Here’s What You Need to Know about Shipping Temperature-Sensitive Items


Shipping temperature-sensitive items isn’t just about keeping cold items cold. Whether you’re shipping something that needs to stay cold, like fresh flowers or perishable food, or something that needs to stay warm, like live succulents or baby birds, you need to take special packaging and shipping precautions if you want your temperature-sensitive items to arrive without being ruined — or killed, as the case may be.

Fortunately, shipping and logistics pros have been dealing with temperature-sensitive shipments for a long time, and they’ve developed a range of tools and techniques to keep shipments within an ideal temperature range throughout the supply chain. From packaging materials to shipping methods, here’s what you need to know about shipping your temperature-controlled items.

Choose the Right Packaging, Coolants, and Insulation

The right packaging will help to protect the contents of your temperature-sensitive shipments from ambient temperature fluctuations that can occur when, for example, a shipment leaves the refrigerated truck and spends some time on the loading dock waiting to be checked into the warehouse, or even when the warehouse itself turns out to be not quite as cold as the refrigerated truck. Coolants can keep perishable items, like fresh flowers or perishable foods, cool even as ambient external temperatures fluctuate. Insulation and warming packs can keep live plants and animals, or other items that can’t get too cold, from freezing and sustaining damage or dying in transit.

Always make sure to use brand-new packaging when shipping anything, but especially temperature-sensitive items. The journey through the supply chain can be rough on a shipment, and shipping materials like corrugated cardboard boxes, styrofoam insulation, and packing peanuts aren’t designed to move through the supply chain more than once and retain their structural integrity and usefulness. So you should always use new corrugated cardboard boxes, new insulation materials, and new cushioning materials for every shipment.

It’s also a good idea to include a temperature indicator as part of your packaging, you can monitor the temperature conditions your shipment was subject to in transit. Then you, or your intended recipient, will know at a glance whether the contents of your shipment have been compromised due to temperature fluctuations. Some temperature indicators can even give you temperature updates in real time, allowing you to intervene before damage is done if a shipment begins to get too hot or cold. 

Follow the Rules

Often, temperature-controlled shipments are heavily regulated, because many of the items that require temperature control in shipping — like medications, food, chemicals, diagnostic and other medical samples, and live animals — can pose risks if they aren’t handled carefully during shipping. Popular shipping coolants like dry ice are also heavily regulated, at least in large amounts.

Sometimes, these regulations are put in place to help ensure that temperature-sensitive shipments arrive safely. For example, the United States Postal Service ships thousands of live chickens every year, but they have strict requirements on how old the birds can be, how much time they can spend in transit and even what days of the week they can be mailed. These regulations are in place to ensure that the live chickens arrive at their destinations safe and healthy, for the benefit of the sender, the recipient, the handlers, and the birds themselves. 

Before you ship any temperature-controlled items, know your regulatory obligations. It’s usually easiest, and best, to go with a reputable carrier who has experience shipping the kinds of cargo you need shipped. They’ll know what regulations should be adhered to and how to best follow them while shipping your cargo swiftly and efficiently. 

Ship Temperature-Controlled Items as Fast as Possible

The more time temperature-sensitive items spend in the supply chain, the higher the chance that they’ll experience damaging temperature fluctuations. Plus, many temperature-sensitive items are perishable, and they do their perishing fairly quickly. It’s always best to ship temperature-sensitive items via the quickest means you can afford, to maximize the chance that they’ll arrive while still fresh and with plenty of useful life left.

When it comes to shipping temperature-sensitive items, you can’t just throw your items onto a refrigerated truck and hope for the best. You have to take careful precautions to ensure that your items will arrive fresh, useful, and in good condition. The extra time and expense are well worth your customers’ satisfaction and your continued success.