How do you get perishable foods, medicines, flowers, live animals, and other temperature-sensitive items through the supply chain without compromising their viability by exposing them to temperatures outside of their accepted range? You can achieve what’s known as an unbroken cold chain using refrigerated, or reefer, shipping. It’s how perishable foods get to supermarkets, how temperature sensitive medications are shipped, and more.
If you have temperature-sensitive items that you need to keep fresh and intact as it moves through the supply chain, reefer shipping is for you. If your shipments are large, you may want to rely on refrigerated trucks and other temperature-controlled freight shipping to keep the cold chain unbroken as the shipment travels. But reefer shipping also refers to the tools used to keep individual packages cool as they move through the supply chain on commercial carriers. Here’s what you need to know to keep your shipments cool.
Choose the Right Coolant
Plenty of things need to be kept cool during shipping, but all coolants are not created alike. Dry ice has traditionally been the go-to choice for keeping things cold in transit, but maybe it’s time to buck tradition. You can only ship five pounds of dry ice through the United States Postal Service, and while it stays cold for a long time, dry ice can cause burns if handled imprudently. It also creates carbon dioxide as part of its sublimation process, and can even replace the oxygen in a small room with carbon dioxide, asphyxiating anyone who might be in there. It needs to be stored in ventilated areas and if you’re going to use it as a coolant for shipping, it should be placed in a well-ventilated box. Any packages containing dry ice should also be clearly labeled as such.
Of course, there are other choices available. Reusable refrigerant gel packs can freeze, melt, and be frozen again for reuse. They’re ideal for items like seafood or flowers, which shouldn’t be shipped with dry ice as it can burn them. In fact, they’re great for shipping most food items, as dry ice shouldn’t be allowed to come into direct contact with food.
Packaging Is Just as Important as Coolant
Packaging is what keeps the cool air inside the box, where it can do the most good for your shipment. Always use a new cardboard box for every shipment — they aren’t reusable, as a single trip can compromise their structural integrity. You’ll need to insulate your contents with polystyrene foam planks, thermal bubble wrap, or a foam cooler.
You’ll also need cushioning to protect your contents from impacts, vibrations, and crushing. Use packing peanuts, bubble wrap, or foam to fill in the gaps between the thermal insulation and the external carton.
You need to use a temperature indicator to make sure that your perishable shipment remains within the appropriate temperature range throughout the supply chain. An unbroken cold chain guarantees that your shipments arrive in optimal condition, with their shelf life preserved. Some temperature indicators can even alert the recipient that the contents have been allowed to get too warm.
Monitoring the temperature of your shipment isn’t a way to learn after the fact that your heat-sensitive shipment was ruined by high temperatures. You can get real-time updates on the temperature of your shipment, and alerts when the shipment is close to exceeding its recommended temperature. That way, you can take steps to save your shipment before the cold chain is broken.
Get Temperature-Sensitive Items through the Supply Chain Quickly
The longer your shipments stay in the supply chain, the shorter their shelf life will be when they arrive, and the more likely they’ll experience damaging temperatures at some point. That’s why it’s so important to ship temperature-sensitive items as quickly as possible, so they can get through the supply chain without damage. If they’re perishable items, like fresh flowers, live plants, or produce, shipping them fast maximizes their useful life on the other end of the supply chain. You certainly don’t want your perishable shipments perishing before they’ve reached their destination.
If you have temperature-sensitive goods to send through the supply chain, you need to know what’s required in terms of packaging and monitoring your shipments. With the right packaging, a temperature indicator, and fast shipping, you should be able to get perishable items to their destinations while they’re still fresh and intact. Your customers will appreciate the time you take to ensure that they can get the maximum use out of their shipments.