How to Ship Temperature Sensitive Items

February 13, 2023
Cold Chain

Did you know that humans have been trying to preserve and store and ship temperature sensitive items for thousands of years? Just think about how difficult it would have been to keep fresh foods cold or meals hot in ancient times! It seems impossible. Though we figured out methods like freezing (not always a good idea), drying, fermenting, and pickling, you can be glad that we live in an advanced time.

Knowing how to ship temperature-sensitive products can still be very difficult even though we now have far more advanced technology and systems to help us. Each item has different requirements and you cannot account for every hurdle that can come your way no matter how much planning you put in. In this article, we’ll explore how you can ship temperature sensitive items using all the advantages of the 21st century.

How items are packed

It can be argued that most products are temperature sensitive because extended exposure to cold or heat often harms them over time. For example, think about the risk of letting a vaccine fluctuate in temperature as it is being transported. It could become very dangerous. The same is true for products like wine, ice cream, medical products, fruit, meat, and many more. Each one of them has unique temperature requirements.

A major factor in controlling the temperature of the products you transport is how they are packed. The more considered the packing method, the more likely you are to be able to maintain the required temperature. You need to know the ideal transportation temperature of your products so that you can choose your packing method. Some basic principles include the following:

  • Keep similar items together
  • Limit uncontrolled space around the product by using insulation
  • Limit the time that products spend between cold areas as they go through the cold chain
  • Include a temperature tracking solution so that you can monitor whether your products exceed their temperature threshold at any point
  • Use the right cooling materials for your product (gas, solid, gel, etc.)

Ultimately, you need to customize your packing strategy to your products because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The materials you use and how you pack them make all the difference.

5 ways to safely ship temperature sensitive items

Here are five packaging methods that can help you optimize your cold chain logistics:

Block of Styrofoam

1.  Styrofoam

Styrofoam is a great packing material because it is versatile and fairly inexpensive. It can either be used for generic packaging or molded specifically to the product's dimensions. Styrofoam provides a protective layer around your product so that there is less likelihood of damage from external forces. It is also soft enough to not be a risk to the product. Styrofoam also deflects heat as it is made primarily of air.

2.  Dry Ice

Dry ice is about -109°F so it is great at keeping products at below-freezing temperatures. However, dry ice does not last indefinitely because it sublimates as it comes into contact with air. You must carefully plan how much dry ice you will need for the shipment, how long it needs to last, and how it will be handled, so as not to put products and personnel at risk.

Blue frozen ice

3.  Gel Packs

Gel packs are an obvious choice for products that need to be kept cold but not frozen because they are easy to handle and can be placed strategically around the product. Even though gel packs can last for hours, they will slowly melt so it is wise to use them on short-haul trips. You can get the most out of gel packs by using insulation to keep the cold in and the heat out.

But how long do gel packs last in shipping, you may ask. Longer than ice! Gel packs last 24 to 36 hours and the insulation of your temperature-sensitive products is important to insure that it lasts as long as possible.

Patterned quilt

4.  Other helpful products

In most cases, it is a combination of solutions that makes for a winning cold chain transportation strategy. Along with the above options you can also use frozen foam bricks that can be used again and again, quilts that keep the cold in, or even liquid nitrogen.

Then there is also products like the Smart Tag that indicates the temperatures your temperature-sensitive products were exposed to, making it easy to ensure that your products arrive unspoiled!

Refrigeration System on Truck

5.  Cold vehicles

While you can spend a lot of time and energy optimizing the packing materials you use, opting for vehicles that provide refrigeration can make things easier. Of course, convenience comes with a price tag and not all transporters have the means or the access to cold truck solutions. For high-priority products, the extra spend will be well worth it. It’s a good idea to consider using cold trucks in combination with other packaging solutions to ensure a holistic approach to cold chain transport.

How to avoid spoiled shipments

So how do you stop your items from spoiling or becoming hazardous? Well, nothing beats good old-fashioned planning. The key is to analyze your shipment carefully long before it needs to be transported. This is so that you can ensure that you have covered all possible requirements. There are generally numerous stakeholders involved in a single shipment and a lot of moving parts so you have to be sure everyone is on the same page.

It’s also super helpful to keep up to date with the latest technologies that can help take the load off of you. Innovations are being introduced to the transportation industry all the time. For example, Varcode has developed a range of helpful technologies that help you track and monitor your cold chain logistics. Their focus is on providing you with the information you need to make decisions and mitigate risks. Varcode’s SmartTags allow you to see when your product has exceeded its temperature threshold with each scan along the journey. You can also use their management dashboard to see all your data in one place.  

Take an inventory of your cold chain transportation process and see if you can identify areas that could be innovated or improved with technology. It will mean investing in your process, but it will start paying itself off immediately by limiting wastage.

Time to explore

Now that you know how to ship temperature sensitive items, all there is left to do is start experimenting. If you want to have a better view of your products while they are being shipped, check out Varcode’s products today. There’s no need to use prehistoric transportation methods when you can have everything you need at your fingertips.

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