Ice, popsicles, ice cream, flowers, medicine and more! Getting frozen and temperature-controlled items like these into retail locations and to customers takes a little extra something—cold chain logistics. When it comes to making sure your cold freight or temperature-sensitive cargo gets shipped at the proper temperature, you need to know the basics of cold chain logistics and why it’s important to your supply chain.
Cold Chain Logistics Basics
Cold chain logistics is simply a temperature-controlled supply chain, including refrigerated items, frozen items and any cargo that is sensitive to changes in temperature. Additionally, it’s called a cold chain because it’s not just one part of the shipping process that needs to work. It’s a chain, with links that fit together. If one part of the chain doesn’t hold together, the entire thing falls apart. Here’s what we mean by chain:
- Refrigerators or freezers in warehouses located in cold chain production areas.
- Refrigerated or frozen transportation.
- Refrigerated warehouses for normal shipping (IE: not enterprise level).
- Commercial or enterprise level refrigerated warehouses.
- Local refrigerated transportation. (Think local carriers and warehouses in transit).
- Proper refrigeration equipment at all destination points, such as retailers and wholesalers.
Making sure your temperature-sensitive cargo maintains the optimal temperature during the entire shipping process means reduced risk of spoilage, damage or product loss. While you want the chill of a properly running cold chain, you don’t want the chill of unhappy customers!
Importance of the Cold Chain
Let’s say you’re a retailer shipping produce, flowers or pharmaceuticals. Your items are temperature-sensitive and require special cold chain shipping and handling. If one link in the cold chain doesn’t work properly, you risk losing money on spoiled cargo and having unhappy customers. So, the importance of a well-oiled, properly functioning cold chain cannot be overstated.
In fact, according to the International Trade Administration, worldwide losses in the food industry total more than $750 billion each year. To add to that, more than $260 billion of bio-pharma products are reliant on cold chain logistics to ensure their efficacy.
Cold chain logistics shipping regulations and standards are created to help shipping providers know how to ship these types of items properly. Who sets and enforces the regulations?
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- U.S. Customs
- The International Air Transport Association (IATA)
- The Department of Transportation
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
How Does Cold Chain Cargo Get Damaged?
With all the regulations and information about how to properly ship cold chain items, you might be wondering how cold chain cargo gets damaged. Here are some reasons:
Equipment malfunction—Sometimes equipment breaks down, causing product damage or loss. Common examples include power outages or issues with the cooling system, coolant or insulation failure, poor air circulation, lack of fuel, and more.
Distribution and delivery issues—From shipping to remote areas to breakdowns to carriers being stuck in traffic, sometimes distribution and delivery issues happen.
Human error—Nobody’s perfect, and human error, such as bad handling, leaving a refrigerator door open and not filling out the paperwork properly can lead to damaged cargo.
Cargo theft—Argh, mateys! There be pirates! And those pirates target cargo that is easy for them to steal and resell on the black market. Food, drinks and medicines are among the top items thieves target.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Cold Chain Cargo?
You can reduce your shipping risk by ensuring you are following all the best practices and regulations you need to before you ship. This includes properly packaging your cold chain cargo, knowing and following regulations set by the FDA and other agencies, properly labeling your cargo, communicating with all parties involved in the shipping process, and working with a third-party logistics provider (3PL).
FreightCenter was named Food Logistics’ 2020 Top 3PL & Cold Storage Provider, and as a 3PL, we have the cold chain resources you need as well as shipping experts who can help you source capacity, find the right cold chain carrier and more.