Best Practices for Proper Reefer Loading

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Reefer shipments are a major part of the freight and logistics industry because of their ability to maintain temperature-controlled environments. They commonly carry frozen foods like meat and produce, but can also be used to transport plants, pharmaceuticals, and electronic goods that require cooler temperatures.

To help drivers stay compliant with guidelines, there are a number of ways to ensure refrigerated truck loads are properly packed. Taking time to follow these steps will help prevent temperature changes and streamline the process of loading perishable freight. This is particularly important if a reefer is transporting freight that requires different temperature zones.

The following suggestions will help you properly load your reefer to ensure it gets to its destination safely and successfully.

What to Consider Before Loading a Reefer

Before you get to actually packing a refrigerated truck load, there a few things to consider that will help make for a more efficient, timely process.

  • Understand the Unique Needs of Different Types of Freight

When hauling perishable goods, they need to move fast, some more than others. If you’re going to be moving different types of freight (LTL shipping), you want to make sure your reefer is properly equipped for different temperature zones and that you have ample space for goods, including their packaging. It’s also helpful to know the minimum and maximum temperatures for specific cargo to make sure it always stays within an acceptable range.

  • Have Proper Airflow

It’s important to make airflow accommodations before you start packing. This may involve adding an air chute or a T-rail to the floor that helps control airflow under flat cargo. For flat truck floors, cargo should be packed on pallets so air can easily move beneath.

  • Cool the Truck Before Loading

Perishable cargo needs to stay at a consistent temperature throughout the shipping process, even when it’s not in the truck. Pre-cooling the truck to the correct temperature prevents excess heat from transferring through the walls of the truck, and thus affecting freight.

  • Know How Many Pallets Fit in a 53-Foot Trailer

Reefer trailers come in a variety of lengths, but a common length for hauling a significant amount of freight is 53-feet. As mentioned above, it’s important to maintain proper airflow by loading on pallets. But before you load, you need to know how many pallets can fit in the truck. A 53-foot trailer can fit up 26 pallets that measure 42” x 48”. Check the width of the trailer as well, as it can vary depending on the type of trailer.

How to Successfully Pack a Refrigerated Truck Load

Once you’ve prepared for your shipment, you’re ready to load! Similar to pre-loading, there are a number of ways to streamline the loading process to ensure consistent temperature and a successful delivery.

  • Move Quickly

If cargo needs to be unrefrigerated prior to loading, make sure to load quickly and efficiently. Not only can the cargo heat up, but the residual heat that it carries with it can cause hot spots to form in the trailer, affecting other freight.

  • Keep Proper Clearance Between Reefer Loads

When you begin packing, it’s important to maintain good clearance between the walls and ceiling of the truck, as well as between different freight. Here are the general guidelines:

  • At least 1 to 2 inches of space between the trailer sidewalls and freight.
  • At least 9 inches of space between freight and the ceiling of the truck.
  • At least 4 inches of space between freight and back end of truck (rear doors).
  • Check that the evaporator outlet is not blocked
  • Consider Turning Off Refrigeration Unit While Loading/Unloading

If you pre-cooled the truck before loading, and you have an efficient plan for loading freight, then you can turn off the refrigeration unit while loading and unloading. This prevents the unit’s fan from sucking warm air into the truck and may improve fuel efficiency.

  • Follow Any Guidelines Set Forth by Shipper

Some shippers may provide their own list of inspections for refrigerated cargo, which should be made before and during the loading process. If there isn’t a list provided, consider asking the shipper for any additional instructions they have regarding the shipment.

Keep Reefer Maintained and Clean for Best Performance

Even when you’re not loading, unloading, or preparing for an immediate shipment, it’s always important to maintain a reefer. This includes both the mechanics of the truck and refrigeration unit and the cleanliness of the truck.

Cleaning Reefer Trailers

Before doing your normal cleaning, check if the shipper has specific guidelines for cleaning the trailer. Some shippers may specify cleaning methods, list approved chemical substances, or have requirements for cleaning frequency. When cleaning, consider the following:

  • Does the truck need a basic cleaning, or does it need to be sanitized?
  • Are you preparing for an inspection? If so, know regulations that may affect cleaning standards.
  • If you’re carrying food, additional cleaning may be required.
  • Check that all debris–like nails, wood, or trash–are removed after each shipment.
  • Clean drains to ensure proper drainage.
  • Properly sanitize boxes that may be carrying odor-absorbing cargo.

Maintenance Checks on Reefer Trailers

All trailers, whether a reefer or dry van, undergo regular maintenance inspections and service. Aside from more formal inspections, drivers and carriers are responsible for making sure that their trucks and trailers are in good working order before each shipment. Here are a few ways to conduct regular checks that may improve the longevity of a reefer trailer:

  • Inspect the temperature control panel to make sure all functions are working properly.
  • Check tire pressure.
  • Walk around the trailer to assess any damage to the body or other parts.
  • Inspect engine, belts, and hoses.
  • Check for oil leaks.
  • Check air chutes for blockages or holes that may affect temperature.
  • Check drains and clear any debris.

Apart from the basic checks above, trailers should receive routine service to address current issues and prevent unexpected issues during shipping. Some carriers may even provide a maintenance plan that provides an easy-to-follow guide to help drivers properly care for their trailer.

Where to Buy or Rent Reefer Trailers

If you’re a carrier that needs a reefer trailer rental for a specific shipment or are considering the purchase of a new or used commercial trailer, check out Hale Trailer’s extensive selection of fully maintained trailers. Our experienced representatives can help you choose a trailer, receive service, or even find specific parts for your trailer. Contact us, or visit one of our 12 trailer rental locations to learn more!

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