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The basics of dry ice: Sending items that need to stay cold

How UPS customers ship fresh food far and wide.

Cooking up a storm? If you're sending home-cooked food or fresh meat to a loved one, you'll need to know the basics of shipping items that must be kept cold.

For a hunter fortunate enough to cap an outdoor adventure with a prized elk, there's never a shortage of willing recipients to share the spoils with – so how to ship such items is something we're often asked at Compass.

Naturally, elk meat isn't the only food that people like to send across the country. Some parents and grandparents, for example, enjoy preparing home-cooked meals and sending them to loved ones.

The problem, of course, is spoilage, so shipping food items through UPS requires coolant products such as dry ice or frozen gel packs.

As dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) is considered a hazardous material for air travel, it's subject to regulations and labeling requirements not applicable to ground transport. Another issue: Most people have no experience shipping with dry ice or gel freezer packs so they're unsure where to find these products or how best to pack them.

Here are a few useful tips: 

  • Where can I buy dry ice or gel freezer packs? Most grocery stores and butcher shops sell both products, while gel freezer packs can be found at some The UPS Store® locations. Go here for a partial list of dry ice vendors across the United States.
  • What's better for shipping elk meat – dry ice or gel freezer packs? The quick answer: They both work but have their strengths and weaknesses. Dry ice (-109 F), as the name suggests, keeps a package dry, whereas gel packs dampen as they thaw. Dry ice is also colder but doesn't last as long as gel packs. One significant advantage of gel freezer packs: There are no restrictions on the amount that can be shipped by air.
  • How should I pack meat to keep it frozen? For best results, use a Styrofoam cooler, preferably at least 1.5 inches thick. Next, place one layer of coolant inside. Then place a sealed bag of meat inside the cooler, followed by another layer of coolant. Final step: Seal the cooler lid with tape, as this helps preserve the coolant.
  • Which shipping option should I choose for perishables like meat? The effectiveness of dry ice and gel packs vary, with three days considered the maximum time a product can be stored. So UPS Next Day Air®, guaranteeing delivery by the next business day, is your best option. If using 2nd Day Air®, remember to add more dry ice or gel freezer packs. Send shipments early in the week.
  • How should I handle dry ice? It's important to take precautions. Use gloves when handling dry ice as extreme temperatures burn skin. 

For more information about dry ice shipping regulations, go to
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    Reader Comments

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    The Compass Guy January 9, 2012
    Yes. The key ingredients are dry ice, an insulated container and preferably next day shipping. Whatever you do, don't ship so that your product ships over the course of a weekend. And remember that our Saturday Delivery service is available should you find yourself shipping on a Friday. I don't suppose that you'd be willing to share the recipe, would you? The Compass guy likes to make pizza at home once in a while! ;-) Regards - Jerry.
    Anonymous January 7, 2012
    I want to ship frozen pizza's how would I ship them same method as above
    Anonymous October 7, 2011
    It's very interesting elk meat is a commonly shipped item (I may be reading the article wrong). lol. But I see that you recommend a styrofoam cooler as the shipping container. I was reading on this <a href="">dry ice</a> website that you are not supposed to seal containers because it could explode. You specifically say to seal the cooler. Is that different because it is styrofoam?
    The Compass Guy October 6, 2011
    Hi commenter. You're right. This article is just a quick overview. You can find all of the information in detail here: Coolants and Refrigerants (Dry Ice). Best, the Compass guy
    Anonymous October 6, 2011
    Isn't there a limit of 5 lbs of dry ice for air shipments? I did not see that listed in the article