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How to Provide Food-Safe Packaging and Shipping

Safety for commercial food packaging and shipping must be a priority. Perishable and nonperishable foods need protection from the elements, pests, and other forms of contamination. For successful food product delivery, know the complexities of food shipping, packaging options, how to ship different types of food, and commercial food packaging tips for meeting safety standards. 

The Complexities of Shipping Food 

Shipping food presents many more challenges than other products. The packing and shipping methods must preserve the quality and safety of the contents. Failure to box food correctly before shipping can cost money in damaged goods, lead to customer dissatisfaction, and potentially require expensive product recalls. 

The type of packaging makes a difference. Only food-grade packaging can safely hold food for shipment. The packaging must match the needs of the contents, including whether the food is perishable, nonperishable, or easily damaged. For example, delicate foods may require extra durable packaging that will protect the contents from crushing while maintaining the ideal temperature. 

Packaging must also avoid damaging the food and indicate quickly if a breach occurred. For instance, jars have pop-up centers that show consumers if the vacuum seal broke. Sonixs strapping systems use a distinctive seal impression on the plastic strapping to allow customers to quickly spot signs of tampering on the containers. 

Oxygen, light, moisture, cold, and heat can damage perishable and nonperishable foods, contributing to the growth of bacteria or fungi if these contaminants get into the container. Opaque containers and sealed packaging protect products susceptible to light damage. Cold and heat damage typically come from improper shipping or storage methods. Insulation around the food can protect the products from temperature extremes, but it’s still crucial to follow safe storage and shipping procedures.

Perishable foods must remain at a consistent temperature to prevent spoilage and degradation of flavor or texture. These products require either refrigerated shipping trucks or packaging the food with elements to preserve the cold temperatures inside. Dry ice or insulated containers can help maintain the internal temperature of packaged perishable foods. 

The food needs to remain sealed and resist crushing. Food of all types require protection against contamination from the elements and pests. Packages that easily open can admit rats, mice, or insects inside that will ruin the contents. 

Considerations for shipping foods start with planning to obtain food-safe packaging. Planning for safety during shipping may require taking initiative and sealing foods properly within insulated containers that protect the goods from temperature extremes, contamination, and product tampering. Food shipping complexities require planning to overcome, but safely sending foods will prevent lost products due to damage or contamination and avoid possible recalls due to incorrect packaging. 

Packaging for Shipping Food

Food-safe packaging comes in many forms to protect and insulate the contents. The type of packaging should match the food type and delivery method. For example, when sending cold foods through a refrigerated transit and storage system, boxes will suffice because temperature control occurs externally. In unknown shipment conditions, insulated containers protect foods from too much heat or cold. 

Dry ice and cold packs are options for maintaining chilled temperatures inside the container when shipping with methods that don’t include temperature control, such as when sending products through the mail or other ground delivery service. When used inside a well-insulated container with fast delivery, these cooling pieces should keep the temperatures safe during shipment. 

Materials for protecting foods include the following. 

Insulated Pads

Insulated liners have reflective coatings and use recycled materials. They offer similar insulation to Styrofoam while being a greener alternative. These pads require a separate cardboard box to fit inside, which should match the dimensions of the pads for the best insulation and product protection. 

Styrofoam Sheets or Boxes 

Styrofoam sheets and boxes are lightweight shipping options that protect and insulate. With this material, thickness directly correlates to the level of insulation. Thicker materials are better suited to shipping frozen or chilled goods. Sheets fit into separate boxes to turn cardboard boxes into insulated containers. However, the sheets may not insulate as well as complete boxes because they have gaps between them. 

Insulated Liners 

Insulated liners have a construction similar to emergency blankets, which help people in crises. These liners have a reflective coating and the texture of bubble wrap. Foods can have these liners tightly wrapped around them and placed into a box with extra air-insulated liners or bubble wrap surrounding the product for extra protection and insulation. 

Air-Insulated Liners 

Air-insulated liners are an economical option for protecting food products by surrounding the goods with an air cushion. This option may not offer the best insulation for shipping cold products through standard delivery options, but it works well for protecting foods throughout a cold storage transit system. 

Shipping Different Types of Food 

The type of food determines the shipping method and packaging required. Foods fall into one of two categories — nonperishable and perishable. The necessary conditions for storage determine the specific category.

Nonperishable foods maintain their safety and quality at a wider temperature range and don’t need refrigeration or freezing during storage. Dry goods, such as packaged snacks, ready-to-eat cereals, and canned goods fall into this category. 

Perishable foods include those that need refrigeration or freezing from production through end use. These foods have more considerations for packaging and shipping to keep the temperature inside stable and the food safe. If not kept at their desired temperatures, these foods can spoil. Consistent, quality packaging is critical to protecting the foods inside from temperature extremes. 

Some fresh foods can have room temperature storage but still spoil with time or exposure to moisture. Fresh perishable foods include produce, pastries, and bread. These foods still require protection and the extra packaging considerations of other perishable foods. 

Nonperishable Food

Nonperishable foods do not require as much packaging as perishable products. When packing dry foods, they only need cushioning protection to keep the products intact. The products can go into sturdy cardboard containers with fill material to protect them from crushing or excessive movement during shipping. Dry ice or cold packs are not necessary for shipping nonperishable foods. 

Glass containers that may break and contain liquids should have extra wrapping around them before placing them in the shipping container. Double-sealed plastic bags with watertight seals around these breakable containers can protect the rest of the package’s contents in case the glass breaks. 

Seals for nonperishable foods must be secure and durable. Tamper-evident strap seals will show quickly if the strap seal has been tampered with or broken and indicates that the contents of the box may need to be inspected for damage and potential contamination.

While nonperishables do not need as much packaging as perishables, they still need food-safe containers and protection from tampering and contamination. Sturdy, well-sealed containers can protect these goods from both problems.

Perishable Food 

While all food needs containers that will prevent tampering or contamination, perishable foods have stricter requirements for temperature control during shipment and storage. Perishable foods include any foods that could spoil with temperature changes or time. These foods fall into three primary types — fresh, refrigerated, and frozen. 

Fresh perishable goods need protection from damage, moisture, and extreme temperatures. Time is the biggest enemy of these foods. Consequently, shipping needs to happen with the fastest method possible to reduce the chances of spoilage before they reach their destinations. These foods typically have delicate textures that also require rigid shipping containers to keep the products intact and protected from crushing or other damage. Moisture can also produce spoilage from mold or bacterial growth. Packaging used for fresh perishables must keep moisture out while protecting the food inside. 

Refrigerated foods must stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit throughout shipping. Labeling on the outside of the package should include information to “immediately refrigerate” to protect the safety of the food inside after receipt, especially if shipped via a non-refrigerated method, such as UPS or the United States Postal Service. Add instructions inside the container for the recipient to immediately take the temperature of the contents with a food thermometer. Include information about disposal if any of the products register above 40 degrees. 

Frozen foods must maintain lower temperatures than refrigerated foods throughout shipment. Thawing of these foods can severely hamper the quality, even if they remain below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and refreeze. Thawing and refreezing adversely affect the flavor and texture of many foods. When shipping frozen foods, ensure they are completely frozen before packaging and use adequate dry ice to maintain the container’s internal temperature below freezing for the entire shipping time. As with refrigerated foods, these should include a label and package information to freeze the contents upon receipt, and dispose of anything that has a temperature above 40 degrees or appears to have thawed in transit. 

To keep perishable foods fresh throughout the shipment, dry ice or ice packs are options. Both have specific requirements for amounts and safety when using them for food shipments. 

Using Dry Ice, Ice Packs, or Gel Packs to Ship Foods 

Perishable foods require cold temperatures that dry ice, ice packs, or gel packs can maintain. The choice of any of these depends on the type of food, length in transit, budget, and shipping method. Dry ice may offer better temperature regulation for frozen goods, while ice packs could work better for refrigerated or fresh goods. Gel packs protect against excessive moisture release that ice packs produce but don’t keep foods frozen. 

Dry ice provides several advantages over ice packs when shipping. First, this product keeps food colder for longer periods. It also does not melt and add moisture to the interior of the package because the ice sublimates directly into carbon dioxide gas. 

It is not a perfect option, though. Many shippers have special requirements for shipping with dry ice, especially when using large amounts. For instance, UPS requires a Class 9 diamond-shaped hazard label for packages that contain 5.5 pounds or more of dry ice. All containers with dry ice need information on the outside of the packages that the contents have dry ice inside. FedEx does not require a special hazard label for ground shipping but does mandate the use of the Class 9 diamond hazard for air shipping with any amount of dry ice. FedEx requires all containers with dry ice to receive direct handling by a FedEx employee and have a label on the exterior that says “Dry Ice.” 

When using dry ice for keeping foods frozen, use five to 10 pounds for every 24 hours of shipping time. The exact amount depends on the insulation of the container and the amount of food inside. Smaller amounts of food and thicker Styrofoam containers require the least amount of dry ice. 

Ice packs made of wet ice offer a lower-cost option for keeping food cold, but the ice will melt into water that could damage other products unless tightly sealed in double plastic containers with watertight seals. To protect other goods, line the interior of the container with plastic and absorbent material. 

Gel packs are a better option for fresh perishables because these tend to keep the temperature below ambient levels but not safe enough for refrigerated goods. Use gel packs when the temperature inside the container should be between 34 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Shipping companies prefer gel packs or water packs because these options are not hazardous materials that require special labeling.

Complying With Food Safety Regulations 

All food products should meet food safety regulations, even in their packaging and shipping. The packaging materials and containers require food use approval. Working with a food-safe packaging provider ensures the containers will meet regulatory requirements for contacting food. 

Preparing the food for shipping should also meet regulations for maintaining safety and temperature guidelines. Refrigerated foods must stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and frozen foods should stay below freezing. Even fully cooked, cured, smoked, or vacuum-sealed products should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for shipping because they are still perishable. 

Shippers should use the fastest method possible for delivery, preferably overnight. Faster shipping methods reduce the amount of dry ice or ice packs needed to maintain the internal temperature and reduce the risk of the food reaching unsafe temperatures during shipment. 

Using food-safe containers and keeping temperatures regulated during transit will help to protect the safety and quality of the foods, so they arrive ready for preparation by the recipient. 

Check out Packing Solutions From EAM-Mosca Corporation

The above commercial food shipping tips should simplify the process. But all deliveries start with proper packaging, including strapping the containers to ensure the protection of the goods inside. 

Select from several strapping machines designed for the food and beverage industry’s unique needs from EAM-Mosca Corporation. These machines use Sonixs sealing technology. This ultrasonic sealing system operates more efficiently than heat-sealing systems, while creating stronger seals without high temperatures, smells, fumes, or smoke. This clean operation preserves the working environment’s integrity for employees and protects the food packages’ quality. Find out more about the food and beverage options from EAM-Mosca Corporation, which include fully automatic and operator-controlled Sonixs systems, and get quotes for specific machines to optimize end-of-line packaging.

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