Multiple industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare, strongly rely on cold chain logistics to safely store and transport perishables. Today, the need for such services keeps increasing due to changing consumer demand, trends like "from farm to fork,” and the necessity for new drugs and vaccines.
Cold chain in food industry
Storing and transporting perishable food products is the oldest and most obvious cold chain use case, originating centuries ago to avoid rot or mold. We all know from our middle school (and our own experience) that the quality of certain food categories degrades with time because of natural chemical reactions – reactions that can be slowed down with lower temperatures.
There are several categories of food that require different thermal conditions.
Banana. Tropical fruits like bananas or pineapples undergo controlled ripening as they are transported, so they need a stable range of 12° to 14°C (53° to 57°F).
Chill. Most vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and meat must be refrigerated around 2° to 4°C (35° to 39°F).
Frozen. Meats, bread, cakes, and most other products that need freezing require temperatures between -10° and -20°C (14° to -4°F).
Deep-frozen. Seafood, ice cream, and some other items must be deep-frozen or stay between -25° to -30°C (-13° to -22°F).
Cold chain equipment and packaging options
We’ve already indicated that usually reefer trailers, diverse containers, and even specialized vessels are used to transport temperature-sensitive products. Liquefied gasses (such as oxygen, nitrogen, argon, CO2, etc.) are stored and transported in special cryogenic tanks, trailers, and railcars.
As for packaging, there’s a huge range of cooling products to keep perishables cold. There are two main categories of such technologies.
- Passive cold containers rely on dry ice, gel packs, gel bottles, liquid nitrogen, eutectic plates, quilts, and other cooling/auxiliary stuff to keep the internal temperature low. Pharma products can be more demanding and require ultra-low freezing, so specialized containers are being developed to satisfy industry needs.
- Active cool containers can monitor and control the internal temperature level. Such powered refrigeration units include sensors, a control unit, and ventilators that adjust the temperature automatically to keep it stable.
Comparing the two, active containers seem pricey at first, but they often turn out to offer more cost savings than traditional passive ones. They are reusable, take less space, require less handling, don’t need cooling material replacing, provide better guaranteed temperature control, and can be shipped with other cargo or as LTL freight (which is cheaper than hiring dedicated reefers).
In addition, active containers include a monitoring device that provides an opportunity to track shipments and related activities. Next blog let’s look deeper into which technologies make it possible.