Do You Need To Ship Food Overnight?

Shipping costs are typically the most expensive part of getting your food where it needs to go.  Dry ice, insulation, gel packs, and the box add up to less than $10, but sending all that from 92116 to 33101 (San Diego to Miami) can run another $10 - $200 depending on how fast you want it to go.

The question is:  How fast do you need to ship food?

Totally dependent on what you're shipping, although in my experience there's no added value between Overnight and Early/First/Super/Whatever Overnight option.

I'll start with the short version, which is just a picture.  You probably like pictures.

    Datalogging of temperature change inside a perishable food shipment.

    This is a graph of the temp changes in our 640 cubic inch box sitting in our non-air-conditioned office over the course of 2 consecutive 80°-ish days in San Diego with a packout of:

    • 3 x 24 oz frozen gel packs
    • 1 x 16 oz product (yogurt we were testing for a client)
    • 2 lbs dry ice
    • 1.5" thick insulation 

    These readings are of the *air temp* in the box, NOT the product itself.  Typically the product surface temps will be lower than air temps.  We (at Paleo Treats) always like to err on the side of caution, so we're rolling with the air temp readings.

    What does this graph tell you? 

    First, if you want to keep something frozen solid with this packout (under 32°F) you've got a little less than 6 hours.  "Why" that's the case is worthy of a much longer post, but for now just remember this:  Small boxes are hard to keep frozen-cold for a long time.

    Second, shipping food that needs to stay under 70°F is WAY easier than shipping food that needs to stay under, say, 46°F.

    Ok, time for a little government guidance so you howling fuckers don't come after us about why we didn't post the official guidelines.  The USDA calls anything between 40°F and 140°F "the danger zone".  

    This "danger zone" isn't a hard and fast rule, it's just general common sense for raw foods.  If you're sending cooked/prepared/pre-packaged foods, you'll have to figure out what works best for you.

    Third, the safe temp ranges of what you ship will have a huge effect on how much you'll need to spend on shipping.  Shipping raw chicken?  Prepare to spend a ton.

    Shipping shelf stable brownies?  You may not need to insulate (at least in the shoulder seasons and winter.)

    Now you've got one more set of data points to help you in your quest for perishable shipping excellence, good luck (and please report back with any helpful things you've learned!)

    We are PSYCHED to help you learn how to ship your perishable product across the country.  A consultation with us can save you years of experimenting and thousands of dollars.  Reach out via our Contact form to learn more. 

    Here's to your small food biz success!


    Liked this article?  Check out these other interviews and writings I think you'll enjoy.

    Nik Hawks


    Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

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