Shippers need to stay aware and up-to-date on all of their shipments. But they must be particularly vigilant when it comes to temperature-controlled or climate-controlled freight. Any deviation in the product temperature range in the truck, during loading or unloading, or in the warehouse can result in spoilage or damage. Understanding all the concerns that come with these products is no easy task, so let’s take a close look at what they are, how they are classified, and what challenges they present. Then we’ll provide tips and frequently asked questions while pointing out that the best advice might be partnering with a 3PL to keep you from being left out in the cold or getting burned by temperature-controlled freight.
What is Temperature-Controlled or Climate-Controlled Freight?
Temperature-controlled freight must be kept within a specific temperature range from the moment it leaves a facility until it reaches its final destination. Among the items that need to be temperature controlled are fresh produce, flowers, perishable foods, and certain medications. These items will spoil, in the case of foods, or become unusable, in the case of medicine, if they are not kept in a temperature-controlled environment. Climate-controlled freight must stay within acceptable ranges for temperature and humidity. The following items not only fall under the umbrella of temperature-controlled freight but also require being climate-controlled: art, musical instruments, and antique furniture. Changes in the moisture density of the atmosphere can cause these items to warp or suffer other damage when not kept in the right climate-controlled environment.
Common Types of Temperature-Controlled Freight
There is a vast range of products that need to be temperature controlled. Let’s take a closer look at some of the many categories that temperature-controlled freight covers:
- Food – The most obvious and most prominent of temperature-controlled freight. It includes fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, herbs, and meats.
- Confectionary Products – Include candy, sugar, chocolates, and baked goods stored at various temperatures. For instance, the ideal temperature range for transporting or storing chocolate is 55 degrees to 65 degrees.
- Health & Beauty – Certain makeups, hygiene products, soaps, and lotions need to be temperature controlled to keep from melting or having some of their qualities — odor, texture, and color — diminished by extreme temperatures.
- Nutritional Supplements – Among these products — vitamins, shakes, snacks, and syrups — some items can degrade faster and lose effectiveness when exposed to excessive heat, light, humidity, or oxygen.
- Frozen Foods – Frozen dinners, meats, and ready-to-prepare foods can spoil, lose their flavor, and often morph into unsellable products when they melt.
- Medical Items and Pharmaceuticals – This includes everything from pills to vaccines to lab kits to test products and some equipment. The timely arrival of an unspoiled product can be particularly important because these items can sometimes be life-saving.
- Live Animals – Livestock, poultry, pets, exotics, and even insects all have specific temperature ranges that they can live in. Not being in the correct temperature-controlled environment can put severe stress on an animal and could result in death.
- Art and High-Value Items – As mentioned above, art and other high-value items, such as antique furniture and musical instruments, can be highly affected by temperature and humidity. These often irreplaceable items can experience warping and peeling or become brittle when not kept in the correct temperature and humidity ranges. Extreme temperatures can also damage electronics.
- Freeze-Affected Products – Some products are susceptible to freezing during the winter months. They include dyes, inks, paints, glues, and pastes. Cleaning detergents can also be affected because the freeze can destroy the chemical bond the product needs to work.
Top Challenges in Temperature- and Climate-Controlled Shipping
Everything from documentation to refrigeration unit breakdowns to storage problems can rear their ugly heads when it comes to temperature-controlled or climate-controlled freight. Here are some of the main hurdles faced when trying to ship these products:
- Inadequate Documentation. Any document errors, such as improper specifications, could jeopardize goods before they even leave Point A and result in a ruined product when it reaches Point B.
- Delays and Disruptions Add to Risk of Damages. The inability to keep up with current conditions, such as weather or traffic, could hold back a shipment and put it in danger of missing a delivery window. Shippers must pay close attention to possible delays before the shipment leaves and as the load is in transit.
- Changing Global Regulations. Local, national, and international regulations can change with little notice, so it is vital to stay current to prevent shipments from sitting because of red tape.
- Limited Refrigerated Units and Tight Capacity. Like many other challenges on this list, advance planning can likely be crucial. To ensure a shipment doesn’t run into availability problems because of full capacity somewhere along the way, the shipper should always be on top of scheduling and communicating the special needs before sending out a shipment.
- Refrigeration Unit Problems. In addition to preparing a shipment for all its particular needs, there is the concern that some breakdown and miscommunication can lead to refrigeration unit concerns. Shippers can take certain precautions to ensure the shipment stays in the correct temperature-controlled range. The first step is to provide all those particular concerns on all documents. Also, getting assurances from your partners that all docking facilities will be temperature controlled is a good idea. Checking that the packaging of all the items does not put the shipment at risk is another important box on the to-do list.
Regulations Around Temp-Controlled Shipping
Understanding all the regulations surrounding temperature-controlled and climate-controlled freight — specifically pharmaceuticals, specimens, and medical tests — can be a complex exercise. With no single regulatory body covering this area, keeping up with all the rules is necessary. Many items fall under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but that is not always the case. With regional regulations applying at the point of origin and destination, researching these specific rules in advance is likely helpful.
How Much Does Temperature-Controlled Shipping Cost?
Temperature-controlled or climate-controlled shipping has more concerns than transporting a dry container. It also costs more for several reasons.
First, transporting temperature-controlled freight requires a refrigerated container or a temperature-controlled truck (reefer). Using those will add cost to your expenses. With the current shortage of containers, refrigerated ones are even more in demand, which can mean laying out more cash. There are two types of cooling: stop-start and continuous. If a product can withstand being in a container or vehicle with stop-start refrigeration, that can be a cost saver, but many products need constant refrigeration. Second, consolidating shipments is often impossible since certain products have different temperature requirements. They will have to be shipped separately or with a product that needs to stay within the same temperature range.
Tips and Best Practices for Temperature-Controlled or Climate-Controlled Freight Shipping
Along with the need to keep a close eye on the temperature issue, some other factors and practices must be kept in mind when shipping temperature-controlled or climate-controlled freight.
Factors to Consider
- Weight and size limitations: Refrigerated or heated trucks require extra insulation and equipment. That means they often have less space and payload capabilities. Shippers will need to take that into account to avoid problems involving any oversized items. As with any shipment, the dimensions of your freight are important. Size is often more important than weight. Measuring a shipment’s correct height, length, and width (remember, it is important to round up to the next inch) is an important first step in shipping food and perishables. Accurate dimensions allow shippers to maximize capacity and help carriers understand how much freight can fit on a trailer. One excellent option is to see if the freight can fit into a smaller or more compact box. That will allow shippers to get more on the trailer at once, which is crucial with something as time-sensitive as temperature-controlled products.
- Temperature and timing: As crucial as it is to understand temperature requirements, it’s just as pivotal to relay those details to the carrier and ensure the carrier understands the acceptable temperature range and transit window for your freight. It’s always a good idea to specify if the temperature is Fahrenheit or Celsius. Your usual LTL carriers for other freight shipping probably also have freeze protection, which protects your cold-sensitive freight from freezing when your shipment passes through frigid regions or is shipped during chilly times of the year.
- Packaging Techniques: By packaging with insulation materials, the shipper can give the goods another level of protection. Some types of insulation — foils, foams, and blankets — can be used depending on the need. Other possible options are gel coolants and dry ice. But it is important to note that dry ice can require special handling because it can be considered a hazardous material.
Check the Reefer Unit Proactively
The keys to ensuring all bases are covered when shipping temperature-controlled or climate-controlled freight are being prepared and staying proactive once you have prepared everything. Here are a few best practices to help keep everything on the up and up:
- Make sure the bill of lading clearly states the cargo’s temperature requirements.
- Having a 3PL partner that understands temperature-controlled logistics can also help assuage any concerns.
- Communicate with each provider that is involved in the path of the shipment. Things flow much easier when everyone is on the same wavelength.
- Ask for an electronic log of trailer temperatures for the shipment.
- Place a temperature recorder within your shipment.
- Determine and use the right internal and external packing materials for your shipment.
How to Overcome Facilities Problems
Several things can go wrong when an LTL partner ships your temperature-controlled freight. In addition to sharing the space on a trailer, LTL shipments can make several stops before reaching your destination. That likely incurs the unloading and reloading from one refrigerated unit to another. These steps can help keep things on the straight and narrow:
- Communication – When shipping temperature-controlled or climate-controlled freight, communication is essential to ensuring the product is in the same state at the end as it was at the beginning of its journey. Let the LTL provider know what temperature conditions are needed at their docking facilities. Work with them to ensure everything is in place to keep the shipment safe and within the temperature range.
- Packaging Properly – Just as communicating ahead of time can be extremely important, packing the cargo properly beforehand can also be a shipment saver. Insulated thermal blankets can protect a shipment at the docking facilities.
- Working with a 3PL – A reliable 3PL should have relationships with many LTL carriers and can help you pick out which method of transport is best for your shipment. They can also help you track the shipment once it is en route.
Securing Capacity Tips
A dependable 3PL can be an excellent source in helping a shipper avoid last-minute capacity issues or seasonal shipping concerns. If a shipper doesn’t have source capacity of its own and may not be familiar with which carriers are the best for refrigerated shipments, a 3PL can offer information to guide the shipper to the right option well in advance of when the shipment is ready to go. Another way to regularly stay on top of capacity for temperature-sensitive items is for the shipper to analyze its supply chain for any gaps and address issues before the next shipment goes out. Also, adding cold chain needs to your business continuity plan might be handy.
Evaluate Your Goods
It might sound a little simple, but you need to know the goods you are shipping. After learning what products require a temperature-controlled environment, you should be concerned with how often you will move these products and whether it is your company’s main product or just an exception. By knowing your short- and long-term outlooks for temperature-controlled products, you can determine the plan you want to have with your partners.
One of the areas where a shipper wants to have extensive knowledge before entering the temperature-controlled or climate-controlled fray is the handling of the products. A shipper needs to take into account how temperature control impacts packaging. High-value items or perishables can’t be thrown in the back of a temperature-controlled truck and neglected. Packaging can help with that concern. Insulation materials like EPS foam or reflective materials can reduce heat transfer and humidity. Consider adding gel coolants or dry ice if an item needs to stay cold. Frozen or wet items, which might spill during shipping, can benefit from absorbent materials like pads or cellulose wadding. Don’t forget to take cost-effectiveness into account when considering these options.
Mind Cold-Chain Custody
Cold chain custody is about keeping the shipment temperature controlled throughout all aspects of the journey — production, storage, and transportation units. It can be easy to think that the goal has been reached once the product has left the warehouse. But with temperature-controlled or climate-controlled freight, the shipment needs to be monitored throughout the cold chain journey to ensure it stays within its correct range from start to finish.
FAQ About Temperature-Controlled Shipping
Here are a few frequently asked questions that are vital to know when taking on temperature- or climate-controlled freight:
How many pallets fit in a refrigerated truck?
Generally, a refrigerated truck’s pallet capacity is about 30 pallets. Note: weight will decide how much freight can be transported in a trailer, along with whether or not the pallets are stackable.
At what temperature is the cold chain broken?
The cold chain is broken when the temperature goes above or below the range needed for optimal conservation. Remember, temperature ranges vary from product to product.
How does a refrigerated truck work?
The refrigeration system operates seamlessly with the vehicle’s electrical and charging system to isolate the cargo compartment and keep it at the right temperature for that product. A condenser and compressor combine to create cold air, and fans direct the air throughout the unit.
What is the cold chain?
Cold chains keep products within the correct temperature range during movement or storage. Products lose some or all of their properties in a compromised cold chain and can become damaged or spoiled.
How is the cold chain broken?
The cold chain breaks when preparation speed is too slow, areas in the warehouse are poorly refrigerated, or issues happen during transportation that cause the unit to lose its refrigeration. These can all force the temperature of the products to fall outside the safety limits.
How to detect if the cold chain has been broken during transport?
The most obvious way is to see that the temperature has strayed outside the correct range. For instance, there might also be physical signs, such as the product has softened or been affected by liquefaction. One way to prevent this is to install a system regulating the temperature. Shippers can outsource this if they don’t have any systems.
Let Port Jersey Logistics Be the 3PL to Show You the Way
While temperature-controlled and climate-controlled freight is a much-needed part of our lives, shipping such products requires a more dedicated process in which all concerned must pay close attention throughout the journey. It requires a keen eye and excellent planning and communication skills. That’s where a 3PL can prove to be a game-changer. Port Jersey Logistics has proven over six decades that it has the experience and integrated services — like warehousing, dedicated warehousing, logistics, and managed transport — to meet your temperature-controlled and climate-controlled freight needs. Before your logistics manager’s temperature reaches a boiling point, contact the experts at Port Jersey Logistics to keep your company in a thriving climate.