Like most perishable foods, cheese constitutes living, breathing microorganisms that require careful packaging when being transported.
Despite its organic makeup, cheese is not very fragile but does require some consideration during its shipping to avoid spoilage or loss of quality.
How to ship cheese internationally: Steps involved
Following are the main procedures involved in the overseas shipping of cheese:
The main goal of cheese packaging is to maintain the appropriate taste and texture of the cheese. Poor packaging plays can lead to a negatively altered taste. And as a consequence, cheese with an undesirable flavour can deter consumers from making a repeat purchase.
Thus, it may lead to financial loss for a company.
However, while maintaining good taste is desirable, prevention of contamination cannot be overlooked. Fundamentally, good packaging helps prevent the contamination of cheese.
Cheese is packed with insulation lining on the inside of the shipping box.
This insulation within a pre-assembled corrugated box helps keep the temperature cool and stable inside the shipping box, to maintain the integrity of the cheese.
Furthermore, cheeses on sea freight voyages are typically placed into cartons— then into large mesh containers or lockable offshore reefer containers— with little room for movement. This setup ensures that they are tightly packed and well protected.
Refrigeration and cheese shipping
When shipping cheese, the temperature of the shipping module has to be taken into account. Cheese typically needs to be transported via modules that maintain a specific temperature range. Otherwise, it runs the risk of getting spoilt.
That being said, most cheeses can be stored at an average of 35°F and below. However, be careful to avoid very cold storage as your cheese could dry out. And thus, become harder than usual and unsavoury for the customers.
On the other hand, if your cheese is stored at very warm temperatures for a significant amount of time, it could get spoilt (via moulding), expand in size and rip through the packaging.
Avoid shipping soft cheeses like fresh mozzarella without any continuous refrigeration as they dictate very cold temperatures for food safety reasons.
What is the ideal temperature for shipping cheese?
The easiest cheeses to ship are firm cheeses like parmesan or asiago.
As alluded to earlier, softer cheeses require more attention to their insulation and cooling. Fresh cheeses cannot be shipped without optimal refrigeration or short travel times.
As such, the recommended temperature to ship cheese is 35° F and below, as few situations warrant any variation in this shipping temperature range.
Tips to consider when shipping cheese
Generally, if cheese is being shipped at excessively cold temperatures, its quality degrades by drying out, which leads to hardening, loss of aroma as ripening halts, and spoilage.
Typically, processed cheese is shipping at a range of 5–7°C, while Tilsit should be shipped at 2°C, Edam at 3–5°C and Emmental at 10–12°C,
On the other side of the coin, extremely high temperatures trigger fermentation processes which cause the cheese to expand in volume and accelerates decomposition. Furthermore, high temperatures always pose a risk of making the cheese overripe or melting.
The recommended humidity to maintain during cheese shipping is approximately 70–90% (depending on variety), while the water content should be approximately 35% for hard cheese and 50% for soft and processed cheese.
Since the water content is heavily dependent on variety, it can be assumed that the harder the cheese, the less water it contains.
Nonetheless, shipping cartons should always be protected from all sources of exterior moisture like seawater, rain and condensation water and excessive humidity levels.
Do not store with odour-sensitive products
Depending on the type, cheese usually exudes an odour ranging from slightly pleasant to extremely unpleasant.
Furthermore, depending on the type, some cheese elements are highly sensitive to foreign odours.
As such, cheese shouldn’t be stored with other odour-sensitive food products like butter, lard and meat. Rather, cheese can only be stored with fruit and vegetables, depending on the type. In actuality, some cheese varieties should even be stored separately from one another to avoid odour contamination.
Ensure proper ventilation
The recommended ventilation condition for cheese is 15–20 circulations/hour.
This is because poorly ventilated cheese typically faces the risk of mould growth and losses in quality.
Read our article on “What is Offshore Reefer Container Ventilation.”
Hazards to health
Unfortunately, extended storage of some cheese varieties can lead to the release of toxic gases. These gases pose a health risk to anybody who enters the hold or container. Therefore, pre-ventilation and a gas measurement should be carried out before container entry, where necessary.
Since cheese is highly sensitive to dust, dirt and oils, ensure that its storage is clean and in a thoroughly hygienic condition.
How do offshore reefer containers help in cheese shipping?
The best way to ship cheese is via reefer containers. These specialised containers are built to maintain optimal storage temperatures, for perishables like fruits, meats and vegetables, especially those not pre-cooled to the optimal carrying temperature.
In practice, reefer containers work exactly like refrigerators, and prevent cheese products from ripening too quickly whilst ensuring a longer shelf-life by circulating cool air to avoid spoilage.
Read our article on “How to handle perishable foods in offshore reefer containers.”
In summary, the most critical aspects to remember when shipping cheese is the proper packaging and storage temperatures.
If your business involves shipping cheese via sea freight, the best way to protect your investment and avoid client dissatisfaction is by ensuring your shipper employs reefer containers to maintain the quality, taste and odour of your cheese shipment.
Reach out to us at MGS Icestorm for more details on Offshore Reefer Container purchases, available in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.
A graduate (Business) from KDU, Jason Tan, is the current Business Director (Sales) for MGS Icestorm and has been associated with the company for the past 10 years.
With over 13 years in the shipping industry, he has had a significant contribution to Malaysia’s oil and gas industry in the engine and boat supply sector.
His expertise includes managing offshore catering business, offshore reefer containers, AI technology, offshore gas tanks, A60 pressurized cabins, etc. His contributions have helped establish MGS, in partnership (joint venture) with Thermo King and Honeywell to produce state of art Offshore Reefer Container products.