Updated: Dec 16, 2019
The meal-kit industry broke the $5 billion mark a couple of years ago and has only continued to grow. Consumers appreciate the convenience and shipping directly to homes allows companies to avoid the large slotting fees dished out by superstores.
The increase of homemade, home-delivered meals may be new to cold chain but shipping food and other perishables is not. The question continues to be as it has always been, what is the sustainable alternative to dry ice?
Below are 6 reasons why cold chain suppliers would love to find a substitute for this common temperature control agent.
1. Unstable performance
While dry ice can get really cold, -109.3°F, it completely melts/sublimates within 1-3 days depending on the amount and insulation. If a shipment is somehow delayed or requires multiple stops on the way, your steak or frozen ice cream could arrive at the customer's doorstep at ambient temperatures.
Because dry ice is so cold, some sort of buffer material is also necessary to prevent flash freezing or the items becoming brittle. This often requires shipments using dry ice to include gel packs anyway.
Dry ice can cause frostbite and Hypercapnia, a condition caused by too much CO2 in the bloodstream putting stress on the lungs and making it difficult to breathe. Dry ice can be lethal in extreme cases as discussed below.
Additionally, contaminants make industrial dry ice unsafe to contact consumable products.
3. HAZMAT Regulations
While not classified by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) as a hazardous material for ground transportation, it is classified as such for air and by water. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only allows passengers to carry up to 5.5 lbs with them on planes.
The US Postal Service likewise limits the use of dry ice to less than 5 pounds for any airmail or express packages. These combined with additional safety precautions make dry ice a bit of a hassle.
4. Threat of lawsuit
There have even been several lawsuits by employees because of the negative effect of dry ice. In 2017, the estate of a Missouri deliveryman sued his former employer for the role dry ice played in his death. While this lawsuit was only for $50,000, some have won millions from corporations and organizations for the death of loved ones.
In lower quantities, dry ice costs as much as $1 to $3 per pound. Considering how quickly it melts/sublimates, shippers have to pack coolers the same day that they go out and often need 5 to 25 lbs of dry ice for a 1-2 day shipment. Shippers can’t pre-pack out coolers for peaks in demand.
Tight time windows sometimes force companies to bring on extra workers to fulfill just-in-time deliveries of dry ice which can sometimes be in short supply during the year. Many freight companies will also add a $5 per/package surcharge for shipments including dry ice.
This doesn’t take into consideration the additional costs of specialized packaging and handling. For instance, solid CO2 needs air holes for sublimation and packages can’t be sealed air-tight or they might explode in shipment.
6. Environmental Effect
When Dry Ice sublimates, it directly releases CO2 into the air, adding to the greenhouse effect and contributing to climate change. While this is not always at the forefront of business consideration, sustainable products require less regulation and usually earn some public goodwill.
While dry ice will continue to play a role in shipment for the foreseeable future, we hope to decrease reliance on it for shipping needs.
Frosty Tech is a Custom Engineering and Eco-Innovation Group. We provide premium temperature solutions.
Our eco-friendly and fully re-usable Frosty Tech™ cold packs replace dry ice for 1-2 day shipments inside standard EPS foam coolers and are able to last for longer shipments of 3-5 days when used inside shippers with an R-value above 5.
Enviro Ice is one alternative to dry ice that we currently have on the market and we will continue to develop sustainable solutions.
To learn more about our technology please visit https://www.frostytech.eco/phase-change