In addition to the same concerns that shippers have with all other types of shipping — how fast and efficiently the product can be transported and what is the most cost-effective way of doing it —  shipping perishable food items includes the challenge of not wasting food during the journey.

Food waste harms everyone in the supply chain — farmers lose income on foods that can’t be sold, the transporter is saddled with the cost of fuel used moving a product that is inferior, and retailers suffer financial losses on the items that go unsold. Add on the disappointed customers and you have a situation that pleases no one.

This blog provides shippers with ways to reduce food waste and turn all those unhappy people mentioned above into pleased partners with more money in their pockets and the good feeling of helping others out. This comprehensive guide will show how applying perishable food shipping solutions and best practices will reduce food waste. Topics covered include:

  • The best packaging and labeling procedures.
  • Perishable shipping temperature requirements.
  • Strategies to reduce food waste.
  • The impacts and benefits of these practices.

What Causes Food Waste in Perishable Shipping

Food waste occurs in each stage of the production and supply chain processes. With each step of the journey from the farmer to the customer, there is always some degree of waste. It can be vermin, mold, insufficient climate control, cooking losses, and intentional food waste. Let’s look at some of the major causes of food waste.

Production and Supply Chain

Different foods have a higher or lower likelihood of being lost at each production and supply chain stage. About 20% of fruits and vegetables are lost during production, according to data collected by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Most of the waste at manufacturing and processing facilities comes from trimming off edible portions — skin, fat, crusts, and peels — although some can be used for other purposes, such as animal feed. Also, food waste occurs occasionally when the value of the yield is less than the effort it would take to harvest it. The NRDC data also says 12% of the food is lost during distribution and retail, and consumers waste another 28%.

On the distribution side, there are a number of ways food can spoil and be inedible.

  • Poor handling during loading and unloading: Many food products can be easily bruised, split, or broken apart when handled too roughly. Another concern is that the temperature or humidity will be compromised during transport from one place to another.
  • Overflow of inventory: An example of this would be when the demand slumps for a food product. The excess sits in warehouses before being tossed out. 
  • Ineffective temperature control: This can come from malfunction or carelessness. If things like an air condenser fail, an air chute suffers damage, or fluid starts leaking, these can all throw off the temperature balance and cause the food to spoil. Also, ruined products can result from failing to monitor equipment and sensors regularly. 
  • Inability to reach the destination on time: A breakdown of some kind, a roadblock or natural disaster that forces a route change, or maybe a mix-up in communication that sends the truck to the wrong place can mean the product doesn’t reach its final destination on time and the food has been deemed unusable or unsellable.
  • Incorrect monitoring for time and temperature-sensitive items: Monitors are a lifesaver for transporters, but only if they monitor and read them regularly to prevent wasted food.
  • Improper storage selection: If there is an error in the type of container, transportation mode, or storage facility, there is the possibility of putting the food in jeopardy.

Unrealistic Aesthetic Standards

Judging the quality of food based on its appearance is another concern. When food — fruits and vegetables, in particular — doesn’t fit its usual appearance standards, it frequently is discarded because of its aesthetics. Many retailers will not accept them from vendors. There is no difference in taste, but many are less likely to ship or buy a product that causes concern over its looks. There are ways to cut down on waste — odd-looking fruits and vegetables can go into smoothies, and restaurants can use them in dishes where the unusual shape is no longer an issue.

Portion Sizes and Overpurchasing

There may be more striking examples of food waste, but the increased serving sizes at many places, including at home, can lead to over-purchasing and food waste. Being prepared and knowledgeable about what your diners will want is crucial. In the case of restaurant buyers, they often purchase more than needed, and then the food that goes unsold becomes waste due to spoilage. At home, one can save on buying too much of a product by conscientiously considering portion size while shopping.

Reasons to Reduce Food Waste 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States wastes an estimated 30% to 40% of the food. With a percentage that high, it is vital to find ways to limit that waste, either through reduction of production or through finding alternate uses for the food to keep it from being wasted. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons we need to reduce that percentage:

Too Many Are Hungry to Let Food Be Wasted

According to the nonprofit organization Feeding America, about 42 million people in the U.S. — 1 in every 8 Americans — are food insecure. That group also estimates that 13 million children — 1 in 6 — are food insecure, which means a person lacks reliable access to nutritious food daily. The food being wasted in production and distribution could help lower those numbers. Each year, food banks rescue billions of pounds of food. If that represents only a tiny percentage of food that could have been donated but ended up in a landfill, imagine how much more can be saved with a greater effort to ensure food is in the hands of those who need it.

Costs Can Be Reduced

There are a few ways that reducing food waste and loss can save money for all involved in the production and distribution of food.

  • For farmers and some businesses, there are financial incentives, including tax incentives, for donating wholesome, unsold food.
  • If a perishable shipping company can reduce the food lost during transport due to spoilage or damage, that means fewer freight claims — and fewer headaches and less money lost while trying to solve those claims.
  • When wasted food is left in a warehouse or transport vehicle, the carrier must correctly dispose of the food. That means added costs for disposal.
  • If consumers reduce the food waste they discard into the garbage, it will lower the volume of their trash, and, in some places, the cost of trash pickup can be less expensive. Some trash pickup companies lower fees if wasted food is separated and sent to a compost facility instead of the landfill.

Resources Can Be Saved

Just think about how much savings there can be in workforce hours and resources when less food is wasted. The savings of physical and natural resources needed to dispose of spoiled food should alone make up quite a savings. But there are other ways less food waste saves resources. For instance, the space that could be used for viable products would not be taken up in the warehouse by shipments with inedible food waiting to be taken away. Also, there is less time taken from workers who have to deal with the processing and disposing of spoiled products.

Greenhouse Gases Can Be Limited

Less food waste means there are fewer greenhouse gasses being generated by the rotting food in landfills. Food is the single largest category of material placed in U.S. municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At the landfills, the food emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Reduction in the food wasted would lead to fewer greenhouse gases being emitted and help reduce our environmental footprint.

Best Practices for Shipping Perishable Foods 

We’ve been discussing the causes of food waste and the reasons to reduce food waste. Still, one of the most significant ways to prevent wasted food and increase the benefits of a world with less food being squandered during perishable shipping is to keep food from spoiling or damaged. Here are some of the best practices that shippers and carriers can use to make sure the goods arrive in the best possible shape:


There are quite a few options to cushion, support and insulate your perishable foods. The object is to get the right combination. Let’s take a look at some ways to improve packaging:

  • Polystyrene foam boxes: These boxes are usually cardboard on the outside, with the inside walls being various thicknesses of expanded polystyrene foam. When the foam is thicker, less dry ice or ice packs are usually needed. These boxes can get expensive depending on the thickness.
  • Polystyrene cut sheets: The sheets work almost the same way as the polystyrene foam box walls but can be customized to fit any box. They are less expensive than buying a whole Styrofoam box but might not work as effectively.
  • Insulated liners: Think of an emergency blanket with a bubble wrap-type surface. The key benefit is that the liners can be tightly wrapped around the product, and packers can fill in any extra space with other types of packaging.
  • Air-filled insulation liners: A hand pump or an air tank fills the liners to the ideal thickness. The liners, a more affordable option, use the thermal properties of air.
  • Insulated pads: These pads use recycled materials and have the insulation effectiveness of polystyrene foam with the reflectiveness of insulated liners. 
  • Cold packs: Cold packs are an effective dry ice alternative for frozen shipments. They are a good option if f you are shipping perishable goods above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Moisture-safe cold packs: With a tougher multilayered exterior, these cold packs limit surface condensation to protect the goods from moisture damage.
  • Dry ice packs: Dry ice, which is actually frozen carbon dioxide, has a temperature of minus-109 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, dry ice packs are much colder than other packs and can last much longer. There is no concern over getting the product wet because it into a gas rather than a liquid.


Temperature monitors have become an indispensable part of shipping perishable food. They allow shippers to track and monitor the conditions of the shipment in real time throughout the journey. Tive’s container trackers, for instance, reveal the real-time conditions inside your shipping containers at any time for factors such as temperature, humidity, light exposure, and shock absorption. If shipment conditions veer outside the parameters, the Tive platform sends a real-time alert detailing the exact area where the problem occurred. Tive also provides real-time location tracking that can further improve visibility and, if there is a problem, makes it easy to pinpoint shipments that are likely to have been damaged.


Technology is an integral part of cold chain management. Supply chain partners must provide reliable service for transporting the goods through the chain on time and without issues. They need technology to do that. Monitoring and managing temperature requirements in real-time are examples of what technology can do to improve cold chain shipping and to help eliminate waste. Using technology, shippers and freight brokers can find solutions to help them with logistics management, freight procurement, and transportation and shipment visibility.

Right Carrier

To keep food from being wasted, it has to reach the market in time, which depends on the carrier doing its job well. That makes choosing the right carrier an extremely important decision. Researching your perishable shipping partner options for services that suit your particular company is worth the investment. In addition, there is the possibility of negotiating percentages off retail prices if you are shipping in volume. It will also be helpful to look into how fast your product is shipped. Another factor that can influence the carrier is the speed of their services. Depending on your time window for the product to be delivered, two-day shipping may be fast enough and will cost a lot less.

Hwy Haul is One of the Leaders in Produce Shipping 

With a next-generation digital freight platform, Hwy Haul is one of the leaders in produce shipping with the primary goal of working with both shippers and carriers to deliver freshness and reduce food waste. There are quite a few features that make Hwy Haul one of the best:

  • Temperature monitoring that records the real-time temperature of loads throughout their journey
  • Real-time trailer humidity monitoring that relays information and alerts to shippers and carriers.
  • Shift monitoring that tracks in-transit shifts inside the trailer and avoids rejects.
  • Actionable data-driven insights that can optimize the supply chain by reducing wait time and lower detention costs that can help reduce food waste.

Take Your Next Step With Hwy Haul

The significant waste of food in all stages of the supply chain has become a growing concern, especially with so many people going hungry in this country. In his blog, we have looked at the causes of food waste, the reasons it needs to be reduced, and the best practices for perishable food shipping solutions. We’ve also examined what to do when choosing the right partner. With a mission to help eliminate food waste in the transportation process, Hwy Haul can be your ideal selection for navigating the world of produce shipping. Check out our website and get a quote today.