Opinion: fine tuning refrigerated cargo loading to avoid losses

March 08 , 2012

By Crowley liner services national account director Janet Ramos

Moving time-sensitive perishable cargo in refrigerated containers (reefers) requires extra care and attention. Thousands of exporters of frozen and fresh fruit and vegetables depend on reliable equipment to get their cargo from A to B on time, and most importantly, intact.

While making sure to hire a dependable and experienced shipping or trucking company is crucial, exporters can also take precautionary steps to further protect their cargo before it sets sail or hits the road.

Crowley Maritime Corporation always make sure to provide customers with the most up-to-date and reliable reefers to move their goods. But like any quality piece of equipment, there is a science to how to use them most effectively.

A few missteps in the process can mean spoiled produce and a big blow to an exporter’s finances. We compiled a list of best practices exporters can use for loading perishables in reefers and avoid the risks of improper loading.

Pack your produce with the proper material

Make sure to use the proper material when packing your produce to be placed on pallets in the reefer. Carton boxes are usually the best option because they are perforated, which allows air to flow through the boxes and reach the produce while in cold storage and inside the reefer. There’s a greater risk of experiencing potentially damaging ventilation issues when the produce is sealed or wrapped in plastic.

Place the perishable cargo in cold storage prior to loading onto a reefer

The use of cold-storage facilities or refrigerated warehouses, while not mandatory, has become standard in the produce exporting industry. We highly encourage this method, which brings produce to its necessary temperature, prior to its being loaded onto a reefer. Bringing the produce temperature down at this early stage, not only further stunts the aging process to secure freshness; it also helps avoid the risks of loading 'hot' cargo. Trying to bring down the temperature of ´hot' cargo inside of a reefer takes longer than it does in a cold-storage type facility.

During this cooling down process, the produce releases heat in the reefer and creates humidity, which often leads to ice building up on the ventilation system. When air can’t fully circulate inside the reefer, it creates hot spots, and any produce in those hot areas will not cool down and continue its aging process, which reduces freshness and quality, can potentially spoil it, and can lead to the buildup and spread of harmful and destructive mold. Take note that this problem can become worse depending on the sensitivity of the type of produce inside, and how long it sits inside the reefer, which can vary between 4-10 days due to transit time and/or the customs clearance process.

Prior to loading cargo, turn on reefer and let it run until it reaches the needed temperature

Even if you’ve used a cold-storage facility for your cargo, it can still be susceptible to some sort of humidity if the reefer itself isn’t at the right temperature when everything is stored inside. To avoid thermal shock and mold, make sure to get reefer up to the needed temperature, and get it running with the doors closed at least 30 minutes prior to loading. This further assures the temperatures are all in line.

Carefully position cargo in reefer when loading

Exporters should also pay close attention to the loading process. This crucial step can also drastically affect the lifespan and quality of perishable cargo. When loading the cargo, make sure crews are not stacking the pallets too high. All reefers come with a red warning line about 6-8 inches from the roof of the reefer, which shows the height up to where cargo can be stacked. Piling pallets up above the line obstructs the airflow in the reefer; once again posing a big humidity and mold risk that can damage the produce. Also, make sure not to place pallets of cargo too close to each other, the door or the walls to avoid blocking ventilation to all the cargo.

Implement a form of reefer loading training

Crowley is very big on training its employees on how to grow and improve as professionals in every area of the business. Refresher courses always help keep employees stay in line with business goals and best practices, which is why getting to know how reefers work and refreshing loading crews on the best practices that come with using them, can be very beneficial.  It helps create a more streamlined and seamless process when everyone is in line with the best practices for ensuring cargo is protected from the day it’s picked until the day it hits store shelves.

By Crowley liner services national account director Janet Ramos

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