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What Is an Insulated Shipping Container?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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An insulated shipping container is a package for shipping with a design that will maintain a safe internal temperature range for temperature-sensitive products. It may accomplish this with insulation alone or the use of package inserts like cold packs to keep the temperatures low. Numerous companies make a range of insulated shipping products for scientific suppliers, food companies, and other businesses with a need for a controlled cold chain that keeps products cold from production to use.

Some products are extremely sensitive to temperature fluctuations. These include some medications, vaccines, foods, chemicals, and scientific supplies. They must be kept cold during shipping to prevent compromises, and an insulated shipping container may be an important part of the packaging to maintain the desired temperature. Usually the products are also wrapped for shipping and packed in chilled materials before being placed in an insulated shipping container.

Air makes an excellent insulator, and many insulated shipping containers work with trapped air to keep temperatures cool. Others may rely on materials known to have good insulating properties, or are intended for use with another product, like air pockets or cold packs. The level of insulation available depends on the conditions; an insulated shipping container may be able to maintain a desired temperature for a set number of hours or days.

The container usually has signage indicating that it contains heat-sensitive items and needs to be handled quickly, kept in the shade, and treated carefully in the heat. Some insulated shipping containers have thermal strips that change color if the contents get too hot. This will alert the recipient to a problem. The contents may need to be tested to see if they are still safe, or discarded if the temperature exceeded a certain level. Thermal strips on the outside can also alert handlers when the container is in an area that is too hot.

Insulated shipping container designs are available for shipping direct to consumers as well as for bulk orders to pharmacies, labs, and other environments. Many are reusable. The end recipient can reuse the container for something else, or may send it back to the company for use in future shipments. Other containers break down too quickly for reuse, and a container should never be utilized again if it is cracked, stained, or otherwise compromised. It might not protect the packaged goods adequately, or could break in transit, leading to product losses.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon258870 — On Apr 03, 2012

This post provides great information on what insulated shipping is and the benefits it provides. Many people do not consider this when sending temperature sensitive items.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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