There’s not much that beats the anticipation of opening a delivery box to find clothing or a new phone waiting for you, is there? That is, unless you’re quite the internet-savvy chef who orders his turkeys online. Then we imagine opening that delivery box to see a frozen bird just waiting for your brining and stuffing routine probably beats that new phone.

And if you’re the one who’s shipping frozen turkeys, then you’re probably almost (almost!) as invested in that big reveal. You want that turkey to be as frozen and intact and ready for cooking as the minute it left your doorstep. And you can certainly manage that, with the right packaging supplies and packing techniques for the job.

Here’s 4 steps, along with the packaging supplies you’ll need, for shipping frozen turkeys.

1. Prep the turkeys for shipping

Always start with the product and its needs. And those turkeys need to survive shipping.

Turkeys can be (and have been) shipped cooked, but that’s best for short distances. Even then, there’s still risk of spoilage since you can’t control every aspect of shipping. Your best choice is to ship them frozen and uncooked, since turkeys are a perishable good.

What exactly qualifies as a perishable good? Anything that must be refrigerated at 4 C or below to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Many places prep their turkeys by flash freezing them (also called blast freezing). It involves the use of machinery to blast cold air across perishable products to freeze them faster than through standard techniques. This way, the ice crystals that form inside frozen products are smaller, keeping them in better condition once thawed (preserving their taste and texture).

If you don’t have access to a blast freezer, or you’re shipping just one turkey, you can use a standard chest freezer to do the job. Depending on the size of the bird, it can take 36-48 hours for it to freeze completely.

2. Gather your packaging supplies

The next step in shipping frozen turkeys is to ensure you’ve got the right packaging supplies.

It’s no surprise that you’ll want to start with brand new corrugated boxes. Boxes that have been damaged through collision or contact with liquids are compromised and no longer reliable. In this case, newest is safest.

Be sure to know the approximate dimensions of your turkeys. You’ll need packaging large enough to accommodate them.

Next, you’ll need to maintain the temperature (and contain any potential leaks) inside the box during shipping. The best way to do that is through foam packaging containers, insulated liners and cold packs.

  • Insulated foam containers are molded foam that’s shaped like a bin with a tight-fitting lid. Once closed, they trap cool air inside them, help contain liquids, and provide a layer of protection.
  • Insulated box liners are foil and bubble cushion that’s shaped to line the inside of a box. They offer the same features as insulated foam containers, but don’t have a rigid support structure.
  • Insulated cold packs help prevent thawing and extend shipping times. They’re made of non-toxic components and sealed in food-safe materials.

While foam containers and cold packs are safe for incidental food contact, it’s best to add a layer of protection between them and a frozen turkey. All that takes is the use of a large, food-safe plastic freezer bag.

Finding corrugated boxes and insulated packaging that fit each other can take some research and planning. If you’re in a time crunch or don’t have the appropriate packaging supplies available to you, shipping kits can save you some headaches.

  • Insulated shipping kits consist of pre-built boxes with matching insulated foam containers inside. The boxes are also printed with Rush, Perishable and This Side Up instructions.

All that’s left are the supplies needed to seal shipping boxes and label them properly. That means quality packing tape and the optional use of stock labels.

  • Cold temperature tape can maintain its hold even in lower than normal temperatures. This makes it ideal for use in colder climates or with insulated shipments.
  • Water activated tape is also a viable option. It uses an adhesive that, once wet, bonds the tape to a corrugated box. This provides extra strength and reliability to a shipment.
  • Shipping and handling labels include information such as Rush, Fragile and Perishable. You’ll need these to give warnings and instructions to your chosen delivery service. Their bright or bold colours draw attention them, eliminating the need to write warnings by hand.

If you’re using insulated shipping kits, you won’t need the additional step of adding stock labels.

3. Pack and label your boxes

Now it’s time to put everything together so you can get to shipping frozen turkeys.

Build your boxes and secure them with your chosen packaging tape. Then insert the foam container or insulated bubble liners you’re using. If you’re using insulated shipping kits, your work’s pretty much done for you up to this point.

Adding cold packs is both an easy affair, and a bit of a science. You need to surround the frozen turkey with as much cool air as possible, without using more cold packs than necessary (as they add to shipment weight and that can drive your shipping costs up quickly).

The general rule when shipping food or other perishables is to use one pound of cold packs to every three pounds of food. But that can be a ton of weight when you’re already shipping a hefty frozen turkey. That’s why using insulated shipping kits is such a beneficial move—it traps more cool air inside without adding much to your shipment’s weight.

Line the bottom of your insulated foam container with a full layer of cold packs. Place the turkey on top of the layer, and surround it with another layer of cold packs on top (this is also why it’s also suggested that you place the frozen turkey in a freezer bag). Then seal up your insulated kit or bubble liner.

From here, grab your packing tape of choice and seal the box. Attach your shipping labels and any customs forms (if needed). Be sure to label your box well, either by using stock labels, handwriting, or a pre-printed insulated shipping kit.

4. Start shipping frozen turkeys

Generally, you can’t ship frozen food internationally. Many countries don’t allow the use of cold packs inside international shipments, and transit time can be so long that the food will spoil anyway.

When you’re shipping frozen turkeys, always try to ship them overnight (or by 2-day shipping if necessary). You want them to arrive at their destination as fast as possible. And ensure you ship out on Mondays (or Tuesday at the latest). Never ship past mid-week or your turkeys may get stuck somewhere over the weekend and they’ll likely spoil.

Once your turkeys are on their way, be sure to let their recipients know so the box doesn’t sit somewhere unattended and thawing. And make sure they’re aware they’ve got to move the turkey to a refrigerator or freezer as soon as they receive it.

As you can see, there’s a lot of planning and packing that goes into shipping frozen turkeys. You’ve got to manage a turkey, its packaging and its travel time, all at once. We think you’re in good shape with this guide, and we know you’ll find what you’re looking for in our insulated packaging category.

Good luck with those turkeys. If you’ve got any recipes, we’d love to read them. While eating a turkey you’ve cooked. Just saying.