Ship Food USPS

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March 9, 2024

Many people may be unaware that courier companies like the United States Postal Service or USPS allow food shipment. 

You can use USPS services to ship food, which can benefit businesses that regularly deliver food products domestically and internationally

But how do you ship food via USPS? Can you mail any kind of food, and how much will it cost? 

This article explains the process of shipping food via USPS. It also discusses different tips on preparing food for shipping according to the guidelines outlined by USPS. 

Furthermore, this write-up provides guidelines on how to prepare the containers needed for shipping. 

You can also get tips on shipping food from other shipping companies like UPS (United Parcel Service) and FedEx (Federal Express). 

If you need access to contact information for over 31,330 post offices in the country, visit FindPostOffice.org. Our website can help you learn the retail hours of every post office in our database. 

Shipping Food With USPS: Can You Ship Food Through USPS?

When you ask USPS if you can ship food through its mailing service, it will answer, “It depends on the food.” 

The Postal Service has two main categories for items: mailable or nonmailable. USPS has guidelines to determine whether the food people want to ship is mailable. 

Mailer Guidelines

USPS provides comprehensive mailer guidelines that customers can read to know the different regulations concerning food shipping. It’s best that people intending to ship food via USPS completely understand this guideline. 

Perishable Mail Guidelines

When understanding the shipping food guidelines, you must consider two different perspectives. 

First are the federal statutes concerning perishable food. The second is USPS’ response to those federal statutes and how the Postal Service implements its rules into company policy.

The federal government imposes restrictions and prohibitions on mailing the following:

  • Fish and products made from fish
  • Plants and products made from plants
  • Any wildlife and products made from wildlife
  • Plant pests
  • Injurious animals

The purpose of these federal restrictions and prohibitions is the protection of agriculture, natural resources, and ecosystems in the United States. 

The basis for these statutes comes from the following legislations:

  • Lacey Act: The legislation that prevents the trafficking of fish, plants, and wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold illegally in the United States
  • The Endangered Species Act: The legislation that protects any endangered species and the habitation where they are found
  • Animal Welfare Act: A federal law that regulates animal treatment in research, testing, teaching, transport, and exhibition, including the treatment by dealers  
  • Plant Protection Act under the U.S. Department of Agriculture: An act that regulates the transport of plants, plant products, and plant pests in the United States 

So when does the Postal Service label an item perishable? If:

  • It deteriorates and loses value
  • It becomes a health hazard due to spoilage
  • It produces an obnoxious odor
  • It is considered a disturbance or nuisance to other people due to its deterioration

However, it doesn’t mean that USPS can’t ship perishable items. The post office can still process and deliver perishable goods if:

  • They are packaged properly
  • They are delivered within an appropriate time limit before they deteriorate

Examples of mailable perishable goods include food items, plants, and even live animals. 

Things to Know About Shipping Food and Fragile Items

Shipping food and fragile goods requires careful preparation. Here are some tips when sending food items via USPS. 

  1. Choose a suitable shipping container for the food. Don’t overstuff food into a small container because it can burst or break open. Likewise, ensure the food product doesn’t shake or shift inside a loose package. Both can cause damage to the food, leading to spoilage.  
  1. Reinforce your package to protect the food inside. Ensure you cushion the items inside with packing or cushioning material. Examples of these cushions are crumpled paper or any absorbent material. 
  1. Wrap the fragile food items individually. You also should put heavier and sturdier items on the bottom of the box. Don’t ship a package of small food items in a big box you can’t appropriately cushion. 
  1. You can mail food, but it doesn’t mean all kinds. You can mail something that requires refrigeration, like ice cream, or something that crumbles easily. Your USPS courier may find it frustrating to spend time cleaning the mess made by molten chocolate. 
  1. Only send properly baked goods. For example, USPS allows mailing cookies or bars. Place a slice of white bread into your cookie container before sealing. The bread can provide moisture for the cookies to keep them fresh. 

You can also send quick bread, but you should wrap it twice in plastic wrap, sealed in a gallon-sized plastic bag, or wrapped in foil. 

What Food Can You Send in the Mail?

You can ship more than one type of food item via USPS. You can easily mail non-perishable foods like dry or canned goods. 

Likewise, you can also ship perishable items like fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and frozen foods. However, to send these items, especially perishable ones, you must package them properly and use the right mailing option.

Understanding Shipping Frozen Food

When shipping frozen food, there are other factors that you should consider aside from packaging. You should keep your frozen food items in special containers to maintain freshness and quality during and after shipment. 

You must ensure the food you ship won’t contaminate other packages when defrosted.  

Use special insulated containers to keep food frozen to ensure that it remains that way throughout the delivery process. You can use special temperature-controlled containers with dry ice, ice packs, or gel packs. 

Challenges of Shipping Frozen Food

As you may know, shipping frozen food is complex. There are unique challenges that frozen food shippers face that they need to address, including the following:

  • Extreme temperatures during delivery: Frozen food not properly packaged may thaw or melt due to extreme temperatures. 
  • Humidity levels: Humidity, or the amount of water vapor in the air, can affect and damage the quality of your frozen food. 
  • Possibility of spoilage: Frozen food is susceptible to spoilage faster than dry or canned goods. If the shipped food isn’t packaged correctly or inside special containers, there’s a high chance of spoilage. 

Shipping Frozen Food Best Practices

You can follow these best shipping practices when sending frozen food via USPS. 

  • The topmost priority is ensuring your food doesn’t spoil.
  • Ensure you use proper shipping packages, boxes, or specialized containers for frozen food.
  • Always use the services of a shipping company specializing in food delivery.
  • Never use cheap materials for packaging like styrofoam (polystyrene box), corrugated cardboard boxes, or any shipping box intended for storing frozen food to save money. 
  • Properly store food items that need refrigeration before shipping.
  • Ask the shipping service provider for special add-ons like dry ice.

Domestically Prohibited Items

USPS considers the following as domestically prohibited items:

  • Air Bags
  • Ammunition
  • Explosives
  • Gasoline
  • Liquid Mercury
  • Marijuana (medical or otherwise)

Domestically Restricted Items

USPS provides this list of items you can mail but with specific limitations or restrictions. 

Note that restricted items are not prohibited. You can still send the following items if they follow the prescribed limitations set by USPS. 

USPS categorizes the following items in this list as hazardous materials (HAZMAT) or dangerous goods. 

Aerosols

Aerosols are suspended particles dispersed through gas or in the air. Aerosol particle sizes range from a few nanometers to a hundred micrometers. Examples of this gas type include butane, fire extinguishers, and propane.

Alcoholic Beverages

You can’t send alcoholic beverages like beer, liquor, or wine via mail except in certain circumstances. According to Title 18 of the United States Code 1716, all intoxicating liquors are nonmailable. 

Intoxicating liquors have an alcoholic content of 0.5% or more. These beverages are nonmailable, even if they have a prescription or are shipped as a collector’s item. 

On the other hand, mailable liquids with alcohol content are those that are not taxed as alcoholic beverages. Examples of these items are:

  • Cough syrups
  • Mouthwash
  • Cooking wine

Furthermore, federal or state agencies can send alcohol via mail for specific reasons like testing purposes. Such testing aims to stop the transport of liquor to prohibited jurisdictions for consumption. It also helps ensure all tax revenues are paid.

When you send alcoholic beverage boxes, remove all labels or logos, or the mail system may not accept them.

Cigarettes, Cigars, and Tobacco

USPS restricts the mailing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products under limited situations. However, cigars are domestically mailable. 

You can ship cigarettes and smokeless tobacco if:

  • They’re shipped within Alaska or Hawaii
  • They’re mailed for business or regulatory purposes
  • They’re sent to recipients in small quantities and as “gift” shipments
  • They’ve returned the item to the manufacturer because of quality issues

Before you can send these tobacco-based products, they must be approved by a USPS postal worker. 

USPS treats military installations as domestic locations, even if they’re outside the country. 

You can ship cigars to military post offices abroad like the Army or Air Force Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO), and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO).

However, you must be aware of the local restrictions of different countries before shipping tobacco-based products via mail.  

Cremated Remains

USPS provides services for people wanting to ship the cremated remains of their loved ones or pets. The cremated remains can be shipped through Priority Mail Express. 

Ensure that the remains are in a durable container. Don’t forget to use one of the two Cremated Remains Kits provided by USPS. You can order these specialized kits at the Postal Store for free. 

Just follow the instructions on these kits and ensure the remains are labeled properly on all sides with Cremated Remains Label 139.

Dry Ice

You can mail dry ice or solidified carbon dioxide gas if it is used as a refrigerant to keep any mailable hazardous or nonhazardous material cool. However, for surface transportation, mark the package with “Carbon Dioxide Solid, UN1845 or Dry Ice, UN1846” and “Surface Mail Only.” 

Firearms

You can ship or receive handguns if you’re a licensed manufacturer. Mailers planning to send unloaded rifles or shotguns must comply with the regulations imposed by federal law and USPS. 

Glues

The problem with glue is that it has a wide flashpoint range. However, you can still mail glue or adhesives if they’re part of consumer commodities. Note that you may have to send some glue types via ground deliveries. 

Hand Sanitizer

Most hand sanitizers, like sanitary or hand wipes, contain alcohol, making them flammable in nature. 

USPS considers hand sanitizers as HAZMAT and limits the transport of these products via domestic ground transportation only. You can send hand sanitizers overseas, including military destinations, via international mail. 

Hemp Products (Including CBD)

Hemp is a cannabis-derived substance with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels of 0.3% or less. Meanwhile, cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in the flower resin of cannabis. 

You can legally mail hemp-based products, including CBD, to the United States and its territories, provided that:

  • You followed USPS guidelines and the federal, state, and local laws on hemp production, processing, sales, and distribution. 
  • You retained records for no less than two years after the date of mailing of previous compliance with cannabis laws. These documents include laboratory test results, compliance reports, and licenses. 

Lithium Batteries

You can mail small consumer-type lithium batteries, similar to those used to power cameras or flashlights, domestically under specific conditions. 

However, say you plan to ship a defective electronic device with lithium batteries or pre-owned or damaged ones. In that case, you can send them via ground transportation. You can’t send these types of batteries via air transportation. 

Furthermore, you must mark the outer packaging with “Restricted Electronic Device” and “Surface Transportation Only.” 

Live Animals

You can’t casually mail any pet or warm-blooded animal. Shipping live animals, including bees, reptiles, or poultry, requires specific packaging. You can drop an animal at your local post office. However, they will only get shipped when an appropriate transportation method is available. 

Matches

Safety matches only ignite when struck against a prepared scratching surface. You can send safety matches via ground transportation but can’t ship them internationally. 

Strike-anywhere matches can ignite with friction, so they can’t be mailed domestically. 

Medicines and Prescription Drugs

You can send medication or drugs through USPS. However, you must know the item’s characteristics to handle it correctly. 

Prescription medicine, including controlled substances, can only be shipped by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registered distributor. Some over-the-country medications may also be subject to the same strict regulation.

The DEA is a federal agency tasked to enforce laws concerning controlled substances in the United States. 

Nail Polish

You must know the characteristics of your nail polish before you mail it. You’re responsible for knowing whether it’s flammable and what its toxicity and flashpoint are. 

You can mail flammable nail polishes if they’re a consumer commodity. Some nail polishes may only be shipped via ground transportation. 

Paint

You may send any paint or paint-based items provided that the paint, whether flammable or combustible, is considered mailable and qualifies as consumer commodity material. 

Furthermore, the mailed paint is within the quantity limitations and package requirements. 

Paint products that are not flammable or combustible, like latex or water-based paint, are not considered HAZMAT or regulated. 

Perfumes

Suppose the perfume you’re shipping contains alcohol. In that case, it can’t be shipped internationally or mailed domestically unless the destination is within the United States and it uses ground delivery. 

Poisons

USPS considers poisons toxins. Hence, you must know the toxicity level of the item you want to ship. While some poisons or toxins can be shipped by air or ground transport, others can only be sent by ground.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Perishable Food?

Shipping frozen food may range from $30 to $150. However, these estimates may differ depending on the content, weight, destination, and package’s weight. 

Small businesses and eCommerce shipping companies that regularly ship frozen food may need to communicate with the local post office to properly determine and calculate the shipping cost

If you need the contact information of the post office near you, visit FindPostOffice.org. You can access over 31,330 USPS retail offices throughout the country. 

How Do You Ship Food?

The following are tips when you want to ship food via USPS. Note that there may be specific shipping options that you can use when mailing food. 

Wrap Baked Goods to Create an Airtight Seal

It’s good practice to wrap your baked goods in a bag with an airtight seal. This type of container can help prevent flavor diffusion. You can also use plastic wrap on your baked goods.  

Select Appropriate Insulation

You must include padding or proper insulation to keep food safe during deliveries. If you’re shipping dry items, you can use packing paper, air pillows, or bubble wrap to prevent damage. 

You may need more advanced padding if you’re mailing wet, cold, or temperature-sensitive items.  

Pad and Pack to Minimize Movement

You need to use a packaging container. However, you must also ensure you’ve packed and padded the item correctly. 

Choose a strong box or container to protect your goods during shipping. You must add padding to minimize item movement inside the package to avoid damage, especially if shipping food. 

Tips on Shipping Fruit

As per USPS, fruits and vegetables are nonmailable unless they’re in a dry, but not dried, condition. Fresh fruits can easily decompose if not dry. However, if the packaging is strong and secure, the products may be shipped without inconvenience. 

Ship Your Perishables Fast

When you ship food, it’s good to have it delivered fast. You can use USPS Priority Mail to ship perishable items, which arrive within one to three days. This fast delivery time can help reduce the spoilage risk or damage. 

How to Ship Eggs

When shipping eggs, you must ensure they are wrapped in protective material. They also must be packed as prescribed by other countries. 

You can use wooden and other rigid materials that fit well with the eggs. It’s good practice to ensure the eggs are properly positioned to avoid breaking.  

How to Ship Meats

You can ship frozen meat via USPS and other private carriers that provide fast delivery service. Pack the meat in styrofoam or containers with dry ice to keep it cold. 

How Do You Keep My Mailed Item Cold or Refrigerated?

You can keep items cold and refrigerated using dry ice. However, you need to use a container with good insulation to ensure the dry ice does its job properly. 

A styrofoam box can serve as a container to keep food that requires refrigeration cool during the delivery process. 

How to Ship Frozen Food With UPS and FedEx

FedEx (Federal Express) provides similar requirements as USPS regarding the shipment of frozen food. 

  • You need to arrange your frozen foods securely in an insulated container.
  • Place items that can melt or thaw inside watertight plastic bags before putting them inside a container. 
  • Fill any space inside the container with packing materials to avoid damage while shipping.
  • When you use dry ice, you need to place vents in your container to exhaust the carbon dioxide fumes. 

For UPS (United Parcel Service), here are tips that you can follow: 

  • Place baked goods inside airtight bags
  • Use appropriate insulation for frozen foods 
  • Put food items that can melt inside plastic, anti-leak bags
  • Use allowed refrigerants when shipping frozen food via UPS

Monitor Your Shipment

You can monitor your shipment, especially if sent via USPS, through the tracking system provided by this shipping company. 

When you ship your package, the local post office will give you a tracking number, which you can input into the search bar of the USPS Tracking website. 

You’ll have notifications on the different statuses of your parcels during the delivery. 

If you need access to contact information for over 31,330 post offices in the country, visit FindPostOffice.org. Our website can help you learn the retail hours of every post office in our database. 

References

  1. Domestic Shipping Prohibitions, Restrictions, & HAZMAT
    https://www.usps.com/ship/shipping-restrictions.htm
  2. Aerosols
    https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/aerosols/default.html
  3. 18 U.S. Code § 1716 – Injurious articles as nonmailable
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1716
  4. 422 Mailability
    https://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c4_006.htm?_gl=1*b7mw6a*_gcl_au*Njc4NTU5MTUyLjE2OTYwNTI2MTY.*_ga*MTAzNjI5NTM3OS4xNjk2MDUyNjE2*_ga_3NXP3C8S9V*MTY5Nzc2NTQ3OS4xNTMuMS4xNjk3NzY3NjAwLjAuMC4w
  5. 53 Fresh Foods and Other Perishables
    https://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c5_009.htm
  6. How to ship perishables
    https://www.fedex.com/en-us/shipping/how-to-ship-perishables.html
  7. How To Ship Food
    https://www.ups.com/us/en/support/shipping-support/shipping-special-care-regulated-items/prohibited-items/food.page