The transition from winter to summer is one many will welcome with open arms this year. After spending the last few months in Chiberia, a term coined this winter when Chicago temperatures dropped  below zero, many are looking forward to replacing boots with flip flops and packing away their parkas.  For the transportation industry, the weather effects more than  just clothing options. Temperature fluctuations impact the demand for temperature-controlled equipment because as heat rises, so does the demand for refrigerated trailers.  To ensure that perishable products reach their destinations safely and efficiently, it is important for shippers to learn the facts about temperature-controlled shipping before the hot summer months arrive.

The Cold Hard Facts

  • New refrigerated trailers can cost upwards of 60 thousand dollars
  • Approximately 500 thousand refrigerated trailer units currently operate across the United States
  • Modern refrigeration systems allow fleet managers to control and monitor a specific trailers temperatures and airflow based on the particular load.
  • Before any commodities are loaded, the carrier must pre-cool the trailer to ensure the load does not spoil.
  •  [1,2,3,4]

Temperature-Controlled Shipping by Commodity  Temperature-controlled shipping is most commonly used in the food industry. If temperature sensitive products, such as meat, produce, bottled beverages or frozen foods, are not stored at the appropriate temperature, they will spoil, tainting the load and potentially costing the shipper thousands of dollars. Furthermore, proper temperature regulation is vital to ensure food safety and decrease the risk of contamination. If spoiled food is consumed, it can lead to illness, and in extreme cases, death. In August 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a salmonella outbreak due to improper temperature regulation of cantaloupe was responsible for the contamination of 168 people and the death of two [Source].Besides food and beverages, other lesser-known commodities require temperature regulation. While transporting art, humidity levels must be monitored to maintain the quality of the piece. Shipping pharmaceuticals, such as the flu vaccine, also requires temperature-controlled trailers, as the vaccines must be kept cool to preserve potency.

Temperature-Controlled Market Challenges

In the coming months, it is predicted that temperature-controlled capacity will be preternaturally scarce. The ongoing driver shortage and this year’s climate volatility are two of the factors currently influencing the temperature-controlled shipping market. With temperatures and humidity levels predicted to spike to record highs this summer [Source], loads that were once carried in dry vans will require a refrigerated trailer in the heat to make up for the temperature difference.  That, coupled with the fact that refrigerated trailers are innately difficult to source due to their hefty price tag and drivers hesitation to take on the potential damage liability, is further tightening temperature-controlled capacity. In addition to the climate issues, the ongoing industry-wide driver shortage continues to make sourcing capacity challenging. The combination of these two elements will provide temperature-controlled shippers with a large obstacle to overcome this summer season.


Managing the Cold Chain Process

All parties involved in the cold chain process – manufacturers, 3PLs, carriers receivers – should adhere to certain procedures to ensure the load is received in pristine condition. The following specifications are necessary for proper temperature-controlled shipping [Source]:

  • Personnel Certifications
  • Training
  • Contingency planning (contacts, backup processed)
  • Pack out
  • Storage
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Temperature monitoring
  • Data collection
  • Motoring carrier and freight forwarding security requirements

Benefits of a 3PL

One potential solution for shippers is to hire a third party logistics (3PL) company to manage perishable loads. With a wide array of reliable carrier partners and easy access to necessary equipment, 3PL providers make temperature-controlled shipping as easy as one phone call.Many 3PL’s also offer refrigerated intermodal and drop-trailer programs, which ensures the availability of numerous empty trailers at shipping and receiving points. Shippers can pre-load trailers when it’s convenient, eliminating wait time and decreasing the risk of interrupting the supply chain.