Keeping Cold Freight COLD in a Blistering Heatwave

Posted by Harriet Mills on Jul 25, 2019 3:40:36 PM


When temperatures reach 98 – 100 degrees with heat indexes as high as 115, like last weekend in Maryland, everything cold gets warm incredibly fast! During these extreme temperatures, many shippers are requesting that even fresh loads run at 26 degrees instead of 28. 

What precautions do carriers exercise in extreme high heat conditions? We asked some drivers and owner-operators to weigh in on what they do to ensure their cargo doesn’t go off-temp.

  • Keep a bulkhead on the trailer and in use, especially with multi-stop deliveries.
  • Be sure to run on continuous and not on start/stop mode. Most reefer failures occur at start up, so running continuous can help avoid that problem. Older trailers have a hard time maintaining the required temperature, so make sure you don’t have any leaks in the reefer trailer, especially if you are hauling sub-zero loads.
  • Also, plug any drain holes and use a pulp thermometer back hatch.
  • Make sure door seals are fully intact. You can’t have any broken or missing gaps in the door seals. The cold air from inside the trailer will create condensation and leak through those same floor holds, which can degrade or erode the insulation on the underside of the trailer floor.
  • Service the trailer regularly by checking belts and making sure the compressor is working correctly. If you are running an older reefer and can afford to buy a new one, do it. It is a good investment!
  • Always carry spare oil and antifreeze for the trailer’s reefer engine and radiator.
  • In fear of stating the obvious, don’t run the reefer very long while the doors are open when it is hot outside.

What precautions do 3PLs take in hot weather: At Choptank Transport, we follow strict shipping guidelines for our cold freight services. These are called SOPs, or standard operating procedures, and every person who has a stake in the shipment must follow these steps judiciously. Below are a few of the primary steps we follow when working with refrigerated freight shipper on a temperature-controlled shipment.

Step 1: Establishing the specific temperature range for the product is first and foremost. This information must be communicated in several ways – verbally and in writing. It must be accurately documented on all paperwork, including the bill of lading (BOL) and any communication between shipper and carrier sales/dispatcher. Important: There is no such thing as over-communicating when it comes to shipping temperature-sensitive freight.

Step 2: In addition to getting verification that the carrier’s trailer is dry, clean, and odor-free, the trailer must be adequately pre-cooled to the required temperature by the shipper. In extremely high heat zones, this may take longer than in cooler climates. It should also be documented and verified that the trailer temperatures run continuously, without interruption.

Step 3: Upon request or if the product is suspect, we will probe or pulp a product on the loading dock before putting in the reefer trailer. This practice is particularly important for some kinds of produce that may come out of the fields hot. It is then re-probed upon arrival before the load is accepted at the receiving dock. The job of the reefer trailer isn’t to cool down a product but to maintain a certain temperature. If melons load at 85 degrees and you put them into a pre-cooled trailer at 45 degrees, they will probably explode. (Most produce is cooled with forced air before shipping.)

Step 4: Tracking is required by Choptank for all loads over 500 miles. Choptank requires its contracted carriers to download the Trucker Tools app, industry-specific software that allows us to know where our customer’s freight is at any given time. To record temperatures, we use temp tail recorders to monitor and document real-time readings en route. We receive e-mail or text alerts whenever there is a temperature fluctuation which allows us to address the issue right away.  


Reefer Truck


Choptank Transport has minimal temperature-related rejections because of the detailed SOPs, carrier vetting practices, and vigilant staff we have in place. From the acceptance of a tender to the final delivery, we are watching and monitoring every shipment.

Have some tips of your own to share with fellow shippers or carriers? Leave a comment below.

Tags: Shipper News, refrigerated freight services, frozen freight shipping