Expert advice

How to ship perishable foods


Sending food items? Here's how to make sure they get to their destination safely.

If you're planning to ship perishables like cookies, cakes and even refrigerated foods, read these helpful tips from our experts.

Here are top tips for sending food through UPS. 

1. Choose a fast shipping option. You don't want your goods to spoil en route, but you want to balance speed with cost. The best shipping option for food is often UPS Next Day Air®, although often we think that the most economical service level – UPS Ground – is desirable without realizing that our perishable package may not make it in time when traveling two or three days before it arrives cross-country. An air service is much better.

2. Let the gift recipient know when to expect the package. That can help your friend or loved one get the goods into the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.

3. Choose the right day to ship. Your shipment will take longer if you ship at the end of the week because it will likely sit in a UPS facility over the weekend. So, ship perishables early in the week.

4. Use a sturdy, new corrugated box. Boxes weaken with each use. To get technical: Boxes should have a Mullen Test of at least 200 pounds to perform well when shipping perishables. 

5. Wrap foods securely with foil or plastic wrap. This will help keep items intact.

6. Pack items as snugly as possible. Stack items or put them in a tin. Put wax paper between layers of cookies.

7. Protect jars and bottles. UPS recommends at least 2 inches of cushioning around fragile items like glass. And make sure jars and bottles are well sealed.

8. Don't use newspaper as packing material. It doesn't provide enough cushioning. Better options for shipping food are bubble wrap, plastic foam peanuts or Instapak, a bagged foam.

9. Duct tape doesn't solve all problems. Sure, it got MacGyver out of a lot of jams on TV, but duct tape is not a good choice for sealing a package. It comes loose in cold conditions and can melt in high temperatures. Avoid masking tape, too. Use tape that's meant for packages.

10. No brown paper packages tied up with strings! Julie Andrews may have sung about them back in the day, but both paper and string cause problems with modern shipments. Brown paper will tear (and your label could be taken with it) and string gets caught on sorting belts.

11. Insulate cold items with polystyrene foam (such as Styrofoam). Put everything in a cooler and box it up, or use polystyrene planks to build your own "cooler" inside the box.

12. Use dry ice or frozen gel packs to keep foods cold. Dry ice stays cold longer but has safety risks (see tip 13). The certified packaging experts at The UPS Store® can help you decide which is best for your food shipment. They can also tell you where to purchase these items. (Most locations do not sell dry ice or gel packs.) Use plastic wrap to shield food from dry ice, and separate dry ice or gel packs from food with cardboard.

13. Remember, dry ice is a hazardous material. It can burn skin, so wear gloves and goggles when handling. Don't wrap it; if the carbon dioxide gas that dry ice releases can't expand, it could explode. Add the proper (allowable per the carrier) amount of dry ice. Place food into a sealed plastic bag and then into the box on top of the dry ice. 

14. Check with The UPS Store before shipping fragile items, potentially hazardous items or international shipments (the destination country may restrict some items). They are the packing experts.

Find locations of The UPS Store.

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Reader Comments

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Compass Guy
Veronica, yes. You can ship crabs and seafood. I think points 11, 12 and 13 pertain most to those shipments. Usually you have to send seafood either Next Day Air or 2nd Day Air to ensure they arrive quickly. You can find all options (with cost and speed) at
What about seafood? If I were to send some crabs to a family member do the rules go the same for them as well?
Compass Guy
Tony, to find out the cost and your shipping options, you'll need the weight and dimensions of your package, plus the origin and destination postal codes. But once you have that, it's easy to get a comparison: While UPS Standard to Canada ground service will be the least costly option, it may not be fast enough to ensure your product stays frozen, depending on how far it's traveling.
I want to ship smoked meat that is frozen to canada. average 15 pound cut. estimated cost?

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