A Refrigerated (Reefer) Transportation and Freight Best Practices Guide

February 21, 2024

A Refrigerated (Reefer) Transportation and Freight Best Practices Guide


Continental Logistics

Within global commerce, the pivotal role of logistics and transportation in sustaining the backbone of businesses and their supply chains has never been more pronounced.  Considering refrigerated transportation, or "reefer," is a specialized trucking segment, the need for advanced and reliable solutions has become a lynchpin in the success of these critical supply chains. This surge in importance is particularly noticeable in sectors where temperature sensitivity is paramount, such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and the food service industry.

Like almost everything else in 2024, there has been a dramatic rise in the demand for temperature-sensitive products, which has also seen a rise in the use of refrigerated transport. However, refrigerated transportation is far from the usual logistics and transportation many businesses are familiar with.

It is more than just having a refrigerated container at the back of the truck. It is a more nuanced form of logistics that requires strict adherence to a new set of rules if you will have any success at it.

Best Practices in Refrigerated Transportation

In this article, we will be exploring some of the best practices for refrigerated transport. They are rules that serve as a guide of some sort to the concept of refrigerated transportation.

1. Precision In Temperature Control

Temperature control is the lifeline of perishable goods or temperature-sensitive goods. The wrong temperature, even by a degree, can spell doom for many of these goods.

Whether it is a mere vegetable or a life-saving drug, maintaining the right temperature throughout a journey is essential to the survival of the goods. You don’t want to pick up a good from its source and have it damaged when you reach the destination.

As you can imagine, this can impact the quality, safety, and profitability of these products.

Maintaining the right temperature is quite easy when these temperature-sensitive products are in one place. However, on the road, there is suddenly an introduction of different variables that, if care is not taken, could impact the temperature of these goods.

This is why technology plays a massive role during the reefer process. Technology has been really good for logistics and supply chains. It is one of the primary reasons for the success and innovation of modern logistics.

Luckily, the reefer segment was not left out. Several tech solutions can help safeguard the entire refrigerated transportation process. Some examples:

  • Telematics: Although these platforms are generally set up to monitor any logistics process, the recent ones are helpful for refrigerated transportation because they offer real-time visibility into the location, temperature data, and potential issues. All of these enable swift intervention and route optimization.
  • Sensors: These are digital sentinels that continuously monitor and record cargo temperature. With these, you have real-time insights into the temperature of your container.
  • Predictive Maintenance: AI is all the rage, even in logistics and supply chains. Today, with AI-powered analytics, you can anticipate equipment failures. This helps prevent breakdowns and ensure consistent optimal performance.
  • Advanced Refrigeration Units: Today, reefer units or containers boast precise temperature control capabilities. These units usually have advanced features like multi-zone settings, humidity control, and remote monitoring.

Recent innovations in the packaging of insulated containers, specialized liners, and temperature-controlled packaging solutions further insulate cargo, minimizing temperature fluctuations.

2. Ensuring Reliability And Timeliness

In a world of refrigerated transportation, delays can be quite costly. Not just because the product is increasingly in harm's way for every minute of delay, but because, most times, there is a cascading consequence for delivering products late.

However, it is more than meeting deadlines. You must ensure a seamless process because it improves your reliability where customers are concerned.

How do you achieve this? Here are some tips.

  • Route Optimization and Planning: We cannot control the traffic; better men have tried. However, you can control the routes you take. Luckily, there is advanced software that analyses historical data, traffic patterns, and weather conditions to create efficient routes and avoid potential delays.
  • Real-time Tracking and Monitoring: In refrigerated transportation, visibility is essential to success. Real-time data on vehicle location, temperature, and potential issues enhances prompt intervention and proactive communication with stakeholders.
  • Contingency Planning: Always have plans B, C, and D. With these, you will always have a solution to unwanted situations or emergencies. If you have a contingency plan, unexpected events like traffic jams or mechanical issues will not faze you. Rather, you can ensure swift adaptation and minimize delays.
  • Driver Training and Incentives: When drivers are trained properly on efficient driving practices, route familiarity, and safety protocols, it fosters a culture of punctuality and reliability.
  • Strong Partnerships: Collaboration with shippers, receivers, and infrastructure providers ensures smooth information flow, efficient handoffs, and streamlined processes. For example, partnering with Continental Logistics helps you enjoy seamless reefer transportation.

3. Comply With Safety And Quality Standards

Yes, getting the goods to the customer on time and in the right condition is important. However, just as important is observing all the necessary safety protocols. Beyond being one of the best practices, it is also legal and ethical.

Complying with safety and quality standards will help protect the environment, maintain product quality, and improve public health.

Here are some regulations that guide your safety and quality standards.

  • Temperature Requirements: There are specific temperature ranges for different types of cargo. This ensures safety and quality are maintained.
  • Environmental Regulations: Emissions standards like the EPA's Tier 4 Final rule impact reefer unit technology and operations.

Because of the critical nature of ensuring safety and quality standards throughout the reefer process, you must take a proactive stand because a casual attitude to the process could have consequences.

Examples of best practices to observe while ensuring safety and product quality in refrigerated transport.

  1. Always check refrigeration units, temperature logs, and cargo conditions before departure.- It pays to do this thoroughly and not just have a liaise affair attitude about it.
  1. Continuously monitor and record cargo temperature throughout the journey.
  1. Training drivers on proper reefer unit operation, emergency procedures, and temperature monitoring protocols.
  1. Maintain meticulous records of temperatures, inspections, and maintenance activities.
  1. Regularly undergo independent audits to verify compliance with regulations and best practices.

4. Adapt Specialized Handling Techniques

It is important to go beyond acquiring refrigerated trucks. You must tailor these trucks and their refrigerated containers to meet the specific needs of the product you are transporting.

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work in refrigerated transport. This is because different temperature-sensitive or perishable goods require different processes, techniques, and freeing methods.

As perishable goods differ in their make, they will also differ in their handling. For instance, it is not the same way you handle a pharmaceutical product that you will handle an agricultural product.

Adapting specialized handling techniques ensures each product is transported, factoring in various nuances that make them unique. For instance, under the foods categories, you will treat fruits like berries differently from seafood.

Seafoods would require delicate handling and constant water circulation. On the other hand, berries must be separated and packaged carefully because they are sensitive to the ethylene gas emitted by other ripening produce.

To effectively adapt the right handling techniques, you must hire experts or train your staff to ensure proper care and utilize specialized packaging materials like insulated containers.

5. Embrace Transparency And Efficient Communication Systems

The importance of speed in refrigerated transportation cannot be overstated. Yet, it's the integration of transparency and efficient communication that enables rapid and punctual deliveries. These elements are not just important — they are indispensable. One cannot exist without the other if the goal is to achieve expedited delivery. Together, they serve as the essential conduits for facilitating both effectiveness and efficiency across the entire refrigerated transport workflow.

Lacking these critical components, the process degenerates into a fraught exercise of guesswork for everyone involved. In stark contrast, with robust transparency and communication mechanisms in place, stakeholders gain command over the entire operation, allowing for the proactive identification and resolution of potential challenges — often before they even arise.

Here are some tips for ensuring transparency and effective communication.

  • Real-time access to data, including location and temperature monitoring.
  • Set pre-defined thresholds that will trigger instant alerts if things start to go off course, allowing you to take prompt actions. For instance, when the temperature deviates from optimal ranges.
  • Set up secure platforms enabling real-time communication between shippers, carriers, and receivers, facilitating information sharing and collaborative decision-making.
  • Encourage comprehensive reporting that compiles temperature data, location updates, and communication logs, offering valuable insights for future improvements.

A Guide to Utilizing These Best Practices in Refrigerated Transportation

Utilizing these best practices can be challenging, but they are also very possible. To successfully achieve them, the following tips will help.

Outsource Refrigerated Transportation

Although refrigerated transportation can be done in-house, it can usually get too expensive and cumbersome. However, some businesses specialize in refrigerated transportation and can take the load off your supply chain operations.

These businesses also have the right infrastructure and expertise to make your operation seamless. Outsourcing or collaborating with these businesses can ensure that you are always on top of your game and your goods are handled better and effectively.

Invest In Talents And Infrastructure

Your reefer process cannot be more than the level of talent and infrastructure at its disposal. You will struggle to effectively implement the best practices listed in the article if you do not have sufficient investment in talents, infrastructures, pieces of machinery, and tools.

These will simplify the refrigerated transportation process and make the entire operation as effective and efficient as possible.

Create A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) For Your Refrigerated Transportation

An SOP is a policy or guide that helps every stakeholder in the refrigerated transportation process understand your policy and their roles in the entire reefer process. With the SOP, stakeholders know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and where to do it.

It should have a detailed map of the entire reefer process and ensure all parties are constantly updated if or when changes are made to the SOP. An SOP is another technique for ensuring seamless transactions with the reefer process.

What To Look For When Choosing A Logistics Provider For Your Refrigerated Transportation

Choosing a logistics provider for your reefer can be tricky. To have success at it, there are certain things you should look out for.

  • Expertise and experience: Search for a logistics provider with the right mix of expertise and experience. Invest in verifying their expertise and track record with similar goods and their understanding of the unique requirements of your industry.
  • Sustainability: Transportation usually has a disproportionate impact on the environment. Ensuring the logistics providers take sustainability seriously before getting in bed with them is important.
  • Technology and tracking: Choose a provider that utilizes relevant tech solutions like real-time temperature monitoring and tracking systems. This allows for visibility and transparency in the entire refrigerated transport process. You should verify their data management and reporting capabilities, ensuring you receive clear and accessible shipment information.
  • Capability: Ensure they have the right capability to carry out your transportation operations seamlessly. This will include having the right infrastructure (especially fleets and containers) and manpower.
  • Communication and customer service: Choose a provider with open communication channels and a dedicated customer service team. They should be readily available to answer your questions and address any concerns.
  • Compliance and certifications: Ensure the provider adheres to all relevant regulations and industry standards, including food safety, environmental, and transportation safety regulations. Look for certifications like the GCCA.
  • Cost and pricing: It is best to get quotes from several providers and compare their pricing structures before getting together with any provider. Consider factors like base rates, fuel surcharges, additional services, and hidden costs. Although low prices are great, focusing solely on them can impact the quality of service.

Trust Continental Logistics To Transport Your Perishables Safely

With more perishable products than ever before, refrigerated transportation is now an essential aspect of the freight and logistics industry across the globe. In this article, we highlighted some of the industry's best practices that can help simplify any reefer process and make it as effective as possible for businesses and supply chains.

Although these best practices can give you an edge in refrigerated transport, It is important to study how to utilize them to the best of your ability

At Continental Logistics, you have access to the best trailers, containers, and other freight equipment. With over 30 years in the industry and a lot of successfully completed logistics and transportation services in the bag, Continental Logistics is your ideal partner for refrigerated transport.

Get in touch with us today.

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