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What Are the Best Tips for Shipping Ice Cream?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ice cream typically needs to remain below a certain temperature, or it will melt. This can make shipping ice cream difficult, since after it has melted and been refrozen it tends to be harder and less palatable. The two main tips to keep in mind when shipping ice cream are to make sure the product remains cold throughout transport, and to get it there fast. A quick shipping speed can help ensure that the ice cream does not melt before reaching its destination, regardless of the method that is used to keep it cool. Guaranteed overnight services are typically the best choice when it is important that an item arrives on time, as is the case with perishables such as ice cream.

There are a number of different concerns that can arise when shipping perishables, though frozen goods such as ice cream create even more potential issues. The first tip to keep in mind when shipping ice cream is that the product must remain cold at all times. Pure water has a freezing temperature of 0° C (32° F) at sea level, but the water in ice cream is typically in a sugar solution with a freezing point that is much lower. When ice cream begins to melt, the physical structure of the ice crystals and the fat molecules in the cream can change, resulting in a different texture after the product is refrozen. A completely melted container of ice cream can also make a mess if the right precautions are not taken.

In order to keep ice cream frozen during shipping, it is necessary to use the right type of shipping container. A polystyrene container will tend to keep heat from transferring, especially if it is taped shut and well sealed. In addition to the right type of container, it can also be necessary to add something to keep the interior cold. Dry ice is a good choice for this job, as it will deteriorate into carbon dioxide instead of water as it melts. It is important not to touch dry ice with bare skin, and when it melts in a confined space it can displace all the breathable oxygen; thus whoever is on the receiving end should be briefed on this.

After the right type of container has been set up, the next factor to consider when shipping ice cream is transit time. Even the best polystyrene container and a substantial amount of dry ice will not keep ice cream cold for several days at a time. Depending on how well the container insulates and how much dry ice it holds, it may all melt within a day of packing. That means expedited shipping that takes two or three days is sometimes sufficient, though overnight is the best method for shipping ice cream. It can also be better to avoid shipping frozen products during the summer months, when they may have to sit in hot warehouses during transit; using refrigerated vehicles and storage facilities can help with this.

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Discussion Comments
By Ruggercat68 — On Oct 24, 2014

I grew up about two hundred yards from a legendary local frozen custard shop. People drove from all over the state to get a cone or a sundae or whatever made with the creamiest ice cream I've ever had. I knew they only made three different flavors every day: chocolate, vanilla and a "flavor of the day". What I didn't know as a kid was that they would also sell the leftovers in gallon containers.

In the days before online ordering, the owners would get phone calls from all over the country. They would pack the gallon containers in dry ice and ship it off to customers who lived within a certain number of miles from the store. I have no idea what this would have cost, but I'm sure it wasn't cheap. The dry ice had a tendency to freeze the custard solid, but apparently it didn't affect the flavor.

By Reminiscence — On Oct 24, 2014

I've heard that a lot of ice cream sold in grocery stores has melted and refrozen a few times between the manufacturer and the store's freezer section. It might sit on a unrefrigerated dock for a while and then get put into a freezer truck later. The store's employees may not stock the freezer section right away, too.

Sometimes this freezing and thawing process doesn't affect the condition of the ice cream very much, but other times the results are almost inedible. I say beware if a premium brand of ice cream goes on a very deep discount. It could mean the ice cream has melted completely and is now full of ice crystals.

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