Which Is Better for Shipping Frozen Food: Gel Packs or Dry Ice?

Americans ship millions of packages through the mail every day. 

However, the process becomes a little more complicated when you’re shipping frozen food. Before you put your frozen products in the mail, you have to find a way to keep it cold, and that means you have to use gel packs or dry ice. 

So which one’s the better choice?

We’ve put together this guide to help you learn whether you should use gel packs and dry ice when shipping frozen food. 

Let’s get started!

Gel Packs vs. Dry Ice: Which Should You Use?

It all depends on what you’re shipping

While gel packs and dry ice can both keep your packages cold, they do so at different temperatures and for different lengths of time. So before you can choose between gel packs and dry ice, you have to think about what you’re shipping. 

Here are a few examples of when gel packs work better and when you should use dry ice instead. 

When to Use Gel Packs

Gel packs are made of poly bags filled with either water or polymer gel. Because of this, they freeze and thaw at about the same rate as water. Depending on the type of gel packs you get, they may stay frozen for longer periods. 

So while they can keep your frozen food cold, they will thaw a lot faster than dry ice. 

You also have to think about what happens when these gel packs thaw. Since they are water-based, they may wet as they start to heat up. If you don’t have the right packaging materials, gel packs might get the box damp, which can damage it. 

Because of these things, you should use gel packs for quick deliveries and for products that don’t need to stay completely frozen during the trip. This includes foods like: 

  • Fresh produce
  • Cheese and other dairy products 
  • Baked goods
  • Chocolate 
  • Bread

To get the most out of your gel packs, make sure you freeze your food before packing it and shipping it through the mail. 

What to Use Dry Ice

Dry ice isn’t actually ice at all. It’s made of frozen carbon dioxide, and it has a temperature of -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This means it’ll stay much colder than gel packs for a much longer period of time. 

You also don’t have to worry about anything in your package getting wet when you use dry ice. When this ice thaws, it doesn’t turn into liquid. Instead, it sublimates, or turns back into gas. 

Dry ice will keep your food products frozen solid until they arrive at their final destination. If you have to send something across the country or on a long journey, you should use dry ice.

It makes it an ideal choice for things like: 

  • Meat
  • Seafood 
  • Medicine

The big problem with dry ice is that it can be dangerous to handle. If you touch it without the right protection, you can end up burning yourself. And since this ice lets off CO2 gas, you can have serious health problems if you breathe in too much. 

Because of this, dry ice is considered a hazardous material when shipping. You’ll have to add the right safety and hazard labels to your package before you mail it full of dry ice.  

While dry ice is a helpful tool, you have to be very careful when you use it. 

How to Package and Ship Frozen Food

Now that you know when to use gel packs and dry ice, you need to know the right way to package them. Without the correct packaging, they won’t be able to keep your food cold for as long as they can. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Prepare Your Box 

Firstly, make sure you have a corrugated cardboard box. Then add a layer of insulated box liners around the edges. If you don’t have box liners, you can put a styrofoam container inside the box, or you can buy a foam insulated food shipping containers. 

Line the Box with Gel Packs or Dry Ice

Before you put your food inside the box, line the bottom and the sides of the box with your gel packs or dry ice. Fill any empty spaces or crevices with packing peanuts to keep anything from sliding around. 

Add Your Food 

Set your frozen food in the middle of your package. If there is still empty space around your food, add more dry ice, gel packs, or packing peanuts. 

It’s also a good idea to package your food in an airtight bag. This will help it stay colder for longer. 

And again, make sure you freeze your food all the way through before you package it. 

Seal the Box and Add the Right Labels 

Seal your box closed with heavy-duty packing tape. If you used dry ice, make sure you add the necessary labels. 

Shipping Frozen Food Through the Mail: The Dos and Don’ts

Before you start shipping frozen food in the mail, you need to make sure you know at what temperature the food needs to stay during the trip. Once you know how cold it needs to be, you can decide whether gel packs or dry ice is better for your package. 

Most of the time, dry ice is a better choice when sending frozen food. Gel packs are helpful for short journeys (such as same-day or overnight shipping), but otherwise, you should only use these packs for items that don’t need to stay completely frozen. 

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