How to Ship Frozen Food

By A.J. Andrews

Baked with love: Make shipping food a breeze with these tips

How to Ship Frozen Food

The primary issue when shipping any type of frozen food, be it cookie, cake or cow, is keeping it under 32 degrees F. It doesn't help that it seems every variable, from time to transport method, conspires against making sure foods arrive at their destination safe to eat.

Having to pack food with care goes without saying, but what does "with care" mean, exactly? It starts with protecting the food from the bacteria and pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses, which means keeping the food as cold as reasonably possible until cooking or serving.

Keeping perishables from perishing

Any food you have to refrigerate at 40 F or below to prevent bacterial growth qualifies as perishable. This covers just about everything except dried or baked foods and unopened canned goods. Follow the same guidelines for shipping both perishable foods and frozen foods:

  • Pack the food in a sturdy corrugated box and fill any empty space with bubble wrap, plastic foam peanuts or crumpled 60-pound kraft paper.
  • Pack the box in a 1½-inch thick

    cooler lined with refrigerant (dry ice, gel packs or both) or a cold-shipping box. If using a cooler with gel packs, seal it with strapping tape and wrap in a 2.75-mils thick polyethylene bag. Do not seal a cooler containing dry ice.  Pack the cooler in a corrugated cardboard box rated for 200 pounds.
    Mark the box "Keep Refrigerated" and, if using dry ice, "Contains Dry Ice," and send it overnight or second-day mail. 
    * Send the package early in the week to avoid weekend storage and always use next-day or second-day shipping.  

Dry ice and gel packs

Use a combination of dry ice and frozen gel packs for the best cooling effect. Gel packs rated at 0 F and lower stay frozen 24 to 36 hours in a sealed, insulated cooler, whereas dry ice dissipates in 18 to 24 hours.

When shipping perishable foods that must stay below 40 F, use one pound of gel packs per three pounds of food. The FAA doesn't limit the amount of gel packs you can include in one shipment, but it does limit the amount of dry ice to 5 ½ pounds per package.

Where's the beef?

Frozen in a vacuum-sealed bag, if packaged properly. When shipping meat, pack the cooler in the following order from bottom to top: Dry ice (2 ¾ pounds in the bottom of the cooler), frozen gel packs, frozen vacuum-sealed meat, frozen gel packs, 2 ¾ pounds of dry ice, packing material (bubble wrap, plastic foam peanuts or crumpled kraft paper) and lid.

As with perishables, use one pound of gel packs per three pounds of meat. The more meat you send, the longer it will stay frozen, so you can ship over five pounds of meat using second-day mail. If shipping five pounds of meat or less, use next-day air. After packing the cooler, place it in a 2.75-mils thick polyethylene bag and send it in a 200-pound-rated cardboard box.

Smart cookies pack cookies smartly

Most baked goods have low enough moisture content to make them inhospitable to bacterial growth at room temperature for a few days, so priority mail, or shipping that arrives within three days, works for cakes and breads wrapped in paper. You can also use glass canning jars and take-out containers for muffins and cupcakes. Cookies, on the other hand, need a little more TLC.

Wrap each cookie in plastic wrap or wax paper. Fill the empty areas in the box with crumpled newspaper or plastic foam peanuts, and pack it tight enough to keep the cookies in place. After taping the box, mark it prominently with "Fragile."

About the Author

A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.