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Beat the heat: 3 tips for shipping perishables

Seafood being prepared for shipping

Shippers in the food business want spoiled customers – not spoiled products. Unfortunately, with the lazy, hazy days of summer right around the corner, packages with perishable items can smolder in the back of trucks, or even melt on a customer's doorstep unless you take right precautions.

Here, UPS customers share best practices, tips and lessons learned that apply to anyone shipping products that might suffer in the heat.

Tip #1: Choose shipping times wisely

Kim Scott at The Great Gourmet ships a wide variety of products for her own company and serves as a fulfillment house for other companies that sell on QVC and HSN. The Great Gourmet is best known for its crab cakes, but she routinely warehouses and ships other perishables like yogurt, gelato and prime cuts of meat as an A-rated fulfillment house.

"We're obligated to keep products frozen for 52 hours, and we ship using UPS 2nd Day Air®, so we use 5-pound blocks of dry ice," Scott says. "We've found that gel packs don't last long enough, although you can get more useful life out of them by sprinkling in dry ice pellets."

Her best advice for perishable shipping: "The lower the freezer temperature, the longer products will stay frozen in transit." It's also best to wait until later in the day to pack and ship so the starting temperature in transit is as low as possible, she says. Finally, choose a thicker plastic foam container, which will keep products cooler longer.

Tip #2: Box creatively

Chocolate doesn't do well in transit when it's over 72 degrees outside, says Ryan Novak of Chocolate Pizza Company Inc..That's why his team members use custom shipping boxes with plastic foam insulation and frozen gel packs to keep their gourmet chocolate pizza concoctions cool. "The combination gives us about three shipping days in almost any heat."

The chocolate stays safe to most destinations using UPS® Ground service. "UPS set us up with a 3 Day Select® account, so we can reach Florida and Texas within that three-day window, but on occasion we have to use UPS 2nd Day Air®."

Their method is working so far: A customer in Sun City, Ariz., said her product arrived in perfect condition when it was 115 degrees last year.

His best advice for perishable shipping: "Ship early in the week during hot months so you avoid packages sitting idle over the weekend. It's better to tell the customer you're holding off than to ship on a Thursday or Friday."

Tip #3: Keep air space to a minimum

At Black Point Seafood, owner Mark Murrell has committed to shipping his products overnight. "It alleviates the potential for any thaw, and communicates to the customer that we take the quality of their order seriously."

Black Point is famous for shipping live lobsters, which poses unique problems. "With live lobsters, we cool their body temperature down before we put them in the box and use slotted boxes to improve air circulation."

His best advice for perishable shipping: "It's really all about engineering and promoting products that will pack and ship well. Make sure you keep air space to a minimum and seal tightly so your coolant doesn't have to work too hard. Then make sure you stay in touch with customers and get feedback from them on how your product arrived. We put our phone number on everything and include a slip in the box inviting them to text, call or e-mail us with questions."

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