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The Logistics of Transporting Perishable Goods for Cold Chain Management

The cold chain refers to the management of the temperature of perishable products in order to maintain quality and safety from the point of slaughter or harvest through the distribution chain to the final consumer.

The cold chain ensures that perishable products are safe and of a high quality at the point of consumption. Failing to keep product at the correct temperatures can result in a variety of negative attributes. These can include textural degradation, discolouring, bruising and microbial growth. Effective management of cold chain maintains the quality of a product, which leads to a satisfied customer, greater demand, and overall protection of public health.

Each sector of the chain, from the point at which product is harvested to the point at which it is sold, shares responsibility. Breaks in the chain may occur just as easily on a warehouse dock as they do on a supermarket floor. If one link breaks, all suffer the consequences of an unsatisfied customer.

Management flow of cold chain
The diagram above shows the management flow of cold chain.

Perishable Goods

Perishable shrink costs retailers a tremendous amount of money. Vulnerable items such as meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables and flowers can expire prematurely due to incorrect temperature handling in the supply chain.

Transportation and interim storage at the distribution centre all affect the final quality of the saleable product.
Consumers are quick to judge on appearance and remember when a product does not meet expectations. Perishable food includes fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, foods purchased from chill cabinets, freshly cooked food stored to be used later. It is usually stored in the refrigerator. Some fresh fruits and vegetables, however, will store quite well out of the refrigerator as long as they are stored in a cool place.

Refrigeration can substantially reduce the rate at which food will deteriorate. Low temperatures slow down the growth of microorganisms and the rate of chemical changes in food. These are two of the main causes of food spoilage. Different parts of your refrigerator will operate at different temperatures. In older style refrigerators the upper shelves will often be slightly colder than the lower shelves.

Transporting Perishable Goods

Transporting perishables has different requirements in terms of demand, load integrity, and transport integrity, paired with the specific equipment of a refrigerated unit and the energy necessary to run it make transportation costs for cold chain products much higher than standard goods so the risk is much higher for the booking agent.

On the flip side, a skilled agent can create a niche market if they build the skills necessary to take care of these types of loads. The continual rise in living standards and economic specialization will drive the growing demand for perishable good logistics and those who build the skills to consistently perform will be linchpins for both those needing to ship perishables, as well as those receiving them.

Specification of reefer container
The diagram above shows the specification of reefer container. (extracted from atandsonline.com, 2017)

Cold Chain Equipment

The following types of cold chain equipment for transportation vehicles were created to keep perishable products at the ideal temperature:

– Isothermal equipment has isolating walls, doors, ceiling, and floor, which limits the exchange of heat between the exterior and the interior of the van.

– Refrigerated equipment has a non-mechanical cold source that can reduce the interior temperature and maintain it for an average exterior temperature of 30ºC to -20ºC.

– Freezer has a cold production mechanism to reduce the interior temperature of the empty space and maintain it at a consistent temperature between -12ºC and -20ºC.

Transportation of Perishable Goods by Land

Trucks transporting perishable goods have different cold systems, which may or may not be mechanized (ice or dry ice is often used). Rail should have an isolating lining, as well as a special system for refrigeration, loading, and unloading. Dry ice is often used to keep goods cold.

Transportation of Perishable Goods by Sea

Goods are transported in refrigerated ships that are fully equipped with systems to circulate air properly. You can also ship in refrigerated containers (commonly known as reefers). Logistics operators are in charge of consolidation or deconsolidation.

Before transporting perishable goods, a “temperature requirement sheet” is provided to indicate the temperature at which the product must be kept in the refrigerated container.

Transportation of Perishable Goods by Air

This is the best option for transporting perishable goods. Each airport has a special area for handling perishable goods where temperature can be controlled using refrigerated chambers and freezers. These areas have customs inspection points that are guarded at all times by highly-qualified, specialized personnel, which ensure that the goods are kept at the optimal temperature at all times.

Five Methods to Reduce Perishable Food Loss

1. Food loss can be reduced by ensuring that all the harvested produce reaches its intended end-use. This means that food delivery mechanisms must also aim to counter the perishable nature of food, to extend its saleable life cycle. Cold-chain is the mechanism that does this.

2. Cold-chain does not preserve endlessly. It applies technology to merely stretch the marketable time of a perishable product, for a very finite duration. This or any time in hand should be fruitfully utilized and not wasted in-situ storage, especially when dealing with high perishable fresh produce.

3. Cold-chain buys time by temporarily countering perishability. This allows produce owners more time to reach buyers, to expand their market footprint to realise greater economic value. In turn, this promotes gainful livelihood and justifies any efforts to increase production.

4. Saleable life extension is best utilised by moving to markets, reaching closer to the shelf and the consumers who complete the cycle. Food lost in delivery chain is avoidable loss, and loss in the hands of consumers is called waste.

5. Cold stores do not directly reduce food loss. They are only one piece in the cold-chain. All inventories have a time limitation–even grain perishes if left in storage


It is important to note that quality supervision with better insight may or may not result in dynamic logistics for the cold chain, such as assigning transportation based on the product’s predicted shelf life. However, it is important either way because it helps to identify the weak links in the chain and can result in structural changes, albeit static, which improve the quality and efficiency significantly. Hence, a temperature-controlled container’s set point is an extremely poor approximation of the actual product temperature. In fact, inconsistency in the quality of fresh produce from the same field can only be explained by temperature variations that it might have encountered during transportation, which can only be measured by a better quality monitoring system using higher resolution than the container level.


Cutler, Thomas R. (2009). “Take Steps to Reduce Perishable Shrink”. Retrieved from http://www.foodlogistics.com, accessed 30/08/2017.

Kohli, Pawanexh. (2016). “How Cold Chain Can Minimize Food Loss”. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.in, accessed 30/08/2017.

TIBA Mexico (2015). “Transporting Perishable Goods”. Retrieved from http://www.tibagroup.com, accessed 30/08/2017.

Trangistics. (2015). “Transportation of Perishables – The Importance of Paying Attention to the Cold Chain”. Retrieved from https://www.trangistics.com, accessed 30/08/2017.

Joey Yeoh
Joey Yeoh
Joey Yeoh has several years of experience in the specialised field of cold chain management. She is a member of Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). She is currently completing a course on Professional Diploma in Logistics Management (PDLM) at SIPMM Institute.

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