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How to Ship Seafood: Best Practices for Freshness

November 7, 2023
 By Joe Weaver
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How to Ship Seafood: Best Practices for Freshness
Last Modified: November 16, 2023
From packaging to temperature control: learn how to ship seafood the professional way. We show you how to safely ship crabs, salmon, lobster, and other popular ocean fare.

How to ship seafood: for those in the seafood business, this is an important question. Boxing up your catch and loading your truck isn’t enough to get the job done. Shipping cold items such as seafood requires specialized vehicles with temperature-controlled trailers. A few degrees off, and your lucrative shipment can spoil within minutes.

According to the National Fisheries Institute, shipping seafood demands precision and expertise. Ensuring the catch remains fresh or properly frozen during transit is key. Food shipment involves careful temperature regulation, using specialized refrigerated freight services, and adhering to strict packaging protocols.  

In this article, you’ll learn the best practices  of seafood shipping. From frozen fish to live crabs, we’ll show you how to ship food from the sea safely and at peak freshness.

How to Ship Seafood Frozen or Fresh: The Essentials

A semi truck on a bridge with a cargo vessel passing under the bridge, showing part of the process of how to ship seafood

Shipping food of any kind poses challenges not found with inedible cargo. For fresh, frozen, and live seafood, those challenges only increase. 

Shipping seafood requires processes and equipment that other foods don’t. The quality of your seafood cargo during its voyage is paramount. Whether it’s fresh salmon or frozen shrimp, perishable shipments require carefully controlled shipping environments.

Maintaining freshness is key to ensuring the delivery of high quality seafood. This isn’t just about taste; it’s about health and safety. Seafood that isn’t handled correctly can play host to various bacteria, leading to health risks for consumers.

Read our article on how to ship fresh produce if you want to move fruits and vegetables.

How to Ship Fresh Seafood

To ship fresh fish, you’ll need to maintain a specific temperature range and get your shipment to its destination quickly. Let’s look at some specifics of shipping fresh, unfrozen seafood.

Shipping Fresh Seafood: Temperature and Time

Fresh seafood is a perishable product that requires careful shipping to ensure it arrives in edible condition. When shipping fresh fish, you’ll want to follow a few crucial steps:

  • Start Fresh: Begin with the freshest seafood possible. It ensures that the product has a longer shelf life upon arrival.
  • Speed is Key: The quicker it reaches its destination, the better.
  • Labeling: Clearly label your package with ‘Perishable’ and ‘Keep Refrigerated’.
  • Avoid Stagnation: If shipping live seafood (like lobsters or crabs), ensure the container allows for air circulation, otherwise they will die in transit. 
  • Temperature Maintenance: Most fresh seafood should be maintained at a temperature between 32°F (0°C) and 35°F (1.6°C).

Temperature is worth exploring further. A few degrees difference can have a dramatic effect on the quality and edibility of seafood. 

For example, perhaps you want to know how to ship fresh fish and ensure it holds its quality for the maximum amount of time. That way, your customers will be less likely to waste food and more likely to order in bulk.

 Let’s take a look at how long a fish filet stays fresh from 29 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

Holding Temperature (°F)High Quality Shelf LifeEdible Shelf Life
2912 days20 days
3010 days17 days
328 days14 days
423 days6 days

Source: noaa.gov

As you can see, the two-degree difference between 30 and 32 leads to a 17-percent reduction in edible shelf life. 

Shellfish are, well, a whole other kettle of fish. In this case, fresh usually means shipping live seafood. Different types of shellfish require different temperatures to maintain freshness in transit, as show below.

How to Ship Live Seafood: Crustaceans and Mollusks

Type of ShellfishShipping Temperature (°F)
Crustaceans36-38 
Mollusks41-45 or lower

We can see that some different types of seafood can be shipped together at one temperature. However, live crustaceans, such as lobsters, have a narrow optimal temperature range.

In essence, shipping fresh seafood is about minimizing the time it’s out of its natural environment while ensuring it’s always at the right temperature. Properly packed and swiftly shipped seafood will result in a delicious experience for the end consumer.

How to Ship Frozen Seafood

Frozen seafood being prepared for transport.

Shipping frozen fish and other seafood requires careful attention to temperatures and hygiene. The product must retain its quality and flavor without spoiling. While frozen seafood has a longer shelf life compared to fresh, it comes with its unique set of challenges. Understanding and overcoming these hurdles is crucial to delivering seafood in its best condition.

Challenges in shipping frozen seafood include:

  • Maintaining correct temperatures: 
  • Extended transit times
  • Packaging integrity

By addressing the inherent challenges of shipping perishables at freezing temperatures, shippers can guarantee the delivery of premium-quality frozen seafood every time.

Shipping Frozen Seafood: How to Ship Fish, Lobster, and More

Frozen seafood requires a different set of considerations than its fresh counterpart. Keeping it frozen throughout its journey is paramount to maintaining its quality, taste, and texture. 

When relying on refrigerated freight for shipping, here are some best practices to ensure your frozen seafood reaches its destination in optimal condition:

  • Quality First: Even if it’s headed for the freezer, start with the freshest product available. The quality at the point of freezing determines the quality upon thawing.
  • Stable Temperatures: Keep frozen seafood at or below 0°F (-18°C). Negative 10°F is ideal.
  • Speed Matters: Even when frozen, it’s essential to reduce transit time. Aim for the quickest route possible.
  • Sealing and Waterproofing: Vacuum-seal fresh and frozen seafood. Exposure to air can cause seafood quality to suffer.

When shipping frozen seafood, the primary goal is to preserve its frozen state from point A to B.

By following these best practices and partnering with a reliable refrigerated freight provider, you’ll ensure that the seafood remains in the finest condition during transit.

How to Pack Seafood For Shipping: Fresh and Frozen

Live crabs being packed for shipment.

When it comes to packaging, a few essentials work for both fresh and frozen seafood. 

  • Always opt for insulated boxes
  • Use foam or other packing material to minimize movement in transit
  • Make sure your seafood is sealed airtight

There are also requirements that vary based on the type of seafood you’re shipping, including packaging strategies and temperatures.

Different Requirements by Seafood Type

The world of seafood is vast and varied, and so are its shipping requirements. Different types of seafood possess unique characteristics that need particular attention during transport. 

Let’s look closely  into the requirements for the two most common categories: shellfish and finfish. To clarify, finfish literally refers to fish with fins. It’s really just to clarify that the product being shipped isn’t shellfish. 

In either case, they both require:

  • Protection from Crushing: Shellfish, especially those like clams, oysters, and scallops, need sturdy containers to protect them from getting crushed.
  • Moisture Control: Contrary to what some might think, shellfish shouldn’t be submerged in water during transport. Instead, they need a damp environment. This can be achieved using wet newspapers or damp cloths.
  • Breathing Room: Some shellfish, like crabs and lobsters, are often shipped alive. They require breathable containers with small perforations to allow air exchange.
  • Stiffness Check: If shipping fresh (not frozen) finfish, they should be rigid, a sign of freshness. This is particular important for fish like salmon and tuna.

While both shellfish and finfish require cold environments, the specifics of their packaging and handling can differ. Recognizing these nuances is key to ensuring they reach their destination at peak quality.

The Role of Refrigerated Trucks in Seafood Transportation

A semi truck traveling down a desert highway.

If you need to transport seafood in bulk, you will most likely need a refrigerated truck. Temperature control is the most important aspect of seafood transport. Without it, seafood can’t travel far without spoiling.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at how refrigerated trucks are key to shipping fresh and frozen seafood.

Why are Refrigerated Trucks and Frozen Food Couriers Essential?

In the world of perishable goods, especially seafood, the transportation mode can be the difference between a fresh, quality product and a ruined shipment. Refrigerated trucks and frozen food couriers are an absolute necessity.

The main challenge in transporting perishables is keeping temperatures stable. Refrigerated trucks are specifically designed for this, with:

  • Adjustable Temperature Settings: This allows carriers to set a specific temperature suited to the product, whether it’s fresh seafood needing to be just above freezing or frozen items that must stay at sub-zero temps.
  • Consistent Air Circulation: This means every corner of the truck has a uniform temperature, preventing hotspots or areas where products could thaw or spoil.
  • High-Quality Insulation: The truck’s design minimizes or outright stops the influence of external temperatures, whether it’s a hot summer day or a chilly winter night.
  • Flexibility in Cargo: With the diverse range of seafood shipping temperatures required, these trucks cater to varied needs. Different compartments can even maintain different temperatures.

Refrigerated trucks also feature advanced sanitation thanks to:

  • Sealed Environments: This prevents contaminants or pests from compromising the product’s integrity.
  • Regular Cleaning Protocols: Ensuring the interiors remain hygienic and free from any residue or mold growth.

Refrigerated trucks and frozen food couriers are the backbone of cold chain logistics. They ensure that quality, safety, and freshness are maintained from the point of origin right to the customer’s door. Without them, shipping fresh seafood would be practically impossible.

Stay Cool With USA Refrigerated Freight

Shipping large amounts of seafood poses plenty of logistical hurdles. However, partnering with experts in cold chain logistics can reduce difficulties and lead to smooth sailing for seafood shippers. If your business needs a reliable frozen food shipping service, we’ve got you covered.

At USA Refrigerated Freight, you’ll find experienced professionals in logistics with the right equipment for transporting fresh and frozen goods, including:

  • Seafood
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Cosmetics
  • And more

Don’t let uncertainties about shipping fresh and frozen seafood spoil your business plans. Contact the experts at USA Refrigerated Freight at (866) 849-2713 or request a quote online today. 

Whether you’re sending salmon, hauling haddock, or shipping shrimp, we’re here to help.

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