When you need to ship perishable food, live plants or animals, medications, or other temperature-sensitive goods, you need to take extra steps to ensure they stay cool enough in transit. And doing so is often a bit more complicated than simply packing your items in a cooler with a gel pack or some dry ice.
For one thing, many temperature-sensitive shipments, particularly shipments of a medical or pharmaceutical nature, are regulated by federal law. You’ll need to make sure you’re allowed to ship all the things you plan to include in your package — including dry ice — and you’ll need to make sure that your shipment is packed to remain within a temperature range, because for most shipments, too cold can be just as damaging as too hot.
Choose the Right Carrier
If you’re shipping cold-chain items that absolutely must remain within a specific temperature range throughout shipping, you need to choose a reliable carrier who has experience shipping those kinds of goods. Don’t just throw your live cactus or box of day-old poultry into a cooler and hope for the best (those poor birds!). Rely on a carrier that has a long track record of handling these kinds of shipments efficiently and effectively.
This is especially important when it comes to items that must be shipped under strict regulations, like the aforementioned poultry, or pharmaceuticals and medical samples. Biological substances, diagnostic samples, medical specimens, pharmaceuticals and other medical shipments may be subject to both FDA and DEA regulations. Live animals can often only be shipped under very strict circumstances that dictate such factors as what day of the week the package can be sent and what the live animals are to be used for. For example, day-old poultry chicks can only be shipped through the USPS if they will arrive within 72 hours of shipment, among other conditions. Choosing the right carrier not only helps you avoid shipping damage to your valuable and delicate items, but it can also make it much easier to cut through the red tape involved with shipping many temperature-sensitive items.
Choose the Right Coolant
For most temperature-sensitive shipments, you’re going to need to include some coolant to keep the contents at the right temperature. Dry ice is only suitable if you intend to keep the contents frozen, and you have to make sure there’s room for the gases it gives off to escape the packaging. Furthermore, you can only ship so much dry ice in one package before you have to shoulder the increased regulatory burden of shipping large quantities of dry ice itself, which is considered a hazardous substance.
You can usually place up to 2.5 kg of dry ice in a package and ship it through the mail with minimal markings on the package and little to no regulatory burden, but that only applies if the package contents being kept chilled are not themselves hazardous. And you wouldn’t want to use dry ice anyway if you’re not trying to keep the shipment frozen. Gel packs are much better for keeping shipments cold, between 32 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Tape down gel packs to keep them from shifting and damaging shipping contents, and use plenty of packing peanuts to further minimize movement.
Pack the Items Well
For medical and pharmaceutical shipments, you’ll need pre-qualified temperature-controlled packaging (TCP) to keep your items at a safe temperature. You can even buy an active TCP which includes refrigerator components and an internal power source to keep contents cold. But for most cold-chain symptoms, a styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box, or a box lined with 1.5-inch styrofoam, will do. Add thicker styrofoam the hotter ambient temps are and the more important it is to keep your items cold.
Monitor Your Shipments
Use a temperature indicator to monitor the temperature of your shipment as it moves through the supply chain. It’s the best way to make sure the contents of your package stay at the right temperature as it moves through the supply chain. You can even get alerts if your package starts to move outside the desired temperature range, so you can intervene before your shipment gets ruined by heat or cold.
Ship Items as Quickly as Possible
Cold-chain items need to move through the supply chain as quickly as possible, so it’s best to choose the fastest shipping option available to you. Fresh flowers, food, medicine, and live plants and animals should ideally be in the supply chain for no more than 30 hours before reaching their destination. Plan your shipping schedule to avoid shipments getting stuck in a warehouse somewhere over a holiday or weekend.
Are your perishable shipments staying at the right temperature throughout shipping? There’s only one way to really know — use a temperature sensor. The minimal expense is worth the peace of mind of knowing your important, temperature-sensitive shipment has arrived safely and quickly.