Shipping Cold Food: Best Practices Guide

May 15, 2023
Food & Bev

The food cold chain is an important business. It’s a growing industry that is set to be valued at $647.47 billion by 2028 and it’s also a vital part of our day-to-day life. Whether it’s individually frozen foods or fully prepared frozen meals, we cannot live without access to quality frozen produce. 

However, shipping cold food is challenging. Products need to be transported according to recommended food safety temperatures. Transporters also have to contend with all manner of shifting variables, like transportation time, differing climates, route changes, delays, and more. The consequences of getting even one variable wrong could mean huge losses in revenue and critical food wastage. That is why transporters have to stay up to date with best practices.

Global food waste

Did you know that one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally? This loss represents approximately US$1 trillion per year. 

There are many reasons why food gets wasted, some legitimate and some due to poor practices. The Food Loss Index (FLI) created by the United Nations reports that around 14% of the world’s food is lost after harvesting and before reaching the retail level. That means that a significant portion of the food lost every year is due to challenges within the storage and transportation phase of the cold food product lifecycle. 

These facts highlight the importance of transporters when shipping cold food and the pressure they are under. There is also an opportunity for transporters to maximize their income simply by updating their shipping practices. Ultimately the more control you have over your entire food cold chain, the more likely you are to deliver products safely and on time. 

Rethink your packaging

Once you have decided whether you will transport via (refrigerated) trucks, shipping containers, or airplanes, you must consider what you will transport your products in. Product packaging should help to keep products secure, uncontaminated, and cold. If chosen correctly and properly applied, packaging can help products stay within their food safety zones while in transit. 

The safe ranges for cold products are: 

  • Frozen products: 0°F - 32°F 
  • Refrigerated products: 32°F - 40°F 

Anything warmer than 32°F is in the ‘danger zone’ where bacteria can grow and become harmful. 

There are a lot of options when it comes to cold food packaging. In most cases, the best option is a combination of materials that work together to keep the product cold. For example, you could use styrofoam and dry ice to create an extremely cold cooler box. You could also line your packing with frozen gel packs that can take on different forms and adapt to the required shape of the product and outer packaging. Another way is to look into frozen foam bricks, cold quilts, and liquid nitrogen as tools to work with. Each product is different and will benefit from different combinations of cold packaging solutions. 

Food packaging labels are also an opportunity to present relevant information about the product to stakeholders and to the end consumer. Product labels need to be chosen specifically to withstand cold and freezing temperatures and should be applied to the product with the correct adhesives. 

Smart technology 

If your product packaging is done well, the next thing to look at is how you are tracking the temperature of your products. You need to know exactly when and for how long your products go out of their temperature range while shipping cold food. 

The best way to track the temperature of your products is by using smart technology, like the temperature monitoring devices provided by Varcode. Varcode offers a suite of solutions that give you control of the tracking, scanning, and data collection of your products as they journey through the cold chain shipment process. 

Even new technologies like AI can be used to perform predictive analytics so that challenges can be avoided before they happen. AI can process large amounts of data in real time to give you helpful insights when you need them. 

Innovations are constantly being brought into the cold chain solutions industry, so keep scanning for ways to improve your operations. 

Best practices for shipping cold food

If you’ve got your packaging down pat and already applied smart technology, there are still a few basic practices you could incorporate to improve your cold chain operations. Here are a few key points to consider. 

  1. Make a checklist out of everything

In the cold shipping industry, consistency is everything. There are loads of procedures across the cold chain that simply need to be done correctly and in the right order. Take the pressure off your staff by putting checklists in place, like:

  • Inbound arrival procedures
  • Outbound packing procedures
  • Product staging checklist
  • Receiving checklist
  • Shipping checklist
  • Stowage checklist
  • Trailer inspection checklist
  1. Open up communication lines

Too many mistakes come down to poor communication or a lack of clarity between stakeholders. Make sure that all parties along the cold chain know what the overall plan is and what is expected of them. 

  1. Have a plan B, C, and D

You have to expect the unexpected in cold chain logistics. As well-planned as your primary routes may be, there are often unforeseen circumstances that can arise and make one or many aspects of your plan impossible. Have backup routes plotted out, alternative shipping modes in mind, and procedures in place for managing delays. 

  1. Know your product requirements 

There are so many different types of cold food products and many of them have their own special requirements for staying fresh. For example, meat can be frozen at -0.4°F while frozen dairy products prefer a colder -31°F. Make sure you know what your products need and don’t simply lump them together at the same temperature. 

Revolutionizing the Cold Chain with Innovative Solutions

Investing in smart technology will save you and your customers a lot of money in the long run. If you’re serious about limiting food wastage and optimizing your cold chain logistics, check out Varcode’s solutions today. You can start tracking and monitoring your cold food from the source to the consumer, with all the real-time data you need.

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Learn how Varcode can enhance the value of your current investment in cold chain monitoring.