How to Mail Frozen or Refrigerated Food

Written by michael young
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How to Mail Frozen or Refrigerated Food
You can ship anything from strawberries to fresh game. (frozen strawberries image by João Freitas from

In 1917, a young scientist and fur trader named Clarence Birdseye was working in the Arctic when he noticed local Inuits preserving fish by exposing them to freezing Arctic winds. As Birdseye discovered, temperatures below 4.44 degrees Celsius can kill or slow the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage, helping your food stay fresh. So, if you need to ship perishable items, it's important to make sure your food stays cold in the mail. Shipping frozen or refrigerated food requires extra preparation to guarantee that your packages arrive at the proper temperature safely and quickly.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Aluminium foil or cling film
  • Airtight food container
  • Dry ice or frozen gel packs
  • Sturdy, insulated shipping container
  • Bubble wrap
  • Styrofoam packing peanuts or newspaper
  • Packing tape
  • Thick gloves

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  1. 1

    Wrap your frozen or refrigerated food in aluminium foil or cling film, then place it in an airtight, leakproof container such as a zip-top plastic bag.

  2. 2

    Place a layer of bubble wrap inside your shipping container. Place your food container on top of this layer, then place your dry ice or coolant packs on top of the food container.

  3. 3

    Cover your cooling source and food tightly with another layer of bubble wrap, ensuring that the contents won't shift en route.

  4. 4

    Fill all empty spaces in your package with balled-up newspaper or styrofoam packing peanuts, because pockets of air can cause your food and cooling source to thaw.

  5. 5

    Seal your package with weatherproof and pressure-sensitive packing tape. Secure all flaps and seams.

  6. 6

    Write "KEEP REFRIGERATED" in permanent marker on a prominent area of your shipping container. If you're using dry ice, label your package with a Class 9 Hazardous Warning label. Mark "Dry Ice UN1845" on the label, and enter the weight of the dry ice.

  7. 7

    Ship your package using overnight or next day service. Dry ice and coolant packs can only keep food cold for up to 48 hours. Ship perishable items at the beginning of the week to ensure that they are not idling in a shipping centre over the weekend.

  8. 8

    Alert your recipient of the coming package. Do not send food to a destination where you know it will sit unattended for several hours.

  9. 9

    Ask your recipient to open his package immediately and check the food with a thermometer. Food below 4.44 degrees Celsius is not safe to consume, even if it looks or smells acceptable. Once the frozen food arrives, it should be promptly stored in a refrigerator.

Tips and warnings

  • Go to the Dry Ice Directory website to find the nearest dry ice carriers within your Postcode. A good rule of thumb is to buy five to 4.54kg. of dry ice for every 24 hours a package is in transit. Consult with the employees at the carrier about specific dry ice amounts.
  • If you're planning to mail recently cooked food, allow the food to cool completely before you pack it. This prevents the accumulation of moisture.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that frozen food be shipped in a corrugated cardboard box placed inside of a 2-inches thick urethane insulated container. If your container is not at least 2 inches thick, purchase additional dry ice or gel packs to ensure sufficient cooling.
  • Gel coolant packs are generally less expensive and more environmentally friendly than dry ice.
  • According to the USDA, certain foods such as "hard salami, hard cheeses, country ham and non-perishable baked goods" do not require refrigeration.
  • Never place dry ice inside an airtight container, because it displaces oxygen when it thaws, which can cause packages to rupture.
  • Never touch dry ice with your bare hands; use thick gloves. Do not allow dry ice to come into direct contact with food. If you are using gel coolants, follow the manufacturer's directions.

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