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Best Practices of Refrigerated Transportation: A Guide for Shippers

Nathan McGuire
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October 6, 2023
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Best Practices of Refrigerated Transportation: A Guide for Shippers
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When we think of refrigerated transport, our minds often go straight to food and beverages. While these are critical, they're just the tip of the iceberg. Pharmaceuticals, electronics, and even artworks sometimes require specific environmental controls. Incorrect temperatures or humidity levels can result in irreversible damage, so understanding the nuances of different goods is critical.

This article delves into the best practices of refrigerated transportation to help shippers navigate this complex landscape. From understanding the temperature and humidity needs of various types of reefer cargo to selecting the best carriers, this guide aims to equip you with the knowledge you need for successful and cost-effective refrigerated freight shipping.

Refrigerated Transportation: The Basics

Refrigerated transportation, or reefer shipping, is the art of transporting time-sensitive and temperature-sensitive perishable goods such as fresh produce, medical supplies, and other perishable foods at certain temperatures to prevent spoilage or contamination. Shippers transporting perishable commodities using reefer trailers face risks such as temperature variance, unequal cold air distribution, improper calibration, and breakdowns that can lead to expensive insurance claims and damaged relationships. 

Refrigerated truckload trailers, or reefers, are temperature-controlled using refrigeration units mounted on a trailer. The refrigeration unit maintains the temperature inside the trailer. While there is no steadfast rule, carriers should monitor their trailer temperature throughout transport to ensure everything is cool, pun intended. Before electronic temperature monitors, drivers would check this visually and keep a paper log of the temperature recordings. 

Three Must-Know Best Practices for Refrigerated Transportation

We wouldn't want to discount the importance of any shipment, but the consequences of things going wrong with refrigerated transportation are far more impactful than non-perishable shipments. We are talking about complete losses, spoilage, and potential consumer harm. Shippers can optimize their reefer transportation operations and reduce risk by choosing carriers that focus on essential best practices such as setting and monitoring temperature requirements, proper loading and packaging techniques, and compliance with regulations and standards.

1. Setting and Monitoring Temperature Requirements

Proper temperature control is the most critical aspect of a successful reefer shipment. It's the key to ensuring that the cargo maintains optimal temperature from start to finish. Phoenix recorded its hottest month this past summer, breaking average temperature records, most consecutive days over 110 degrees, and most days over 115 degrees in a month. These record-setting temperatures cause reefer units to work harder, leading to failures and more fuel usage—and just imagine how hot it can get in a trailer when it's triple digits outside. 

Electronics: Believe it or not, electronics require specific temperatures and humidity levels. When metal parts get too hot, they can expand and cause malfunctions. Conversely, cold temperatures can make metal contract, disrupting component connections. Humidity is also a concern, as excess moisture can lead to corrosion and electrical failures.

Produce: You might think it's just a matter of keeping produce cool, but it's more complex. Temperatures that are too low can result in chill damage, affecting the taste and texture of fruits and vegetables. Conversely, high temperatures accelerate ripening and spoilage. Humidity plays a role; excessive moisture can encourage bacterial growth and speed up decomposition.

Pharmaceuticals: Temperature management for pharmaceuticals is not just about maintaining quality; it's a matter of public safety. Heat can degrade the active ingredients in medicines, rendering them ineffective. Cold temperatures may cause separation or crystallization of pharmaceutical products. Humidity can affect their stability and shelf-life, raising health concerns.

Horticultural Goods: Plants, flowers, and other horticultural goods have specific needs regarding temperature and humidity. Too much heat speeds up water loss and wilting, while cold temperatures can result in freeze damage. Properly managing humidity levels helps prevent mold or mildew.

Consequences of Deviating from Required Conditions

Product Type Too Hot Too Cold Too Humid
Electronics Metal parts can expand, leading to malfunctions or short circuits. Metal contracts, which can cause components to lose their connection. Excess moisture can cause corrosion or electrical failures.
Produce Accelerates ripening, leading to spoilage. Causes chill damage, affecting taste and texture. Encourages bacterial growth and speeds up decomposition.
Pharmaceuticals Can degrade active ingredients, reducing efficacy. May cause the separation or crystallization of ingredients. Can affect stability and shelf-life.
Horticultural Goods Speeds up water loss, leading to wilting. Can cause freeze damage. Excess moisture can result in mold or mildew.

If we continue to see record-setting temperatures, it’s entirely possible that more types of cargo will require refrigerated transport to ensure quality. Now, let’s look at the role loading and packaging plays in refrigerated freight shipping. 

2. Proper Loading and Packaging Techniques

Proper loading and packaging techniques help ensure refrigerated shipments remain fresh throughout transportation. Using high-quality packaging materials designed to withstand the rigors of transportation further protects cargo from exposure to the elements. Properly loading refrigerated cargo goes way beyond getting the product to fit. Industry best practices ensure uniform air distribution, which will help maintain a consistent temperature throughout the load.

High-Quality Packaging Materials: Durable, moisture-resistant materials can protect your cargo from external factors, ensuring they arrive in optimal condition.

Uniform Air Distribution: Properly stacking and arranging goods allows for even air distribution, which in turn aids in maintaining consistent temperature levels throughout the space.

Precooling: Precooling the trailer to the ideal temperature is crucial for preserving freshness and extending the shelf life of perishable goods.

Sanitizing: Given that we're dealing with consumables and other sensitive items, sanitization of the reefer unit before loading is crucial. A thorough cleaning removes any smells or other contaminants from previous shipments.

Checking for Trailer Damage: Before loading, inspect the trailer for any signs of damage that could compromise its refrigerated capabilities. Look for cracks, holes, or faulty seals that could allow cold air to escape or warm air to penetrate, thus affecting the interior temperature.

Following loading and packaging best practices is essential to maintaining the quality of refrigerated cargo and ensuring shipments fall in line with regulations and standards. 

3. Compliance with Regulations and Standards

Due to the sensitive nature of refrigerated cargo, many rules and regulations are in place to safeguard consumers and refrigerated transportation carriers. Shippers must adhere to regulations established in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and other agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, DOT, and more.

Accurate documentation is crucial for proving compliance with various regulations, making it invaluable in audits or dispute resolutions. Partnering with a well-informed logistics service provider can significantly ease the burden of staying current with ever-changing rules, reducing the risk of costly errors or legal issues.

Leveraging Technology for Route Planning and Transit Time Management

Technological solutions make determining the most efficient routes for your refrigerated cargo more accessible. Advanced algorithms consider many variables, such as road conditions, traffic patterns, and distance, to find the ideal path. Predictive analytics tools are increasingly integrated into transportation management systems (TMS), providing real-time updates and foresight into potential delays. This feature allows shippers to prepare and pivot when adverse conditions like weather events or traffic jams, thereby minimizing downtime and keeping the supply chain running smoothly.

The advent of machine learning in logistics enables automated scheduling based on historical data, current availability, and other factors. This results in a well-coordinated timetable that aligns with all stakeholders involved in the supply chain, ensuring timely deliveries and customer satisfaction. 

In today’s day and age, when a shipper chooses a carrier well versed in refrigerated transport, they gain enhanced visibility and peace of mind. 

Effective Refrigerated Transportation Begins with the Right Carrier

In an industry where maintaining the integrity of time, handling, and temperature is vital to a successful delivery, you need a carrier that offers more than just a refrigerated trailer. 

At Wicker Park Logistics, our network of carriers provides shippers with modern technology solutions for end-to-end visibility, including real-time tracking and notifications, data analysis, API connections, and on-demand capacity when needed. With expertise in refrigerated transport regulations and route optimization, we ensure faster delivery for time-sensitive reefer shipments.

Elevate Your Refrigerated Shipping with Wicker Park Logistics

Refrigerated transportation is a complex but critical aspect of the modern supply chain, touching industries from food and pharma to electronics and the arts. Following best practices like temperature control, proper loading, compliance with regulations, and technological leverage can significantly mitigate risks and boost efficiency. Wicker Park Logistics offers tailored solutions that cover these very aspects. Our cutting-edge technology ensures real-time tracking and data analysis while our network provides on-demand capacity for urgent, time-sensitive refrigerated shipments.

Don't leave your precious cargo to chance. Choose a carrier that can deliver reliability, expertise, and advanced solutions for reefer shipments. Speak to a Wicker Park freight expert today to find out how we can make your refrigerated shipping operations more effective and less stressful.

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