Chilling with Dry Ice
Updated: May 21
In today's lock-down environment, many food producers and brands are moving to a direct to consumer business model. For small specialty growers and producers, access to farmers' markets, restaurants, bars, and wholesalers have dried up. Leaving these typically small and prosperous companies with excess inventory and slashed income.
Even with recent announcements in relaxing restrictions, these outlets for consumption are not expected to bounce back in the short term or even in the next 18 months. Food consumption and distribution have been permanently altered. To recoup revenue, food brands are leaning into shipping to your home.
While shipping dry goods and shelf-stable products is reasonably straight forward, perishable products present a specific challenge – refrigeration. Frozen products need to arrive frosty and frozen. Chilled products need to arrive fresh and crisp….and never shall the two cross.
Many frozen and fresh shippers turn to dry ice to provide cost-effective package refrigeration. So why dry ice? First and foremost, dry ice has a temperature of -109 degrees. Yeah, super cold. Second, dry ice can maintain a below-freezing environment for 24 hours or more, depending on quantity and insulation. And last, but in some minds most important, dry ice is lighter than the alternative gel-packs.
However, dry ice is not all chilled oysters and frozen ice cream. Dry ice is a hazardous material. In large quantities, dry ice is regulated by HAZMAT and IATA. Dry ice off-gases CO2, displacing O2 and in sealed container creates an explosive environment. An explosion of dry ice will cause external and internal frostbite.
Yet, we see shipments of dry ice flying all over the world daily. Here is what you need to know to leverage dry ice to keep your product perfectly chilled and safe to ship.
Never seal dry ice in a shipping box. Dry ice needs to breathe. As mentioned above, sealing dry ice creates a potentially explosive environment.
Dry ice will freeze anything that comes into direct contact, see frostbite. In addition, dry ice with proper insulation creates a below-freezing environment. This can lead to crack plastic containers, snapped metal, and shattered glass. So not only do you need to ensure you are insulating packaging to preserve and extend the cold environment, the product needs to be insulated from the dry ice.
Shipping more than 5.5lbs of dry ice in a shipment is considered a hazardous cargo and MUST BE PLACARDED with an appropriate HAZMAT sticker and documentation. In addition, some carriers require special handling and additional fees to manage dry ice shipments. Even when using less than 5.5lbs per package of dry ice, you still must mark the package and shipping label with dry ice signage.
A 5lbs block of dry ice, in an insulated shipping box, will typically maintain a freezing temperature for 24 hours – outside temperature pending. This makes dry ice ideal for overnight shipping and, in some cases, 2-day shipping.
These are a few quick tips to ensure customers receive safe, delicious, and appetizing food. Make sure to educate your customer on handling dry ice, as many shipments arrive with active dry ice intact. With a little knowledge and proper insulation, dry ice makes an excellent refrigerant for your perishable and frozen goods. So put on your gloves, open a window, and keep chill’n.