Guide to Shipping Food, Drink & other Perishables

At UK Postbox, we have years of experience in the industry of delivering goods and parcels, both nationally and internationally. But a category of item that you might have some questions of, in terms of whether or not you can actually send the item through the post and how you should do so, is foods, drinks and other perishable items. In this blog article, we will explore the rules and regulations regarding the posting of these products, the restrictions that may apply, and what you should do when looking to post any of these items.

How are foods, drinks and perishables defined?

Before considering whether or not you can send the items in question, you must first understand how the items are defined by the postal service you will be using. Each postal service will be slightly unique in many different ways, from how they would like you to package your parcels to the items found on their own prohibited and restricted items lists. Identifying your item as defined by the service you are using will allow you to check whether or not you are allowed to send it through the postal service. This will also show you how to package the parcel so as to avoid breaking the rules. 

For example, items like foodstuffs and other perishables are categorised by many postal services under the broad term of perishable items, usually listed as an item that can be sent with restrictions applied. Drinks are a little bit trickier; as liquids, they fall under entirely different categories and require alternative ways of storing them for delivery. In summary, you need to be fully aware of how the postal service you are using categorises the items you wish to send, as this can affect how they are packaged and whether or not they are allowed. 

For more information on what these categories might look like, you can read our blog dedicated to prohibited and restricted goods.

Can you send food and drink in the post?

When it comes to sending food in the post, many factors come into play to determine whether you can or not. One such factor is the postal network, service, or courier you are using to do so. As has already been discussed, this is because all of these different services will have differing prohibited and restricted items lists. Many couriers are happy to be used for sending food in the post, so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, but there are also many that simply won’t allow your specific item to be sent. 

For example, DHL is a popular postal service that prohibits sending any perishable items, food or otherwise, nationally or internationally. They advise customers to check that all items have a shelf life of 6 months as a minimum, as everything below this is defined as prohibited. But this isn’t the case for everyone; below, you can find some of the most common and widely used postal services and couriers, with links to their respective prohibited and restricted items lists:

Another factor that will affect whether or not you can send your food or drink items in the mail is the location you are attempting to send them to. Much like the postal service you use, different countries will have their own laws regarding the mail, including which items they are legally allowed to let enter the country. It might be that a particular food or drink product you wanted to send to, for example, a friend across the world, is in actual fact prohibited by the laws of that country. It is vitally important that you check these laws before attempting to post anything prohibited, as you may incur sanctions and penalties if you are found to be doing so.

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Correctly sending food in the post

Provided that you have correctly identified the category of foodstuff that you are looking to send in the mail, (you have checked that it is not on the prohibited and restricted list of your courier of choice, and checked the regulations of the country you are looking to send it to) you should now be ready to get started. Items of food obviously come in a variety of different types, ranging from dry, prepackaged goods to frozen and chilled items, but for items with restrictions on them, standard practices such as the following may be asked of you:

  1. First-class postage must be used as the minimum required standard of service.
  2. Perishables should be packaged in such a way as to withstand a journey of up to 48 hours in the UK.
  3. Foodstuffs and perishables should be packaged in such a way so as to prevent leaking and potentially contaminating other items.
  4. All perishable items must be clearly labelled as “PERISHABLE” on the external packaging.

These standard practices above are an estimation and general guideline to the types of restrictions that are commonly placed on perishable items. You need to consult your postal services prohibited and restricted items list for a complete guide on what is expected of you when sending food in the mail.

Correctly sending drinks in the post

When it comes to sending liquids in the mail, the rules and regulations will be slightly different, owing to the natural differences between the two products. Unlike the vast majority of food products, drinks and liquids fall under stricter categories that require notably different approaches:

Sending non-alcoholic drinks in the post

Any liquids that are not categorised as being either alcoholic or dangerous goods will have commonly have restrictions like the following (regardless of whether the fluids in question are over or under 1 litre):

  1. Liquids, substances and drinks must be securely packaged in both leakproof internal and external containers, so as to prevent the tainting of other items.
  2. Liquids, substances and beverages must be packaged appropriately with the correct maximum restrictions; in terms of the quantity of product you are allowed to send.
  3. Any liquids, drinks and substances kept in glass bottles must be clearly marked as “FRAGILE”. 

Sending alcoholic drinks in the post

Alcoholic beverages are subject to different regulations when compared to non-alcoholic drinks, owing to the fact that different alcoholic products have varying ABV percentages (or Alcohol by Volume).

Alcoholic Beverages (70% ABV and Over)

UK postal services prohibit any alcoholic beverages or items that contain more than 70% alcohol by volume.

Alcoholic Beverages (70% ABV and Under)

Alcoholic drinks that contain between 24% and 70% ABV include common beverages ranging from champagne, beer and wine to rum, vodka and whiskey. The following guidelines may be asked of you when looking to ship these products:

  1. These drinks should be wrapped in polythene, sealed with tape and then surrounded by a secondary, absorbent material for extra protection and to prevent contaminating other items.
  2. Both the maximum volume and maximum amount of items allowed by your postal services must be adhered to.
  3. Any liquids, drinks and substances kept in glass bottles must be clearly marked as “FRAGILE”. 

That concludes this guide to sending foodstuffs, drinks and perishables in the post. The most important points to take away from this guide are that you need to make sure you are up to date with the regulations imposed by both your postal service of choice and the countries you are looking to post items to. The guidelines mentioned above are an approximation of the types of regulations you may encounter, so you should always check with your courier what is needed when sending these different types of products. For more information on the topic of moving goods nationally and internationally, you may find our page on electronic customs content data helpful.

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Allan Chester
June 3, 2021