Dong Fang International Containers
Dong Fang International Containers

Guide for Transporting Reefer Container Cargo

Reefer containers are large temperature-controlled containers used for transporting perishable goods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, meat, dairy products, flowers, pharmaceuticals, films, and other refrigerated and frozen goods that may spoil if not maintained.Reefer containers are the only effective way to transport large quantities of perishable items and other temperature-sensitive commodities over long distances.

Goods suitable for transporting with reefer containers

Although reefer containers transport a variety of goods, different products must be transported under different conditions to ensure their freshness upon arrival. Goods suitable for refrigerated transport fall into three main categories:

  • Chilled Foods: These include fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, dairy products, eggs, confectionaries, live plants, and flowers. They require low temperatures around the freezing point but cannot be frozen. Their freshness and shelf life depend significantly on their nature and surrounding conditions. The temperature settings for such products must consider the stage of crop transportation. They must be transported in the most precise manner to maintain their commercial value. For instance, asparagus and broccoli have high respiration rates, thus releasing a lot of gases and moisture. They need optimum temperature and humidity levels to ensure their quality and shelf life remain unaffected.

  • Frozen Goods: These are goods that need to be stored and transported at temperatures of -20°C or below, meaning they are frozen solids. Examples include ice cream, frozen meat, poultry and seafood, concentrates, and pre-prepared foods. Freezing temperatures prevent spoilage and help retain flavor, aroma, texture, and quality. They can inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and microorganisms while also slowing down enzyme activity and oxidation. For such goods, the refrigerated container must maintain freezing temperatures without fluctuation. Repeated freezing and thawing could make the product mushy.

  • Special and Miscellaneous Goods: These are non-food products that require optimal temperature and humidity. Most of these are pharmaceuticals and medicines. Tobacco, batteries, chemicals, and films also fall under this category. Typically, they have special handling instructions regarding packaging, loading, and temperature and humidity control.

Proper handling of reefer container goods

Pre-shipment Handling

The importance of pre-shipment handling means that the shipper must provide accurate information on the products being shipped, volume and weight, port of departure and destination, packaging type (boxes, barrels, pallets, etc.), temperature, and humidity requirements, as well as any other handling details.


Refrigerated containers do not lower the temperature of the cargo. Instead, they maintain the pre-cooled temperature of the goods. Therefore, the shipper must ensure that their refrigerated or frozen goods are pre-cooled to the recommended temperature before loading into the container. Similarly, the container must be pre-cooled to prevent surface thawing and freezer burn, which occurs when container and cargo temperatures do not match.

Packaging and Loading

Goods should be protected from rough handling and bad weather during loading and unloading. Cartons used for packaging must be strong enough to withstand the weight of stacking and protect the internal products, especially taking into account humidity and temperature control. When stowing cargo, there should be ample ventilation and air circulation. However, different types of goods require different stowing methods. Chilled fruits and vegetables need proper air by packaging, while frozen foods must be stacked into solid blocks without gaps.

Precautions for Refrigerated Transport

  • Pack goods tightly to ensure stability;

  • Set the refrigerated container to the prescribed temperature and humidity settings;

  • Pre-cool goods if necessary;

  • Ensure proper ventilation and correct positioning;

  • Insure your goods, as refrigerated containers may pose more risks compared to traditional containers.