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Approximately 10% of people in the UK purchase food over the internet every week. According to Statista, the most frequently purchased food and drinks goods for online shopping are alcoholic drinks, chilled food, shelf-stable food, fruits and vegetables, frozen food and meat. . In 2018, online grocery sales in the UK topped £18 billion and this figure continues to rise.
The popularity and frequency of food delivery have increased exponentially. It is estimated that 11 million people in the UK are food delivery users. When you consider the food takeaway industry, figures increase even more. The takeaway market in the UK is worth a whopping £11.4 billion.
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the popularity of food shipping in the UK, with many entrepreneurs starting new food businesses and the increasing demand for food delivered to the home. The UK online food shopping industry reported a 9% increase during the pandemic – the highest level of growth in the past decade.
Today, we are going to take a look at shipping food in the UK, including regulations you should be aware of and shipping different types of food by post.
What are the food delivery regulations?
If you are a food business that offers a delivery option, there are specific laws and regulations that you need to be aware of.
Ensure you have a food business registration
You will need to apply for a food business registration on the government website at least 28 days before you begin trading. If you run a food business without registration, you can be fined or receive a prison sentence of up to 2 years. You can apply for a food business registration with gov.uk and it is free of charge. You will also need to register your business with your local council.
Ensure your food safety management system is up to date and includes your delivery process
Your food safety management system should partner with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan to help you to manage food and hygiene safety procedures in your food business. This ensures you have minimised potential hazards and risks and are actively promoting safety procedures.
Ensure your HACCP plan includes how you will package your food and the delivery process. If you are shipping perishables, you will also need to include information about temperature control and preventing spoilage. For more information about HACCP, consult our knowledge base.
Deliver perishable foods safely
By law, all foods must be delivered in a way that ensures they do not become unsafe or unfit to eat. Foods that require refrigeration must be kept cool whilst they are being transported. The minimum requirement is that refrigerated food must be kept below 8°C at all times, although 5°C is preferable.
Be aware of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013
The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 applies to all goods that are sold through distance selling (via mail order or through the internet), including food. The regulations concern safety, keeping records, product withdrawal and recall, hygiene, and labelling. Refer to the Consumer Contracts Regulations to ensure you are following the law regarding the information you provide to consumers, and both your and the customers’ rights when it comes to cancellations.
Ensure you follow the 4Cs
The 4Cs must be followed by catering businesses and food businesses that sell cooked, baked or prepared food and ensure that your business is following correct hygiene practices. The 4Cs are Cleaning, Cooking, Chilling and avoiding Cross-Contamination.
Remove cross-contamination risks in the delivery process
You should ensure that all cross-contamination risks are removed by packaging your UK food parcel securely. If you sell multiple food types, you should also ensure these do not come into contact with each other during the packaging or delivery phases of your order.
Follow all allergen regulations and label your food products correctly
All types of food businesses are legally required to inform their customers if any of their food products contain any of the 14 allergens.
Food businesses that sell their products through distance selling or via phone must provide allergen information at two stages:
1. Before the food purchase is completed.
2. When the food is delivered.
Allergen information can be provided in writing (in the form of labels, information on the website, or the menu) or orally.
Food businesses also have a responsibility to protect customers with food allergies from cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can occur if food is prepared, cooked or stored in areas where allergen products exist.
What foods can be sent in the mail?
All non-perishable food can be sent in the mail with no restrictions. Food is considered to be low risk if it is dry, or it has a high concentration of sugar, salt or acid. Low-risk foods are usually stored at room temperature and there are significantly fewer risks associated with shipping them.
Examples of low-risk foods include:
- Dried pasta.
- Acidic foods, such as vinegar and pickles.
- Tinned food.
However, perishable food, such as meat, dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables, have much tighter restrictions regarding how they can be packaged and shipped, as these foods are considered to be high risk.
Food businesses should be aware of the shipping restrictions regarding high-risk food. These are the foods that support the growth of harmful bacteria. They are usually ready to eat and must be stored in the refrigerator.
High-risk foods tend to spoil if they are not stored correctly. Bacteria have a preference for food that is moist and rich in protein, and these foods are considered high risk.
Examples of high-risk foods include:
- Cooked meat and poultry.
- Seafood, such as cooked shellfish, smoked salmon and prawns.
- Already prepared salads and vegetables.
- Dairy products, such as milk, cream and cheese.
- Cooked rice and pasta.
- Food containing uncooked egg, such as mousse and mayonnaise.
- Meat gravies, sauces, pâté and meat pies.
Foods that fall into the high-risk category must be stored and shipped in a way that does not cause spoilage.
They must be packaged in strong packaging and the sender’s name and return address must be clearly visible. The package should also be clearly labelled as perishable. Ensure the package is tightly sealed to prevent any contamination or leakage. The package should also be sent using a faster postal service so that it arrives before the food begins to deteriorate.
Perishable, high-risk foods cannot be shipped internationally. Foods that cannot be sent internationally include:
- Foods with a shelf life of less than 6 months.
- Foods that are not in the original manufacturers’ packaging.
- Foods that do not list all ingredients on the label.
How to mail food safely
When sending food by post (UK), there are certain guidelines you should follow. These guidelines change based on the type of food you are mailing.
Perishable food (refrigerated)
- The food should be able to tolerate a journey of up to 48 hours.
- Parcels should be sent at a minimum of First Class.
- Use coolant gels or ice packs to maintain the food’s temperature.
- Goods should be shipped in strong packaging, such as polystyrene and corrugated cardboard boxes.
- Goods should be suitably sealed to prevent them from leaking or contaminating other items.
- The items should not be wet.
- The sender’s name and return address should be clearly visible.
- The package must be clearly labelled as perishable.
- The items must be kept below 8°C.
Perishable food (frozen)
- Food should be tightly sealed in plastic bags to prevent leakage or contamination.
- Use dry ice or frozen gel packs to maintain the food’s temperature. Make sure dry ice does not touch the food.
- Use a polystyrene box with corrugated cardboard packaging.
- The sender’s name and return address should be clearly visible.
- The package must be clearly labelled as perishable.
- The package must be clearly labelled as containing dry ice.
- The food should be kept below -18°C.
- Packaged in a cardboard box padded with bubble wrap or packing peanuts to prevent movement.
- Limit the amount of movement that takes place during the shipping process.
- Avoid exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Keep away from perishable foods.
You could also choose to use insulating packaging to maintain a safe temperature throughout the shipping process. All food items should be clearly labelled. It is also prudent to check the shipping regulations of your courier, as some couriers prohibit the postage of any perishable items.
Homemade food packaging
If you are shipping homemade food, there are several different ways you can choose to package your food. It is important to ensure the packaging is appropriate for the type of food you are shipping.
Several considerations you should take into account include:
- Is the food perishable or high risk?
- Is there any chance of leakage?
- Does a certain temperature need to be maintained?
- Is the food fragile, easily broken or squashed?
You could also consider whether to customise your packaging to include your business’s label or logo. This could make your business look more professional and be an easy reference point if customers want to order from your again or if they are giving your food as a gift.
Some homemade food packaging ideas include:
Glass or mason jars
These are more durable and are usually airtight. This means your food is more likely to last longer. If the food contains any liquid or moisture, a glass jar will help to prevent leakage. Jars can also be reused by the customer or recycled, making this type of packaging more environmentally friendly. Jars can be customised with twine or ribbon, and you could even attach your logo to them.
Cardboard boxes are particularly popular as they are cheap and come in a huge variety of sizes. This means no matter the shape or size of your order, you will likely find a cardboard box to suit your needs. Cardboard boxes can also be customised with different designs or personalised with your business’s logo. Cardboard is also recyclable.
Paper bags are a cheap way of shipping food. You can customise the bags and even use personalised stickers to seal them shut. Paper bags may not be recommended for fragile food as they do not offer much structure or support.
Plastic bags or wrapping
This is recommended if you ship perishables or food that may leak. Although using plastic is not environmentally friendly, you may be required to use it as part of your packaging. Plastic may be more expensive, so use as little as you can. You can personalise plastic wrappings with stickers or twine.
What are perishables?
Perishable foods are foods that are likely to spoil, decay or become unsafe to eat as a result of their environment. Perishable goods must be kept out of the danger zone, which is between 5°C and 63°C. Not all perishables need to be stored at low temperatures and some need to be frozen or kept warm.
Refrigerated food should be stored below 5°C to slow down the chemical changes that result in spoilage. Frozen food should be stored below -18°C.
Perishable foods are more likely to spoil or go off during transit and require special attention and a specific environment to slow bacterial growth, prevent spoilage and preserve their lifespan.
Some examples of perishables include meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, fresh fruits, vegetables and cooked food.
When shipping perishable food, following recommended guidelines will help to keep your customers safe. Shipping perishables is usually more expensive than shipping non-perishables. This is because more resources, special environmental conditions and faster delivery are required.
Some tips for safely shipping perishables include:
- Choose the right packaging
This helps you to maintain the quality of your goods throughout the shipping process. High-quality packaging will help to reduce spoilage and keep your perishables safe. If your product needs to be chilled, use packaging that can regulate temperature. This could include frozen gel bags or dry ice. You could also use plastic packaging and shrink wrapping to protect your goods from environmental factors such as moisture, dust and dirt. You could also consider shipping containers to maintain temperature.
- Consider the best shipping option
If you are sending food by post (UK) that is perishable, you will likely want a fast shipping option. Consider shipping that can be delivered the next day or by priority express. You should also aim to limit the amount of movement that occurs during the shipping process.
- Ensure the whole shipping process is temperature controlled
From packaging to storage, transport and delivery, ensure every aspect of the process is temperature controlled.
- Ensure your products are correctly labelled
Having clear labelling ensures that everyone involved in the packaging and shipping process is aware that they are handling perishable goods.
What are non-perishables?
Non-perishables have a much longer shelf life than perishable goods. They maintain their quality over time and do not require precise environments when storing or shipping.
Different non-perishables may have different environmental needs, so it is important to be aware of the needs of your products before shipping them.
Non-perishables do not require refrigeration and can last for a long period of time at room temperature.
Examples of non-perishables include dry foods (such as pasta and rice), tinned food (such as tinned soups, beans and vegetables), dehydrated foods (such as soup mixes and dried herbs), coffee, tea bags, jam and honey.
Shipping non-perishable goods comes with fewer risks than shipping perishable goods. This is because non-perishables are significantly less likely to spoil. If your delivery is delayed, your goods may still be of good quality. Non-perishable goods can also be stored at room temperature and still be safe to consume.
Packaging non-perishables is relatively simple. This is particularly true if the goods are already stored in jars, tins or boxes. You simply need to ensure the goods are packaged well to prevent damage and that any empty spaces in the box are padded. It is also recommended to label the packaging clearly to show that it contains food items.
Cardboard boxes and padding
Regardless of how you have packaged your food, you should also use a cardboard box for shipping. This adds an extra layer of protection to your shipment from impacts, stacking and sharp edges.
If your food, or its containers, is fragile you will also need to provide additional padding. For example, if you are shipping baked goods, fragile food, glass bottles or jars, you will need to consider how to ensure maximum protection.
You could use airbags, bubble wrap or packing peanuts to pad your goods and keep them still and secure in the cardboard boxes. You may also want to consider additional padding for glass items, in the event they break or smash. This could include wrapping the glass in plastic or paper to reduce the risk to delivery personnel and customers.
You should also consider how to make your packaging more environmentally friendly. Use biodegradable or recyclable packaging where possible and consider if it is possible to offer discounts for customers who place orders in bulk, reducing the amount of packaging and the number of deliveries that need to be made.
Shipping shelf-stable foods
Shelf-stable food, often known as ambient food, is food that can be safely stored at room temperature. Shelf-stable food usually has a longer shelf life. It can include foods that would normally be refrigerated but have been processed so that they can be safely stored at room temperature.
There are certain ways you can increase the shelf life of shelf-stable foods, such as decreasing the amount of available water, increasing the food’s acidity, sterilising the food, and storing it in an airtight container.
Examples of shelf-stable foods include:
- Dry pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa and other grains.
- Flour, baking soda and baking powder.
- Tinned fruits and vegetables.
- Tinned proteins, such as tuna, salmon, beans and lentils.
- Powdered milk and evaporated milk.
- Other tinned products, such as soup.
Shipping self-stable foods comes with fewer restrictions, as they are considered low-risk food. They do not require specific temperatures during shipping. However, it is important to be aware that being exposed to extreme temperatures (either high or low) can damage shelf-stable foods and cause them to be inedible.
When packaging shelf-stable foods, you should ensure they are packaged tightly with sufficient padding to prevent movement. This can prevent any damage or leakage. Shelf-stable items can be shipped by any courier in the UK, including Royal Mail.
Shipping baked goods
Baked goods are not considered perishable as they do not need to be kept in the refrigerator. However, baked goods can go stale if they are not packaged correctly. You should use airtight packaging to keep the food fresh.
You should also ensure there is sufficient cushioning in your packaging to avoid movement. Baked goods are extremely fragile and may become squashed, crushed or damaged in some way. Packing peanuts or inflatable air pillows can help to prevent movement.
You should also label your packaging, making it clear that your package contains food. You could also include labels stating that the package is fragile and should be kept a specific way up.
As baked goods are not considered perishable, you can likely use any courier in the UK for shipment.
Exceptions to this will be if the baked goods require refrigeration or contain cream or other perishable foods. In this case, you will need to declare the package as containing perishable items. You will need to ensure the package remains temperature controlled throughout the shipping process and that the items are packaged correctly.
Shipping chocolate and sweets
When shipping sweets and particularly chocolate, several factors may affect the way you ship them.
If your goods need to be kept in the fridge to prevent spoilage, this means they are considered to be perishable and must be packaged and shipped accordingly. However, standard sweets and chocolate are usually considered non-perishable because they can be stored at room temperature and have a long shelf life.
The other factor you should consider is the lack of temperature control when shipping goods. Chocolate has a melting point of 30-32°C. Even sweets can begin to melt or become gooey if left in hot temperatures. You should therefore ensure you package chocolate and sweets in a way that prevents melting.
Cardboard boxes, the standard packing for shipments, are not temperature controlled. To keep your items cool, consider using cool packs, ice packs or Styrofoam coolers.
If you do not package your products properly and they melt and cause damage to other shipments, you may be liable for the damage. Your courier may also remove the package for inspection and quarantine, causing long delays in your deliveries.
Ensure you label your packages correctly. Most couriers in the UK will ship chocolate and sweets, as long as you do not use perishable or high-risk items as part of your goods.
Shipping fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are considered perishable goods. This is because of their short shelf life and the high likelihood of spoilage and decay. When shipping fruits and vegetables, you should also be aware of their vulnerability to high heat. If fruits and vegetables are exposed to high temperatures, they will become overripe and spoil much faster.
Many fruits and vegetables also bruise easily if they are not completely protected during the shipping process. The type of padding you use must also allow air to circulate and gases to escape. You could also use ventilation holes in your packaging for this same purpose. Separating your produce so that the fruits and vegetables have the opportunity to breathe is also recommended.
Some couriers do not allow you to ship fruits and vegetables, not only because they are perishable, but also because of the risk of insects travelling with the shipment. Ensure you check with your courier or consult their list of prohibited items before shipping your package.
Any package containing fruits and vegetables must be clearly labelled as containing perishables.
Some couriers that ship perishable goods, including fruits and vegetables, are:
Shipping raw and frozen meat
Raw and frozen meat are some of the most difficult foods to ship. Meat is perishable and is very high risk. The risk of meat spoiling is high and can present a dangerous health hazard if it does spoil or deteriorate in quality. If meat harbours harmful bacteria, your customers could contract food poisoning.
Frozen meat is less risky to ship than raw meat. This is because frozen temperatures help to limit the growth of bacteria and keep the meat out of the danger zone for longer. Frozen meat should be packaged in temperature-controlled shipping boxes with dry ice or frozen gel packs to maintain the cold temperature. You should ensure the meat is tightly sealed to prevent contamination or leakage. Frozen food should be kept at temperatures of -18°C or below throughout the shipping process.
Raw meat should be wrapped individually in airtight cling wrapped packaging, or vacuum wrapped. This helps to prevent spoilage and prevents leakage. You should also include coolant gels or ice packs to maintain a temperature below 8°C or ship with a courier that uses refrigerated vans. You should also ensure you pack the meat in strong packaging.
Many couriers in the UK will not ship raw or frozen meat, as they are perishable foods. Some couriers that may ship meat within the UK are:
All liquids must be secured closed and placed in a leak-proof inner lining, waterproof bag or additional wrapping, inside leak-proof outer packaging. This is because liquids are often prone to leakage and may contaminate other products.
The cardboard box you package your liquids in should be double-walled. You should also pad the box to cushion the items and prevent movement.
If the liquid is in a glass bottle or container, it must be clearly marked as ‘FRAGILE’. Packages containing liquids and glass require special handling, so it is important that the label clearly states what is inside. The courier also needs to be aware they are transporting liquids as they can be sensitive to cold temperatures. Frozen liquids may expand and cause the glass bottle to shatter.
If you are shipping alcohol or oil, you may need a special permit. You may also require a hazmat label as they are often considered a flammable material.
Liquids, although not usually considered perishable, have shipping restrictions, and are classed as prohibited items by many couriers in the UK. Some couriers that usually ship liquids in the UK include:
Shipping food internationally
When shipping food internationally, it is important that you follow the regulations for labelling, packaging and general food safety in the destination country, as well as in the UK.
You cannot ship any food internationally that is perishable or high risk. This is because the risk of spoiling or deterioration is extremely high. Any food that has a shelf life of fewer than 6 months cannot be sent internationally, nor can any food that must be kept in a temperature-controlled environment.
If you are sending shop-bought food internationally, the food must be in the original manufacturer’s packaging and the packaging must be sealed with no signs of tampering.
You must ensure that any food that you plan to ship internationally has a clear label that lists all the ingredients, plus the use-by or best before date.
Ensure you package the food securely, in a way that allows no movement and minimises any potential damage. The package is unlikely to remain the correct way up at all times of the shipping process so keep this in mind. Each item should be wrapped individually for maximum protection and to reduce contamination risks. Your outer packaging should be tightly sealed with adhesive tape.
If you are shipping within the European Union, you will still not have to worry about your food shipment going through customs, even If you are shipping from the UK to Europe after Brexit. However, you may experience delays and have to complete more paperwork than previously.
If you are shipping to a non-EU country your package will likely pass through customs clearance, so ensure you declare your goods correctly and include a customs invoice.
Companies that ship food internationally include: