Everything You Need to Know About Reefer Temperature Ranges

Hauling perishable cargo is an important business. Whether you are moving produce, meat, plants, or frozen goods, having proper refrigeration is key to remaining FDA compliant and fulfilling business and consumer needs.

A necessary aspect of moving perishable goods is ensuring that reefer temperatures meet standards for the cargo they’re carrying. Also known as refrigeration trailers, these units are designed to keep cargo at a specified temperature throughout the journey. It is important to note, however, that they are not necessarily designed to cool down the cargo.

Maintaining cooler reefer temps is important as it can often be 30 degrees warmer inside a trailer than outside. Moving perishable goods without proper cooling abilities can mean loss of product and loss of revenue.

Fixed on the front of the reefer trailer is a diesel-powered refrigeration unit that can be adjusted to meet the temperature required for specific cargo. Some trailers have multiple temperature zones within them, allowing for different types of cargo to be moved within the same reefer.

Part of safely moving perishable cargo is ensuring that reefer trailer temperature ranges are appropriate for the goods being shipped. But what types of goods are normally shipped inside a reefer, and which reefers are the best for specific cargo? Let’s take a look at the most common issues regarding reefers.

Cargo Types and Reefer Temperatures

Nestled in the reefer is a diesel-engine powered compressor that works to control the temperature inside the reefer. This makes transport of many types of goods possible, even those that don’t necessarily need to be kept at freezing temperatures. Some cargo is simply temperature-sensitive, such as pharmaceuticals.

One of the most important factors to consider for cold chain logistics is remaining compliant with the FDA’s regulations, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), implemented in 2017. These guidelines seek to prevent foodborne illness, not simply respond to it. Before purchasing a reefer, or booking a reefer trailer rental, check that the trailer is suited for the types of cargo being transported. The following section will help you determine what temperatures are required for different goods.

Produce

Produce is likely one of the most common, yet sensitive, type of freight transported on reefer trailers. Since produce is meant for human consumption, it’s imperative that temperatures remain consistent to ensure safety.

The appearance of the produce is also a concern. Consumers expect to find clean, attractive produce when they step into a grocery store. Maintaining FMSA standards for reefer temperatures, in addition to cleanliness of vehicles, and proper documentation is essential for proper produce transport.

There is not a one-size-fits-all temperature for produce, as some fruits and vegetables are more sensitive to temperature changes. Think of lettuce–if exposed to higher temperatures, they wilt and eventually rot. In contrast, produce like citrus and melons may withstand higher temperatures. Here are general guidelines to consider for reefer truck temperature ranges:

  • 32˚F – 36˚F: greens, berries, apples, cruciferous vegetables, grapes, stone fruits
  • 38˚F – 40˚F: avocadoes, cranberries
  • 40˚F – 45˚F: potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes
  • 45˚F – 50˚F: watermelon, cucumbers, some citrus, bananas, tomatoes

It’s important to know if the produce is in late season, which variety they are, and any other special considerations that may affect how you set the reefer temperature.

Reefers truly are ideal for shipping produce due to their temperature control abilities. Drivers can easily adjust temperatures in the trailer but must remain aware of temperature gauges throughout transport. A shift of a few degrees may be the difference between fresh produce and rotten produce.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dairy

One of the biggest concerns with transporting meat products is the growth of harmful bacteria. The general rule is that meat and poultry products should remain at 40˚F or lower to prevent bacteria growth.

Often, meat products are frozen to maintain freshness during transport, then later thawed for display. This slows the movement of molecules so that harmful microbes cannot be active. Reefer truck temperature ranges should be confirmed prior to transport so that the driver knows the optimal temperatures for specific meat products. If a reefer trailer has temperature zones, various products may be shipped within the same reefer.

Pharmaceuticals

Often, when someone thinks of shipping perishable goods, they think of food items. But shipping pharmaceuticals is big business, and they must be properly transported to ensure chemical stability.

Sub-zero temperatures or elevated temperatures can cause a variety of issues, including sedimentation or separation of emulsified goods–even a change of 2 degrees can alter the chemical state beyond repair. Pharmaceuticals also need to be shipped in a timely manner to ensure their efficacy.

Reefer trailer temperatures for pharmaceuticals vary greatly depending on the chemical compounds. Stabilized temperature must be confirmed with pharmaceutical manufacturer and regulatory guidelines before shipment. Common temperature categories for pharmaceuticals may fall into one of these categories:

  • Room temperature: 20˚C to 25˚C
  • Refrigerated: 2˚C to 8˚C
  • Cryogenic: below 0˚C to as low as -150˚C

Knowing which temperature category a shipment falls into will help to choose the appropriate refer trailer for the job, avoiding the risk of faulty shipments that can be very costly.

Plants and Florals

Like produce, plants and florals maintain freshness and beauty when kept at cool, stabilized temperatures. Excessive heat can cause leaves, petals, and flowers to wilt, and thus be unavailable for sale.

Reefer trailers act similar to refrigerators in a flower shop or grocery store. Reefer temperatures for plants are best at 33˚F. A few degrees higher dramatically increases the rate of deterioration.

Another consideration with plants is the humidity level. Plants, flowers, and even produce immediately begin to lose moisture when they are cut or picked. Thankfully, reefer trailers have humidity controls in addition to temperature.

Reefer Trailer Best-Practices

Before the invention of reefer trailers, it was nearly impossible to transport perishable goods more than 50 miles before they would wilt, rot, or be subject to bacterial growth. Now, it’s estimated that over 500,000 reefers are on US roads, responsible for transporting much of the food Americans consume.

Whether renting, buying, or leasing a reefer trailer, it’s helpful to know some best practices to ensure goods are transported effectively.

  • Know the needs of your cargo. If moving perishable goods, the temperature AND the timing of shipments must be considered. Items like pharmaceuticals may have stringent time constraints that need to be factored into logistics planning.
  • Loading and unloading. Get familiar with how goods will be loaded and unloaded and ensure that proper planning is done to accommodate the most sensitive cargo.
  • Always monitor the temperature of cargo. Reefer temperatures are carefully monitored by a system that controls the different temperature zones and humidity. Drivers are responsible for freight while in transit, so it’s helpful for drivers to have experience moving perishable goods.
  • Continuous cooling. Many sensitive cargo types like plants and produce need to be kept at consistent, cool temperatures so they don’t generate excess heat as they ripen or mature.

IntelliSet Options

IntelliSet trailer refrigeration control option allows reefer operators to use preset profiles that make it easy to optimize reefer temperatures and fuel economy. There are four preset profiles for perishable cargo, and four profiles for frozen cargo. Each profile has preconfigured settings for more than 50 refrigeration parameters. The processor can be configured to achieve an optimal balance between temperature management and fuel economy.

The truck operator can select different refrigeration parameters for multiple commodities from a scrolling list. Profiles are configured to operate in continuous, start/stop, and high airflow modes based on the ambient temperature. In cold weather, the profiles can start the unit automatically to prevent fuel gelling.  At the reefer trailer microprocessor, the operator selects the most appropriate profile from the microprocessor control’s display screen and adds a temperature setpoint when prompted.

Reefer Trailer Rentals

Due to their unique functionality and the need to transport various temperature-sensitive goods, reefer trailers are certainly in high demand. Logistics managers, trailer owners/operators, or fleet managers, will want to consider if renting or buying is the best option. A few factors to consider are:

  • Meat and produce freight are always needing to be transported. Having access to a reefer trailer may give more options for moving this type of cargo as opposed to simply using dry vans.
  • Are you hauling dry and refrigerated freight? If so, consider investing in a reefer trailer that can do both.
  • Consider the region you are transporting freight to and from. You may be moving more meat in the Midwest, and more produce on the West Coast. This will affect shipping timing and reefer temperatures needed.

If renting a reefer is the right option for you, Hale Trailer offers a large inventory of reefer trailer rentals, available at most of our locations.

New and Used Trailers to Meet Your Fleet Needs

With commercial trailers offered at 11 branches along the east coast, Hale Trailer Brake & Wheel, Inc. is one of the largest independent trailer dealerships in North America. We are committed to providing the widest selection of trailer inventory to suit all your logistics needs, as well as parts and service to keep your fleet moving. Whether you are looking for new or used reefer trailers for sale, Hale has it all.

Contact our helpful representatives at any of our locations today to learn more about how we can meet your reefer trailer needs.

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