Dry Ice vs Ice Gel Packs
Dry Ice and ice gel packs are placed inside packages containing frozen or cold products that must be kept cool. Some of these temperature-sensitive goods include medical supplies, fresh produce, and meats, whose quality is prone to compromise when exposed to heat. Dry ice sublimates, while ice gel packs contain all liquid within the pouch. This article will directly compare dry ice and ice gel packs to determine their suitability for specific needs.
What is Dry Ice?
Dry ice is composed entirely of carbon dioxide molecules with no water content. It is formed through sublimation, where gaseous carbon dioxide is rapidly cooled and compressed to become a solid at an extremely low temperature. The sublimation speed is tied closely to the surface and cubic density area of the shape of the dry ice.
Dry ice in the form of pellets and snow with higher surface area and less density will be more likely to sublimate quicker than a block of dry ice. Because dry ice is extremely cold, it is ideal for products that do not have a low-temperature threshold, lowering the product’s temperature to stay frozen or cold for a more extended period.
One of the defining characteristics of dry ice is its exceptionally low temperature. It sublimates at approximately -78.5°C (-109.3°F), substantially colder than regular ice. Dry ice does not melt into a liquid; instead, it directly transitions from a solid to a gas, a process known as sublimation. It does not leave residue behind, making it ideal for applications where moisture is a concern. Dry ice emits a characteristic white “smoke” or fog when it sublimates, which is condensed water vapour, adding to its visual appeal.
Use Cases for Dry Ice
Using dry ice keeps products cold throughout the journey. For transportation of products with a long journey, it is best to use dry ice. However, dry ice should not be used with perishable items that cannot freeze. These include fresh meats and produce live seafood and flowers. Any food products shipped with dry ice should be completely sealed to prevent dry ice from changing the texture and taste of the product.
Dry ice can be beneficial when handled correctly. However, if dry ice is dealt with without the proper protection, it can be dangerous. Dry ice is usually considered a hazardous material during shipping. Hence, users handling dry ice should wear insulated clothing and gloves. It should also not come into contact with bare skin as it can burn the user. Another point to note when shipping products with dry ice is to add the proper safety and hazard labels to the package before shipping it out. Here are some prominent use cases for dry ice:
- Frozen Food Shipping: Dry ice is frequently used to ship frozen foods long distances. It keeps frozen meats, ice cream, and seafood at sub-zero temperatures, preventing thawing and maintaining food safety.
- Pharmaceutical and Medical Shipments: Temperature-sensitive medications, vaccines, and biological samples require ultra-cold storage and transport. Dry ice packaging ensures these critical medical supplies maintain low temperatures throughout their journey.
- Biological and Research Samples: Laboratories and research facilities utilize dry ice packaging to ship biological samples, DNA, tissues, and other sensitive research materials at extremely low temperatures to preserve their integrity.
- Specialized Chemical Shipments: Certain chemicals and laboratory reagents require refrigeration during transport to prevent degradation. Dry ice is an effective choice for maintaining consistent, sub-zero temperatures.
- Aerospace and Industrial Parts: Sensitive aerospace components and parts may be shipped with dry ice to protect them from temperature extremes and ensure they arrive in optimal condition.
- Gourmet and Specialty Foods: Businesses in the gourmet food industry often use dry ice to ship high-end products like caviar, premium chocolates, or delicate pastries, ensuring they remain pristine and fresh upon arrival.
- Frozen Meal Kits: Meal kit delivery services that offer frozen ingredients use dry ice to keep these items frozen solid, allowing customers to enjoy restaurant-quality meals at home.
- Event Catering: Caterers and event planners employ dry ice for transporting frozen or chilled foods to off-site venues, ensuring that the food remains safe to consume during the event.
- Art and Sculpture Transport: Valuable art pieces and sculptures that require low temperatures for preservation may be packaged with dry ice for safe transport without temperature-related damage.
Limitations of Using Dry Ice
While dry ice is a valuable cooling solution in many applications, it also comes with several limitations and challenges that users should be aware of:
- Safety Concerns: Dry ice can cause severe cold burns or frostbite if it touches the skin. Handling dry ice without proper protective gear can lead to injuries. They sublimate into carbon dioxide gas, which can displace oxygen in enclosed spaces. This can pose a risk of suffocation if not used in a well-ventilated area.
- Regulations and Shipping Restrictions: Dry ice is classified as a hazardous material for transportation. Shipping regulations and restrictions can vary by country and mode of transport, making compliance a complex process.
- Limited Duration: Dry ice has a relatively short cooling duration compared to alternative cooling methods. It sublimates continuously, which means its effectiveness diminishes over time.
- Handling Challenges: Dry ice is brittle and can shatter easily if mishandled or dropped. This can make it challenging to work with and package safely. Proper insulation is crucial when using dry ice to prevent rapid sublimation. Inadequate insulation can lead to a loss of cooling capacity.
What are Ice Gel Packs?
Ice gel packs are poly bags filled with water or polymer gel. They are typically water-based, so they have a phase change of 0 degrees Celsius, freezing and thawing around the same rate as water. Furthermore, an ice gel pack can maintain a temperature range from 2ºC to 8ºC.
Ice packs are ideal for perishable items that must not freeze. Unlike dry ice, they cannot reach frigid temperatures, which does not damage those products sensitive to freezing. They are also suitable for products that do not need much refrigeration. Ice gel packs can also aid in the dry ice sublimation process by placing them with dry ice in the package, prolonging dry ice coolness, and providing more coverage for frozen products in transit.
Use Cases for Ice Gel Packs
Ice Gel Packs are best used for quick deliveries and journeys, where products such as fresh produce and meats, dairy products, and some pharmaceutical goods do not need to be frozen solid. These packs are easy to use, and because they are sealed entirely in poly bags, they eliminate the possibility of contaminating your products.
While ice gel packs can keep your products cold, they thaw much faster than dry ice. Even after they melt, ice gel packs still have some thermal mass, slowing the temperature down. Unlike dry ice, once it completely disappears, the products are on their own. Ice gel packs do not require any special handling either.
The factors to note when using ice gel packs are shipping destination, duration, humidity, container insulation, and size. These will determine how long the ice gel packs can last in the package. Here are some key use cases for ice gel packs in packaging:
- Perishable Goods Shipping: Ice gel packs are commonly used in shipping perishable goods such as fresh produce, dairy products, meats, and seafood. They help keep these items at a safe and consistent temperature during transit, preventing spoilage and ensuring they arrive in optimal condition.
- Pharmaceutical Shipments: Temperature-sensitive medications and vaccines often require strict temperature control to maintain their effectiveness. Ice packs create a temperature-stable environment within packages, ensuring these critical medical supplies reach their destination without compromising quality.
- Online Grocery Deliveries: With the rise of online grocery shopping, ice gel packs have become essential to insulated packaging. They help keep groceries like frozen foods, dairy, and fresh produce cold until they reach the customer’s doorstep.
- Meal Kit Deliveries: Meal kit subscription services rely on ice packs to keep ingredients fresh during transit. These packs ensure customers receive high-quality, chilled ingredients for their home-cooked meals.
- Gourmet and Specialty Foods: Artisanal and gourmet food businesses use ice gel packs to maintain the temperature of speciality products like cheeses, chocolates, and fine wines during shipping, preserving their flavour and texture.
- Online Pet Food Delivery: They are included in pet food packages to prevent spoilage and maintain product quality for pet owners who order online.
- Floral Deliveries: They are used to keep flower arrangements fresh during delivery, particularly in hot weather.
- Biomedical Shipments: Laboratories and research institutions may utilize ice gel packs to ship biological samples, tissues, or reagents requiring temperature control to avoid degradation or contamination.
- Wine and Beverage Shipments: Ice packs help protect wine and other beverages from temperature fluctuations during shipping, ensuring they arrive in the desired condition.
Limitations of Using Ice Gel Packs
While ice gel packs are versatile and widely used for temperature control in packaging, they do have certain limitations and drawbacks that users should be aware of:
- Not Suitable for Deep Freezing: Ice gel packs can maintain temperatures below freezing but are generally incapable of reaching the ultra-low temperatures that dry ice can achieve. This can limit their use in applications requiring deep freezing.
- Space Consumption: Ice gel packs can take up a significant amount of space in a package, reducing the available space for the products. This can be a concern, especially for businesses looking to optimize shipping costs.
- Additional Weight: Ice gel packs can add weight to packages, increasing shipping costs. This can be a consideration for businesses with weight-sensitive shipments.
How to Package Products with Dry Ice or Ice Gel Packs?
Frozen products and perishable goods can be kept cold longer with suitable packaging.
- Prepare the Container: Use thermal liner boxes that reduce heat transfer between products and the environment to maintain the optimal temperature. Temperature control helps restore the freshness and quality of the goods in transit. Another alternative would be to use styrofoam containers. Place the box liners or Styrofoam containers into a corrugated cardboard box.
- Fill the Box Liner with Ice Gel Packs or Dry Ice: Set the bottom and sides of the box with ice gel packs or dry ice. Fill empty spaces with packing peanuts to ensure the product does not move around.
- Add Products in Place products or food in the middle of the package. Add more dry ice, ice gel packs, or packing peanuts if there is still space between the box and your product. Packaging products in an airtight bag is also recommended to keep them colder longer. For frozen food, freeze them all the way through before placing them in the package.
- Seal the Box and Add Labels: Seal the box with heavy-duty tape. If required, use temperature-indicating labels or data loggers in the packaging for monitoring.
Choosing between dry ice and ice gel packs depends on specific needs and considerations. Dry ice offers extreme cold temperatures but comes with safety and handling challenges, while ice gel packs are convenient and reusable but have shorter cooling durations. The right choice depends on the particular application and priorities.
Stream Peak manufactures ice gel packs in Singapore with ISO 9001 and 140001 certifications using Japanese technology and materials. Contact our packaging specialist for more information about our cold chain solutions to help with your packaging requirements.