept between 32 and 60 degrees F.
Using regular ice is generally not advised because it will melt after several hours on the road. The water could also leak outside the ice pack, dampening the inside of the container. Dry ice keeps the container dry, so you don’t have to worry about your products getting soak. Use the right amount of dry ice based on how much food you’re shipping and how long it will be traveling. If you need to use regular ice, store your goods in food-safe, water-resistant containers, such as plastic totes.
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Liquids and Melted Items
Some items can change forms when exposed to extreme temperatures. If you are shipping liquids or products that could melt, store your goods in reusable food-safe plastic containers that can easily be clean in case of a spill. For extra safety, you can put a plastic water-proof liner inside the container to protect the box from water damage.
Use an IBC tote to ship large quantities of liquids and beverage products. These containers can store up to 330 gallons of water and other liquid ingredients. They come attached to a pallet for safe, efficient handling.
Shipping in Bulk
It’s always cheaper to ship food in bulk versus spreading out your products in separate containers. Keeping all your goods in the same container reduces the risk of some items getting lost or stolen. Workers can quickly move your goods using a forklift or lift truck without physically touching the packages to reduce the spread of germs and bacteria.
Choose a durable container that will keep your products safe on the road for long periods of time. It should have enough space for all of your inventory with a closeable seal to keep pests and germs at bay. Use a metal bin with a lid to protect your goods at sea or on the road. Find a bin with metal inserts to keep your products organized and separated, especially when storing different kinds of foods in the same container.
Invest in Sustainability
Food and food packaging/containers account for almost 45 percent of the materials landfilled in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Disposable containers are not only bad for the environment — they are bad for business. Your company will need to reorder more supplies every few weeks or months when you run out of containers or plastic wrap. Your workers and customers will have to recycle or throw away these materials after just one use.
You can reduce the amount of food packaging in landfills by storing your goods in reusable containers that will last the test of time. Metal and food-grade containers can be use repeatedly without putting your products at risk. They are easy to clean to reduce the spread of cross-contamination. They require less preparation than disposable shipping materials as well. Your workers can quickly send out food items without messing with plastic wrap or building up cardboard boxes.
Encourage your customers to return their containers by setting up a discount program to make sure you don’t lose track of your materials. You can even attach GPS trackers to your containers to pinpoint their location in real-time.
Time is of the essence when shipping food across long distances. You will have to race against the clock to make sure your products arrive before the expiration date. Use these tips to improve the quality of your food shipments.