How to prepare and package for temperature-controlled shipping.

January 24, 2019

Properly preparing and packaging freight will set any shipment up for success. When it comes to shipping food and perishables, however, there are a few outside-the-norm factors to consider. 

Here are some best practices for preparing and packaging a temperature-controlled shipment:

  • Know your dimensions.
  • Use the correct containers.
  • Find the right type of insulation.
  • Keep your shipment at the correct temperature


Know your dimensions and package accordingly.

As with any shipment, the dimensions of your freight are important. In fact, dimensions are often more important than the physical weight. Measuring the length, width and height of your shipment (don’t forget to round up to the next inch) is one of the most important first steps in shipping food and perishables.

Accurate dimensions will help carriers understand how much freight can fit on a trailer, which will help you maximize capacity as a shipper. If your freight can fit in a smaller or more compact box, do it. You will get more on the trailer at once, which is crucial with something as time-sensitive as temperature-controlled shipping.


Find the most suitable container.

It’s important to note there are a few different types of containers that can be used for shipping food and other perishables. Wooden, cardboard, plastic and styrofoam boxes are all commonly used for packaging this type of freight.

  • Wood. Wooden boxes are most commonly used for freight not impacted by force. Poultry, other meats and seafood are often shipped in wooden boxes. Dry ice can easily rupture a package if pressure is not released. Wooden boxes allow for pressure to escape the package, making it a safe option for shipping frozen food.
  • Cardboard. Cardboard boxes are a more affordable option and easy to stack. They can be sealed or wrapped, making them a better candidate for gel refrigerant packs than dry ice, since dry ice cannot be sealed in plastic.
  • Plastic. Plastic boxes keep excess moisture out of your freight, which is ideal if you are shipping produce. They are also easily stackable without risking damage.
  • Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a great insulator, allowing shippers to kill two birds with one stone. Some styrofoam boxes come with their own seals but can be more expensive. To reduce costs, try individually wrapping cheaper boxes. 

Whichever container you choose, make sure it’s strong and sturdy enough to be stacked inside the trailer. The food or perishables you’re shipping may be more prone to damage, which is also something to keep in mind when choosing a container.


Ensure you have the right type of insulation.

After you’ve found the right container for packaging, it’s time to find the most suitable form of insulation. Insulation can come in several different forms such as pre-lined boxes, liners, pads and filler. Remember, a variety of options also leads to a variety of price points, so look into every option available.

Several types of liners and pads are available if the container you chose is not styrofoam or does not have a liner built in. Liners typically come in a thermal or bubble wrap-like fabric, which can be placed into the container and around the freight itself. Pads are usually made of styrofoam and can be placed inside the container. 

The ultimate goal of insulation is to keep food and perishables fresh and free from damage. Additional filler such as packing peanuts or bubble wrap may be needed. The extra cushion will be especially helpful in protecting perishables that are sensitive to impact force.


Understanding how to keep your shipment at the correct temperature.

Some produce must be kept dry to prevent it from spoiling along its journey. It also must be labeled properly if it’s a “soft” product such as tomatoes, plums or peaches. When taking both of these factors into consideration, gel refrigerant packs are often the way to go, as they are enclosed in plastic that will prevent excess moisture from getting in.

If your shipment is too cold, it could be at risk for chilling damage. Gel refrigerant packs are a good way to control how cool your freight is without freezing or damaging it.

On the other hand, most meats and some types of dairy are best shipped frozen. When shipping frozen food or perishables, dry ice is best suited for keeping everything at the correct temperature. If you choose to move forward with dry ice, however, beware that it’s considered a hazardous material and must be labeled as such.

Regardless of the type of freight, food and other perishables have to be labeled. Labels such as “perishable,” “frozen,” “hazardous material” and “time-sensitive” will help keep everyone who comes into contact with your shipment aware of how to handle it.

It is important to note that even with the proper container and insulation, your freight still needs to be placed in a temperature-controlled trailer. Properly packaging your freight is not enough to forego using a temperature-controlled trailer, so keep this in mind.

Learn about what Protect from Freeze services entail.

Sometimes temperature-controlled shipping calls for freight to be kept at freezing temperatures. That’s where Protect from Freeze comes in. Protect from Freeze is a service many LTL carriers provide to keep goods that can freeze at the shipper's desired temperature. Commodities such as chemicals, paints, glues, liquids, wine, alcohol, perishable food and batteries need to maintain an above freezing temperature throughout transit to maintain quality.

Using Protect from Freeze services, the cargo is sheltered from the outside conditions using heated trailers, heat shelters and blankets to ensure the freight does not freeze in transit. By consistently monitoring the outside temperature and the temperature of your freight, your freight will stay warmer than 32 degrees.


Working with a temperature-controlled carrier. 

When working with a temperature-controlled provider, you are going to have to sift through your network to find the most suitable carrier.

Go for the carrier that is willing to go over every last detail with you. From the temperature of the trailer to contingency plans, it’s extremely important to be on the same page. After all, a temperature increase of just 2 degrees Fahrenheit could decrease the shelf life of your freight by up to 50 percent. The freight you are moving is sensitive and any damage due to poor planning will fall back on you.

To keep communication open and consistent, consider pairing up with a freight service provider. A freight service provider will ensure that you and your carrier have talked about every step of the process, and help take care of any unforeseen issues along the way.


Final thoughts.

There’s a lot to consider when shipping food and perishables. Everything from the type of container to the labels you stamp on the box is a part of the greater goal of getting perishable freight to its final destination as quickly as possible.

If you have other questions about refrigerated shipping, check out our temperature-controlled shipping whitepaper for more information. Or get started today, and get a quote.


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