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How to ship temperature-sensitive goods

Woman packs temperture-sensitive package

Shipping temperature-sensitive goods isn't always a matter of simply keeping your items cool through transit. Extreme temperatures in both directions can cause spoilage, whether you're shipping pharmaceuticals or perishable foods like fresh-caught shellfish.

Consider flower delivery. Too hot, and your customer ends up with droopy, wilted buds. Freezing temperatures are no better, as they can cause discoloration, not to mention a shorter shelf life.

When it comes to pharmaceuticals, biologicals and other medical goods with strict temperature requirements, a fluctuation as minor as 2 degrees Celsius can reduce or even eliminate effectiveness. For high-value items like vaccines, clinical trial samples and lifesaving medications, the stakes couldn't be higher.

Follow these 7 steps to help keep your products at the right temperature.

1. Choose a carrier with experience in the type of goods you're shipping.

It doesn't matter how well you pack your items if you send them off with a carrier that's ill-equipped to handle your shipment. Reduce the risk of spoilage by choosing a logistics partner with ample experience shipping temperature-sensitive goods.

Specialized expertise goes a long way here, especially with cold chain items like pharmaceuticals and other medical goods. Choose a carrier with global access to temperature-regulated, healthcare-dedicated facilities to ensure your shipment maintains precise temperature requirements throughout transit and storage.

Bonus: If you are shipping pharma products, a logistics partner with healthcare expertise can help you with complicated regulations, packaging solutions and temperature monitoring throughout transit.

2. Learn the rules and regulations.

Temperature-controlled medical goods such as pharmaceuticals, diagnostic specimens and biological substances may be subject to FDA and DEA restrictions, along with federal hazardous materials regulations. The latter may also apply to chemical shipments.

Dry ice also warrants special attention, as it's considered a hazardous material. In the United States, non-medical shipments that contain more than 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of dry ice must comply with Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR) or International Air Transportation Association (IATA) rules, depending on the mode of transportation. U.S. shipments not exceeding 2.5 kg of dry ice may be shipped with minimal package markings, provided the goods being chilled are not also hazardous. In such cases, the package may simply display the words "Dry ice" and a description of the contents being chilled.

3. Choose appropriate packaging.

To maintain consistency in temperature, you have to keep the heat out and the coolness in. It all boils down to insulation and refrigeration. Sturdy insulated foam containers work well for food and other items you want to remain frozen, whether you're shipping ice cream or breast milk. They're also a good option for shipping flowers in extreme heat, when you'll want to include coolant.

The thicker the foam, the less coolant you'll need. Start with walls that are at least 1.5 inches thick. For sturdy items that require less cooling, insulated foam planks or thermal bubble wrap may be sufficient. Pack all foam coolers and planks within a sturdy new corrugated box.

For healthcare shipments that must maintain a specific temperature range, use pre-qualified temperature-controlled packaging (TCP). Choose "active" TCP for especially sensitive shipments; these more complex systems consist of a thermostat-controlled refrigerated container powered by an internal power source.

4. Choose the appropriate coolant.

Dry ice and gel packs are generally better options than traditional ice because ice will melt. Dry ice, however, does convert to gaseous carbon dioxide, so the packaging must allow the gas to escape.

In general, dry ice is best for items that you want to keep frozen, while gel packs are a good option for keeping goods between 32 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Word of warning: Never pack dry ice with live seafood or flowers, and don't let it come into direct contact with any food items. Get tips on shipping with dry ice and learn more about shipping restrictions.

Always secure gel packs and similar coolant with tape when shipping delicate goods, and include ample padding material such as packing peanuts and bubble wrap to prevent movement within the cooler.

When shipping flowers, place a layer of packing material between the secured coolant and the flowers to ensure that they don't come into direct contact.

5. Monitor sensitive temperature-controlled goods in transit.

Place a temperature-monitoring device within your healthcare shipment to verify that it remains within the required temperature range throughout transit and storage.

For especially sensitive shipments, select a high-tech monitoring device that allows you to track the condition of your medical goods around the clock, and notifies you if intervention is required in the case of unexpected delays or temperature fluctuation.

A sophisticated logistics provider will be able to provide temperature monitoring during shipment and intercept a package that may need additional support.

6. Choose a fast shipping option.

Ship perishable food, flowers and other temperature-controlled goods quickly to minimize transit time. Overnight shipping with a maximum transit time of 30 hours is recommended via a service that provides specific delivery commitments.

Consider timing when shipping your temperature-sensitive goods. Avoid holidays and try to ship early in the week to avoid potential weekend warehouse stays.

7. Provide tracking and delivery options.

Help recipients with proactive delivery alerts and shipment tracking so they know exactly when to expect delivery. Some logistics providers offer flexible management services like UPS My Choice® service to help ensure shipment delivery, empower your customers and provide excellent customer service.


Items you will probably need for your shipment: new corrugated box, refrigerant (gel packs, dry ice), insulation (foam cooler, foam planks, thermal bubble wrap), cushioning (bubble wrap, packing peanuts, foam), temperature-controlled packaging and a temperature-monitoring device.

Prevent leakage

To protect against leaks, enclose frozen and liquid items in watertight plastic before packing them in an insulated container. For extra protection, line the cooler with plastic and enclose absorbent material.

Label your package

Always follow all labeling requirements for your shipment. Hazardous materials, including dry ice, require special markings.

Protect perishables from freezing temps

Need to prevent items from freezing? Surround your goods with room-temperature gel packs within an insulated container.

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  • The cure for your temperature-sensitive supply chain

    Whether you are shipping pharmaceuticals, biologics or lab specimens, we've got packaging expertise, freight containers, monitoring devices and intervention solutions that can help deliver your products at the right time – and in the right condition.

    Learn more about cold-chain shipping
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