Shipping Perishables and Air Freight

How to define perishables 

The most common perishables are commodities that fall under the following categories: 

  • Fresh food items such as produce and meat
  • Frozen food items
  • Non-refrigerated food items with short shelf life such as bread
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Biological materials such as tissue samples etc.
  • Fresh flowers and other live plants

They have a combination of the following characteristics: 

  • Short shelf life 
  • Become useless or spoil outside of their correct temperature zone
  • Need to be kept frozen or they will melt 
  • Specific moisture or airtight packaging requirements or other special shipping requirements 

Perishable definition 

Perishable cargo examples include time and temperature sensitive commodities that require special accommodations to preserve freshness. In order to ship them successfully you’ll need to consider how they are stored, the time in transit and regulations and transport used. Perishable shipments are frequently shipped by air. They are most often for human consumption or have short shelf lives and are subject to the monitoring and regulation of government bodies. Products dependent on how fast and what temperature they arrive at require a special amount of care. 

Air Freight Lanes 

  • Large volumes of perishable flowers flown from South and Central America to North America. This is followed by fruits, flowers and vegetables flown to Europe.
  • Africa to Europe flies in a high volume of flowers and is followed by vegetables and fruits.
  • Intra-Asia is also an important lane dominated by fish.  Asia to Europe is also flies a lot of fish. 
  • Pharmaceuticals, biological materials such as tissue samples etc. run in domestic lanes.

Transporting Perishables 

There are two important aspects of perishable shipping. Timing and temperature. An important side not on temperature is that some products may not require refrigeration but may need protection from heat. 

 Most refrigerated, chilled and fresh produce is stored and transported at temperatures between -1.5C (29.3F) and +14(57.2F), which varies based on the product type. Frozen goods are usually stored at -18C(-0.4F) or below that, and that means the time of transport can be considerably longer. This means that they are less likely to be shipped by air. 

Some Tips on Shipping Perishables 

  • Find and study best practices for packing and shipping the perishable products you transport
  • Use the correct temperature controlled packaging as recommended by an expert
  • Test and trial the best packing solutions and methods of transport for your needs 
  • Make sure you stay compliant on your perishable shipping
  • Have a chain of custody in place to ensure that your specific shipping instructions and regulations are followed
  • Clearly label and identify products as perishable 
  • If you ship internationally, remember that delays at customs can mean that perishables may be exposed to adverse conditions
  • When shipping internationally be aware that customs delays may mean perishable cargo is exposed to adverse temperatures for long periods

Packing Products 

  • Insulated Packaging: These materials range from styrofoam to cardboard to aluminum foil blankets. You need to choose materials that can address the needs of the cargo you are shipping but also is cost-effective. Insulated packaging is in most cases the best line of defense after refrigerated shipping. 
  • Leak-Proof Packaging: Packaging such as plastic liners are used in instances where you are shipping perishables can thaw, perspire or leak if handled incorrectly. Containing leaks with plastic liners is essential to protect other cargo. 
  • Airtight Packaging: Certain kinds of perishables including baked goods and pharmaceuticals may need airtight packaging or as close to that as possible. There are many options for airtight packaging such from hand wrapped plastic to rigid plastic containers.
  • Phase Change Materials: A great option for insulated packaging that needs extra temperature control is PCMs. They keep the package cool on the inside. An example of that is refrigerant gel packs. They don’t need to be frozen when shipped, they can be frozen and packed and used again making them a sustainable solution. 
  • Dry Ice: Dry ice is the most common and inexpensive materials for keeping perishables frozen. It can be dangerous to skin so it does require special handling and training. There are many regulations on how and when to use dry ice, but never let it touch food.