Waiting in line at the Post Office isn't on anyone's list of dream vacation activities. But when you catch your own fish off the coast of a Hawaiian island, or fall in love with a local cheese that can't be found outside of Iceland, dealing with shipping hassles is well worth the effort. Although shipping frozen food or refrigerated treats to a distant locale is a pricy endeavor, delicious bites make truly unforgettable souvenirs and gifts.
Ship perishables using a cold shipping box and either dry ice (for frozen food) or gel ice packs (for refrigerated food). Any local shipping carrier can transport the package, but be sure to disclose if it contains dry ice.
Packing Frozen Food
A standard cardboard box isn't sufficient for keeping frozen or refrigerated food adequately cold. Buy a cold shipping box from a shipping store like UPS. Often, these are insulated coolers that fit inside cardboard shipping boxes. To pack cold things like fresh cheeses, fruits and vegetables, opt for heavy-duty ice packs. Make sure the food is well wrapped to protect it in case any gel packs leak. (Check the laws regarding shipping fruits and vegetables for the state or country of both the departure and destination cities.)
To keep frozen food thoroughly chilled, use either dry ice or heavy-duty gel packs designed for use in coolers. Dry ice shipping is generally more effective and keeps food cold for longer, making it great for things like shipping meat, but it requires a little more effort to use. Some people have success using a combination of the two. Wrap blocks of dry ice with newspaper (wear oven mitts or thick gloves when handling the ice) and place them at the bottom and top of the box, with the frozen food and gel packs in between. Take note of how many pounds of dry ice are in the box, as the shipping carrier will need to know.
Shipping Frozen Food
Start with foods that are already thoroughly frozen or cold, and keep them chilled until the last possible moment. Because time is of the essence, your best bet is to choose the fastest shipping option available. Dry ice only lasts for a few days, so if you're shipping food across a great distance it's going to be costly to get it to its destination within that time frame.
Each shipping carrier has its own rules and regulations regarding shipping perishables and and/or dry ice. Shippers will not accept dry ice in airtight packaging; the cooler has to have some ventilation to allow for the escape of carbon dioxide. Some shippers, including the U.S. Postal Service, won't accept packages containing dry ice for international shipping. Write "dry ice" and the weight of the ice on the outside of the package.
Plan for Delivery
Timing the shipment correctly is critical. Ship perishables just before a holiday weekend and they may arrive a day or two later than you anticipated. Some shipping carriers have reduced schedules on weekends and around holidays. Also, think about what will happen to the food on the delivery end. Don't ship food to an office or home that might be empty when the shipment arrives. Choose a destination where someone will be available to open the package and check and chill its contents right away.
Taking Food on a Plane
When you're bringing home treats from your travels, it sometimes makes more sense to carry these perishables onto the plane rather than sending food in the mail. Each airline has its own rules, but major American airlines generally allow passengers to check or carry on coolers of dry ice in quantities of up to 5 pounds. Gel or ice packs in carry-on packages won't be allowed past TSA unless they're completely frozen, so it's generally best to check packages of refrigerated food. Check with your airline for specifics.