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How To Ship Food as an Ecommerce Business

by EasyPost

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, direct-to-consumer food brands have surged in popularity. While food ecommerce is a great space to be in, successfully shipping food requires meticulous planning, proper packaging, and coordination with reliable carriers. If you do it right, customers will buy again and again. If you do it wrong, you’ll grapple with complaints, refund requests, and even sick customers. 

If you’re wondering how to send food in the mail, you’re in the right place! This article will explain how to ship food safely and easily.

How to ship non-perishable food

Non-perishable food items are those with a long shelf life and can be stored without refrigeration. This includes canned fruits and vegetables, dry pasta and rice, certain baked goods, packaged snacks such as chips and crackers, and more. 

Even though non-perishables won’t go bad quickly and don’t need to be kept cold, it’s important to maintain high packaging standards when shipping them. Follow these guidelines so the non-perishable food you mail will arrive in perfect condition.

Seal the food

Make sure that non-perishable items are tightly sealed, either in their original packaging or in airtight containers. Improperly sealed food could spill or become contaminated during transit. 

Use the correct packaging

Nobody wants to order their favorite snack online and open up a bag of crumbs. Using the correct packaging can help avoid scenarios like this. Choose sturdy corrugated boxes or padded envelopes to provide a protective layer against potential mishandling. This step is especially important if you’re sending fragile foods such as chips, cookies, pastries, or drinks in glass bottles. 

If the non-perishable food you’re sending is sensitive to temperature (like chocolate), consider insulating the package or including cold packs.

Ship as quickly as possible

Although non-perishables don’t spoil quickly, shipping delays might impact their freshness. And who wants to eat something stale? Make sure to ship non-perishables using expedited shipping so customers receive their orders in two to three days. 

How to ship perishable food 

Perishable food has a limited shelf life and will spoil quickly if not stored properly or eaten within a specific timeframe. Because these foods are usually high in moisture content, they can support the growth of microorganisms like bacteria, mold, and yeast, potentially causing health issues. Perishable foods include dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, prepared meals, and more. 

To ship perishable food, you need to use insulated packaging, choose the right type of coolant, and label packages correctly. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to ship food in the mail safely. One study of seafood and meat products bought online found that “nearly half of the studied products arrived with surface temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, rendering the food unsafe to consume.” Ouch. If your perishables are poorly packed or take too long to ship, you risk getting people sick. With a little bit of planning, however, you can guarantee that the perishables you ship arrive safely. 

Use the correct packaging

Keeping food cold during transit starts with the right packaging. If possible, vacuum seal perishable goods to protect them from air and moisture. Then, select an insulation layer, outer box, and filler material.

  • Insulated foam box. Foam boxes or coolers provide an effective barrier against external temperature variations. Make sure to choose one that’s large enough to hold your food and coolant.
  • Corrugated outer box. While foam boxes provide necessary insulation, they’re not strong enough to stand up to rough handling. To help the insulation layer maintain its structural integrity during shipping, place it in a sturdy corrugated box.
  • Packaging cushion. If the food doesn’t fill up the box entirely, add something to cushion it. Filler material keeps food in place, protects fragile items, and acts as extra insulation to help packages stay cool for longer. Packing paper is a great option if you’re going for sustainability, but packing peanuts or bubble wrap work too. For delicate food like fruit, use foam inserts or molded trays. 
  • Watertight plastic container or bag. If there’s a chance that items could leak, seal them in watertight containers or bags to prevent moisture damage. If you use ice as a coolant, make sure to wrap it up properly as well, or the package recipient will be left with a soggy mess.
  • Absorbent materials like pads or paper towels. As extra security against leaks, consider lining the package with absorbent pads or paper towels.
  • Coolant. Based on the information in the next section, select the right type and amount of coolant to include.

When you prepare packages, don’t assume they’ll sit upright throughout the shipment process. Even if you add labels showing the correct orientation, packages could still be roughly handled, ending up on their sides or even upside down. Make sure to pack each box so that no items will be damaged if it gets jostled, and tape them securely using the H-tape method.

Include a coolant in the package

Different types of food require different temperatures. And you’re the one responsible for knowing the optimal temperatures for perishable food and calculating the correct type and amount of coolant to include. That’s a big responsibility! If perishable food stays in the danger zone (temperatures between 40 and 140°F) too long, it could get people very sick.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends that consumers check the temperature of any perishable food orders they receive. FSIS states, “Pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly in the "Danger Zone,” but they may not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. If perishable food arrives warm … do not consume the food.” 

Keep your food shipments well out of the danger zone by selecting the right coolant. The three options are gel packs, ice packs, and dry ice. 

  • Gel pack. Gel packs are plastic pouches filled with a gel-like substance. They’re reusable, non-toxic, and can keep food cool for 24-48 hours depending on the conditions. Gel packs are best for short-distance shipments of perishables that need to be kept cool, but not frozen. If you need to keep food between 32 and 60°F, most carriers recommend using gel packs.
  • Ice pack. Ice packs are similar to gel packs, but instead of gel, they’re filled with—you guessed it—solid ice. Like gel packs, ice packs are best suited for short-distance shipments, and they shouldn’t be used to keep food frozen. Most carriers recommend avoiding ice packs, as they have a few major disadvantages. First, melting ice can lead to leaks. Second, ice tends to be heavy, which could increase your shipping costs. Inside a foam cooler, ice can last for about 12-24 hours.
  • Dry ice. If you’re shipping frozen food, or transporting perishables over long distances, dry ice is the coolant for you—but it’s important to take safety precautions when handling it. Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide, and it gets really cold (around -109.3°F). Temperatures that low can cause severe frostbite, so you should never touch dry ice with your bare skin; instead, use tongs to handle it. Unlike water ice, dry ice doesn’t melt. It sublimates, or transitions straight from a solid to a gas. Because sublimation releases carbon dioxide gas, packages containing dry ice should always be well-ventilated. You should use 5-10 pounds of dry ice for every 24 hours, depending on how much insulation you have. 

Whatever coolant you choose, never allow it to touch the food directly. This is especially important with dry ice, which can cause freezer burns that negatively affect the taste and texture of food. 

Finally, remember that every minute counts when shipping food. Make sure to maximize coolant life by packing food shipments at the last possible moment.

Communicate with the customer

Full transparency is always a good rule of thumb when it comes to the customer experience—but when shipping perishable food, it’s a requirement. You definitely don’t want to get a call from a customer complaining that their food spoiled when it sat out on the doorstep all day. To avoid situations like this, always inform buyers about their order’s delivery date and time, and emphasize the importance of unpacking and storing the food correctly once it’s arrived. 

If a package includes dry ice, include instructions for the recipient to dispose of any leftover dry ice by leaving it in a well-ventilated area to sublimate fully. Warn them not to touch the dry ice with their bare skin. 

Label packages correctly

When sending perishable goods, label packages with the words “Perishable—Keep refrigerated” so the customer knows to open the box as soon as possible and transfer perishable items to a fridge or freezer.

Because dry ice is a hazardous material, it’s important to label any shipments that contain dry ice as a coolant. Each carrier has its own guidelines for labeling shipments containing dry ice, which can be found in the section below titled “How to ship food with different carriers.”

Ship as quickly as possible

Since perishables are time-sensitive, it’s critical to minimize the time they spend in transit. Choose a shipping method that ensures timely delivery, preferably overnight or express shipping. Pack your orders to last longer than the expected delivery time, just in case there are unforeseen delays.

How to ship food with different carriers

USPS, FedEx, and UPS all offer expedited shipping that can transport food quickly to its destination. The carrier you choose will ultimately depend on your business’s needs (note: a shipping API can help you optimize for cost and speed). No matter what carrier you’re shipping with, follow the guidelines listed above for packaging and shipping food. 


USPS provides a chart listing their regulations for different types of perishable goods, including meat, eggs, and other fresh food. For the fastest shipments, use Priority Mail Express® (next-day or two-day shipping) or Priority Mail® (one to three business days). Find USPS dry ice guidelines here.


When shipping perishable food with FedEx, make sure your package can last at least 12 hours longer than their delivery commitment time. FedEx Express® overnight is your best option for food shipments weighing under 150 pounds. FedEx does not recommend shipping perishable food using FedEx 2Day®, FedEx 2Day® Freight, or FedEx Express Saver®. Learn more about temperature-controlled shipments through FedEx, then find their dry ice guidelines here.


UPS advises planning for a maximum transit time of no more than 30 hours for perishable food, as well as shipping early in the week so your package doesn’t have to sit over the weekend. They recommend UPS Next Day Air® service, noting that UPS 2nd Day Air® shipping can also be a good option for food that doesn’t require as much temperature control. Find UPS dry ice guidelines here.

EasyPost makes shipping food easier

Shipping food requires extra time and preparation—but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Ship quickly and affordably with EasyPost’s comprehensive shipping solution, which makes it easy to integrate with carriers (including UPS, USPS, and FedEx), choose the best prices and service levels, print shipping labels, and more. 

Learn how EasyPost can help scale your food shipping