cargo-wise blog

Shipping perishables by airfreight

Posted by Michael Steedman on Jul 14, 2020 3:25:48 PM
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Among the first goods transported by air were perishable products including fruit, flowers and vegetables. These products are perishable and therefore vulnerable to extremes of temperature, high humidity and susceptible to damage, necessitating careful transportation.

Over the years airlines have developed processes and facilities for handling chilled and frozen goods with chilled storage and freighter capacity, alongside the development of temperature control packaging methods.

Airfreight containers being loaded onto cargo plane

Regularly shipped perishable goods

There are several categories of perishable goods for the purposes of shipping and include:

  • Fresh food items such as produce and meat
  • Frozen food items
  • Non-refrigerated food items with short shelf life such as bread
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Biological materials such as tissue samples.
  • Fresh flowers and other live plants

Perishables are, due to their nature, usually shipped by air. These products are frequently for human consumption, have a short shelf life and carefully monitored by national government bodies.

Ensuring that these cargoes are delivered safely and in good condition necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the regulations and processes required to ship perishables.

In order to define perishable goods they need to have a permutation of the following attributes.

  • Consumer goods with a short shelf life
  • Will spoil, or become useless, outside of their correct temperature zone
  • Will melt if not kept frozen
  • Require other special shipping considerations such as specific moisture levels or airtight packaging

So, if your products’ quality depends on how fast and at what temperature they get to the consumer, you’re probably shipping perishable goods. That means that your business and your employees take on a new level of responsibility for your products and how they’re transported.

Air Cargo perishables
There are some products that could be considered as semi-perishable which while less vulnerable to temperature and moisture still require careful handling. These could include dried fruits and grain products.

Each type of perishable product requires different factors to be considered for safe transportation.

Considerations for safe transportation of perishables

  • Familiarise yourself with the best practices for packing and shipping the relevant perishable products you are transporting.
  • Using the correct temperature control packaging as recommended by an expert relevant to the perishable type.
  • If needed, carry out trials of different types of temperature control packaging to ascertain the best solution for your needs considering the method of transport and potential delays in loading and unloading and the consequential exposure to ambient heat and sunlight.
  • Ensure compliance with the regulations governing the transport of perishables:
  • Ensure that a chain of custody is in place to ensure that shipping instructions are followed and regulations are adhered to.
  • Ensure the perishable goods are clearly identifiable as perishable.
  • When shipping internationally be aware that customs delays may mean perishable cargo is exposed to adverse temperatures for long periods.
  • Packaging solutions include thermal pallet covers, polystyrene boxes, gel ice packs, foil container liners, and temperature plotters.

It is well to remember that products can still be perishable even if they do not require refrigeration, and still may need protection from high temperatures.

Pharmaceuticals can be temperature critical and may require stringent processes to ensure safe transit to their destination. It is essential that tests are carried out using thermal control packaging to check the impact from the supply chain on the goods.


The onus is on the shipper to ensure that adequate measures and taken and the supply chain evaluated to ensure safe arrival of perishable goods. This may entail carrying out trials using temperature plotters inside the consignment to check cargo temperature fluctuations during transit.

Regulations need to be complied with, and using a reliable freight carrier familiar with perishable shipments is essential.

Profit margins on perishable products such as fresh salmon are small, so there is often little margin for financial loss due to damage or waste.

If in doubt, contact a packing specialist who can advise the best way to ensure safe transit of your perishable items.

Foil cover being wrapped around aircraft pallet

Mini case study

A company responsible for shipping salmon from Norway to Dubai used insulated blankets to maintain temperature throughout its journey.

The salmon was packed in insulated polystyrene boxes and stacked on an aircraft pallet with additional polystyrene pads and ice gel packs.

When they switched to a foil thermal pallet cover that covered the whole load, this reduced temperature variation because the metalised foil ouer surface reflects 97% of the solar energy, and as it was water resistant, it removed the need for polythene sheeting to protect the load from wet weather.

As an added bonus it eliminated the seagull strikes while the pallets were sitting on the tarmac waiting to loaded onto the aircraft. The seagulls saw their own reflection in the reflective foil and were scared off.

The investment in the foil cover has paid for itself many times over.

Topics: temperature, foil covers, dynachill, transporting chilled products, temperature control airfreight, thermal foil pallet cover, chilled salmon by airfreight

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