Cold-chain logistics is notoriously tricky — so much so that some 3PLs refuse to touch it. However, if you’re involved in industries like food, beverages, or biopharmaceuticals, cold storage prep and cold shipping is a necessary part of eCommerce.
It’s imperative to get the logistics right. Here’s what that process entails.
Basics of cold storage
A recent study by Forbes revealed that 61% of shippers outsource cold storage and warehousing to some extent. The reality is that cold storage can be very costly. Keeping items fresh requires lots of special equipment and a clear process for handling varying requirements for temperature-sensitive items. In general, you need to be prepared for…
Shelf life and temperature ranges can vary drastically from product to product. The two main segments include chilled (aka temperature-controlled) and frozen goods. However, products can fall anywhere within this range, making it impossible to keep everything at one average temperature. You therefore need to establish a process for keeping track of acceptable temperature ranges, reducing waste, and regulating temperatures 24/7.
Various product safety regulations exist at the local, state, and federal levels meant to preserve the safety and quality of perishable goods. One such regulation is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which requires shippers to complete temperature reports and maintain documented sanitary practices. New regulations are proposed all the time, so you need a way to stay up to date with them.
Equipment and insulation
Needless to say, how you construct your storage unit is critical. You can choose from a variety of refrigeration equipment like refrigerated containers, blast freezers, cold rooms, and pharmaceutical grade cold storage. You ultimately need to keep temperatures consistent and prevent exposure to outside elements.
Basics of cold packaging
Cold packaging is the beginning of a product’s life outside of its storage unit. The greatest challenge at this stage is to make sure temperatures don’t drop, and that external factors like humidity don’t cause spoilage. Mishandling at this point can have disastrous results, even changing the flavor, consistency, and other factors of a product. When it comes to packaging, you need to be aware of…
1) Proper packaging
Whether you use styrofoam boxes, foam planks, insulated liners, or insulated pads, you want to use packaging that’s both lightweight and heat resistant. Also consider water-tight plastic bags that help keep products dry, packing materials that hold products in place, and outer corrugated boxes that offer extra protection. The general rule of thumb is to prepare for a transit time of around 30 hours.
2) Proper coolant
Gel packs and dry ice are some of the most common refrigerants used in cold shipping. However, dry ice can be difficult and costly to work with, given that it’s considered a hazardous material. It can’t be used in airtight packages and must meet various requirements. Wet ice, by contrast, is not recommended as a refrigerant because it’s heavy and melts.
3) Proper arrangement
As you assemble your packages, you need to make sure your coolants are evenly distributed so no portion of your shipment is at risk of falling below safe temperatures. How you choose to layer and seal your packages could be the difference between safely transported products and spoiled goods. Aside from securing your products, you’ll need to account for possible leakage and perspiration. Double-bagging, absorbent pads, or cellulose wadding can help to combat that.
4) Special requirements
You may need to affix several labels to your packages, such as dry ice labels, expiration dates, dietary claims, and “keep refrigerated” stickers. If you sell on third-party marketplaces like Amazon, you may additionally be required to provide information like the name of the shipper and the location where contents were grown.
Basics of cold shipping
Once your products leave your facilities, you have no control over how they’re handled and where they end up. That’s why before you ship your products, you need to be sure of a few things.
1) The right carrier
First and foremost, find a reputable carrier. You shouldn’t have to worry about shipping delays, mishandling, or other rookie mistakes while trying to meet tight delivery deadlines. FedEx, UPS, and USPS are all good options, though FedEx may be most appealing because of its FedEx Temp-Assure services. Keep in mind that if you’re a high-volume seller, you may be able to negotiate with your carrier for special, discounted pricing.
2) Perfect timing
Timing is everything when it comes to cold-chain logistics. Some perishable items may be able to last several days in transit; others may only last 24 hours.
Whatever the case, it’s best to pick the fastest, yet most cost-efficient shipping option your carrier offers. You’ll also want to send your shipments early in the week so that weekends don’t delay your deliveries. Or, if you’re approved to sell perishable items via Amazon FBA, then you’ll have to deliver items to your FBA warehouse at least 90 days before the expiration date; Amazon will dispose of anything within 50 days of the “best by” or “sell by” dates.
3) Ship frozen
It’s not uncommon to ship food in their frozen forms with the expectation that they’ll thaw and be ready to eat by the time they arrive at a consumer’s doorstep. If this is the case, you’ll likely need to employ refrigerated containers (aka reefers) during transit and/or strategically plan your shipping routes to minimize risks.
Need help with your cold-storage items?
Cold shipping isn’t a skill you can learn overnight, nor is it something you should have to worry about. If you need an extra hand, just reach out. Our team is ready to simplify the logistics for you.