Why Reefer Freight Shipping & Trucking Needs Logistics Expertise

December 8, 2022

Why Reefer Freight Shipping & Trucking Needs Logistics Expertise


Port Jersey Logistics

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When shippers plan their strategies, they need to consider temperature control to maintain the quality of certain types of goods during transport. Reefer shipping plays an essential role in these situations.

This guide gives you a better idea of how reefer trucking works and what you need to know to transport temperature-sensitive freight. It's possible to learn the ins and outs of this area to safely keep perishables and other applicable goods refrigerated in the truck.

Reefer freight requires logistics expertise and proper strategies to follow regulations and ensure optimal quality. Keep reading to see what you need to know or decide whether it would be best to have an expert in this area take over your reefer freight needs.

What Is a Reefer?

Let's start by covering the language that might not be familiar if you're moving refrigerated goods for the first time. If you're a shipper looking to transport temperature-sensitive goods, a reefer solution is what you need.

A reefer refers to a refrigerated trailer used for controlling the temperature during transport on a semi-truck. This is how certain goods like biological medicines and perishable foods stay in optimal condition during transport from point A to point B. While "reefer" may be a funny name for this kind of trailer, the term originally derives from "refrigerated."

How Does Refrigerated Trucking Work?

Next, it's essential to understand the practical aspects of keeping foods or other goods cool during transport. Refrigerated trucking utilizes insulation and interior vents to cool and maintain the temperature of the trailer and the goods inside.

Here is a breakdown of the process:

  • You use a small diesel engine for the reefer truck's compressor.
  • A gaseous refrigerant turns into liquefied gas under pressure. A condenser pushes this through an evaporator, which causes it to cool. The evaporator also has a refrigerant that expands and turns into gas, allowing it to absorb heat. Air in the trailer goes into the evaporator and then the compressor, leading to a repetitive cooling cycle. These processes continue to provide a cool environment for transporting goods.
  • In addition, reefers have air chutes, or air ducts, connected to the trailer's refrigerating unit to provide ventilation and even cold air distribution. Air chutes go along the trailer's ceiling, and these flexible air ducts only inflate when needed. Their design helps them work efficiently and consistently and reduces the risk of problems like hot spots, top-freezing, and short cycling that can affect the quality of temperature-sensitive items.
  • Reefers use batteries separate from the truck's battery.

What Type of Freight Do Reefers Transport?

Of course, many goods do not require temperature control during shipping. Common types of goods shipped in reefers include:

  • Fresh perishable foods
  • Chewing gum
  • Flowers
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Bulk liquids
  • Paint
  • Hazardous materials
  • Candles

In other words, reefers hold items that could go bad, lose their integrity, or become dangerous if exposed to too much heat. Without a reefer, flowers would wilt, candles could melt, and fresh food could spoil during transport. Reefer trailers ensure the load stays in prime condition until it reaches its destination. That's why this type of shipping is so important.

Can Reefers Carry Dry Freight?

Reefers can, in fact, be used as dry vans. They offer shippers moving dry freight certain benefits, such as reduced shipping costs and extra capacity over dry vans and other trailers. Nonetheless, remember that reefers are not ideal for all types of dry goods. Therefore, consider whether they work for the kind of freight you have. Also, dry vans are different and cannot be used as reefers.

What Requirements Are Associated with Reefers?

Shippers transporting refrigerated food in a reefer trailer must follow the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food.

There are four main requirements as part of this rule.

  1. Vehicles and Transportation Equipment: These need to have a proper design and be maintained to keep the transported food from becoming unsafe. One part of this requirement is that the vehicles and transportation equipment can keep food at the proper temperature to ensure its safety.
  2. Transportation Operations: These are the measures a shipper takes during transportation to keep food safe. Among other aspects, it includes maintaining the proper temperatures for food safety.
  3. Training: This rule refers to carrier personnel needing to be trained in sanitary transportation practices when a carrier is deemed responsible for sanitary transport conditions.
  4. Records: These include maintenance of written procedures and agreements, as well as carrier training records.

What Do Shippers Need to Know About Shipping Temperature-Sensitive Freight?

Shippers can choose between continuous or cycle methods for running the refrigeration unit in a reefer. Shippers need to think about which is best in a given situation.

  • Continuous cooling creates a steady temperature for the goods that require it.
  • On the other hand, cycle air creates temperature variances, which is okay for some goods but not others. When it's possible, this option has the benefit of using less diesel.

Type of Goods

Shippers must fully understand the requirements and temperature specifications of the goods they are transporting. For instance, ripening produce gives off heat that needs to be balanced with continuous air. A shipper should be aware of this concern to avoid ending up with fruit that ripens too quickly. Another example is sweet corn, which needs ice added after loading to maintain its quality.

You can see how specific goods have specific shipping requirements. Different types within the same category, such as other foods and beverages, can have very different temperature needs. Therefore, shippers and carriers must be fully aware of the temperature requirements for specific shipments. They must understand how temperature impacts each commodity and the corresponding temperature range. To this end, they should communicate effectively and document procedures for each shipment.

Produce Seasons

Another thing to be aware of is how produce seasons impact reefer trucking and create volatility. Because the produce industry has specific requirements to ensure the quality of its goods, it pays well during certain times of the year for reefer shipping. During these times, the bulk of reefer carriers work with produce shippers, creating a shortage for other refrigerated loads and spot rate inflation.


There is an increased risk of liability when shipping temperature-sensitive items. Ensure you follow the FSMA when applicable and that everyone working with your reefer shipments is adequately trained. Take measures to protect yourself, such as recording the temperature before goods are loaded and during transport. Know who is responsible for what and the recourse for problems.

What Are the Best Practices for Reefer Trucking?

Rather than cooling a product, the goal of a reefer is to maintain the correct temperature of an item. It's essential to plan out the reefer shipping process from start to finish to ensure the goods maintain their temperature at all times.

Shippers can maximize reefer trucking by following the following industry best practices.

1. Determine Optimal Temperatures

Shippers must determine and double-check the correct temperature requirements for each type of reefer load. The temperature requirements can vary depending on the type of goods transported, so this step is crucial. Consider the acceptable temperature range to keep those goods in their best condition, and determine whether heat control is needed. It is also necessary to determine whether there is a time frame for delivery to stay ahead of an expiration date, such as with perishable foods.

2. Prepare Before the Reefer Is Loaded

In advance, shippers should be pre-cooling the trailer, which is similar to pre-heating an oven before cooking. The reefer should be at the correct temperature before putting the goods within it. Set aside enough time to bring the trailer to temperature before reaching the pickup destination. Not only does this step ensure proper temperature control and safety, but it also prevents wait time and keeps shipping running efficiently. Further, you can use an infrared thermometer or thermal gun to determine if the reefer freight has the right temperature before you load it.

3. Load Efficiently

Sure, it's important to be careful when loading the reefer, so you keep the goods in optimal condition. You also want your team to load the trailer as quickly as possible. This step helps maintain the correct temperature within the reefer rather than losing the cool air from the open doors. In addition, you should wait to open the trailer doors until the cargo is ready.

4. Track the Temperature

Rather than setting and forgetting the trailer's temperature, shippers should continuously monitor the temperature throughout transport. The best way to accomplish this task is through temperature monitoring gauges and systems, which help ensure the correct temperature is always maintained.

You can also solve problems in real time by monitoring the temperature. One problem you may need to address is the batteries of the reefer failing. If this happens, you can quickly jump-start the batteries with jumper cables to the truck until you can properly fix the problem.

The FSMA requires temperature recording equipment for refrigerated trailers, and certain parties may request the associated information. It can also be helpful to shippers and carriers in cases of claims.

5. Efficiently Unload

Just as you want to load the cargo quickly, you want to do the same when unloading. Ensure the recipients are ready for the freight and that it won't sit around in uncontrolled temperatures after being unloaded.

Why Is Working With a 3PL Expert Valuable for Reefer Shipping?

You can see from the workings of a reefer trailer, and the requirements and considerations you need to follow that temperature-controlled shipping is complex. That's why it's so helpful to turn to an expert in this area who can handle the unique requirements of this type of shipping. You can outsource your reefer shipping to a 3PL expert with the right expertise.

A reputable 3PL can prove invaluable for reefer shipping because of its expertise in cold chain logistics and supply chain strategies. Ensure that the 3PL provider you choose has knowledge and experience in this area to minimize problems and maintain the quality of temperature-sensitive goods. Avoiding mistakes during reefer shipping can prevent the entire load from becoming unusable.

The 3PL company you work with should know about reefer trucking, how to maintain the correct temperature for all loads, how to communicate to understand each load's needs, and the requirements to follow for food safety. In addition, an expert can help find the capacity for reefer loads despite volatility in the market.

Port Jersey Logistics has extensive knowledge and experience in reefer trucking, which is why major brands like Walgreens, Costco, Target, and Amazon trust us to handle all their needs for transporting temperature-sensitive products.

Port Jersey Logistics adds value on top of providing reefer trucking services. We can support your needs with all parts of the supply chain, including project management and logistics optimization. We have experience working in the industry since 1954 and specialize in food-grade commodities, including fresh produce.

We serve each customers unique needs and help their supply chain run seamlessly. Our long-term experience in the food industry has given us insights into customer challenges and a thorough understanding of the solutions that help. We understand supply chains and cold-chain shipping, so we can help customers adapt to reefer shortages during seasonal times and other roadblocks. This simply isn't the case with providers who don't have the same knowledge and experience of logistics and reefer freight in particular.

Our services include:

Make Sure Reefer Trucking Is Done Right

Reefers are an essential part of cold chain shipping and logistics, as they are necessary for transporting specific items that need to maintain their temperature from point A to point B. While this is crucial, reefer freight has its challenges, including following requirements, adapting to each load, and arranging transportation.

If managing reefer shipping yourself makes you feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew, rely on the support of a 3PL expert like Port Jersey, who knows the industry like the back of their hand. We understand how to handle your refrigerated products with temperature-controlled shipping to ensure the safety and quality of the delivered shipments. With Port Jersey, you gain value-added services to help your entire supply chain run smoother. Ask us how our services could help you.

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