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Cold Chain Food Distribution: Best Practices

December 6, 2022
 By Jacob Lee
Cold Chain Food Distribution: Best Practices
Last Modified: June 5, 2023
Shipping refrigerated goods can be quite difficult. Fortunately, we’ll show you how to prepare your frozen food and how to find reliable companies that can ship and store it for you.

Cold chain food distribution can put a lot of stress on you as a shipper of frozen food. You’ll have to worry about packing your frozen foods properly, as well as searching for a cold chain provider that can offer storage and shipping for your goods. Fortunately, we have the steps you need to follow to utilize cold chain food distribution successfully.  

Cold chain food distribution allows you to ship your perishable goods safely and efficiently. Cold chain warehouses keep your goods at the appropriate temperature until they’re transferred into a truck for delivery. From there, your goods are quickly and safely transported to a supermarket for consumers to buy.

Your cold chain food distribution experience will go much smoother when you follow these steps. We’ll cover each in detail so you can know what to expect.

A cold chain food distribution worker checking the length of a palletized shipment

What Is Cold Chain Management?

Before we explain how to prepare for cold chain food transportation, you should first understand what cold chain management is. This term is used to describe the logistics and managerial processes used to transport refrigerated goods throughout the supply chain. Cold chain management is essentially made up of the following features:

  • Storage
  • Packaging
  • Transporting and tracking
  • Customs (if applicable) 
  • Product handling

As a shipper of frozen food products, the packaging process will be the most hands-on part of cold chain management that you’ll need to worry about. From that point on, it’s necessary to find a reliable cold chain partner that can handle all of the other services that your temperature-controlled goods require. 

Some frozen meats in packaging

How Do You Ship Frozen Goods?

Frozen perishable food is extremely delicate, especially when it comes to shipping. Whether you forget to include the applicable shipping documents or the goods aren’t packed goods correctly, there are plenty of mishaps that can occur while shipping frozen food. That’s why it’s imperative that you pack your goods as safely and carefully as possible when using cold chain food distribution. 

To do that you’ll need to follow these steps:

  • Obtain shipping documents
  • Acquire and utilize the proper packing materials
  • Utilize dry ice
  • Utilize frozen gel packs
  • Fill in empty spaces with insulated material

Each of these steps will ensure that your refrigerated freight of frozen food will make it through the supply chain. 

1. Required Shipping Documents

The first thing needed for cold chain and frozen food distribution is to acquire and utilize the correct shipping documents. Shipping documents communicate information about your shipment to the carrier and the receiver of your goods. If you’re shipping frozen goods domestically, you’re going to need to include the following documents:

  • Bill of lading
  • Freight bill
  • Packing list
  • Proof of delivery

In the event that you’re sending frozen goods to another country, customs documents are needed for goods to leave the U.S. and enter the foreign country successfully. When you have all the documents you need, it’s on to the next step.

2. Packing Materials

The second part of shipping frozen goods that you’ll need to take care of is collecting the right packing materials. To do this, you’ll need to obtain an insulated container for your frozen food to travel in. Insulated containers come in different varieties which gives you the flexibility to choose one that works best for you. 

Some insulated containers that you can try include:

  • Styrofoam containers
  • A box lined with thermal bubble wraps
  • A box with insulated foam planks

Some boxes can have thermal bubble wrap and foam planks added to them, while other boxes are already designed with these characteristics. Once you have an insulated container for your frozen goods to travel in, you can focus on obtaining other shipping materials that you’ll need for your frozen food. When using a reefer trailer, you may be able to bypass the use of an insulated container. 

This includes:

  • Packing tape
  • Shipping label
  • Watertight plastic bags
  • Normal bubble wrap
  • Dry Ice
  • Frozen Gel Packs

After getting the rest of your packing materials, you can move on to the next step. 

3. Start Packing

With all the packing materials that you need, you can now start packing your frozen food into your preferred container. To keep the cold chain intact, packing should take place in a refrigerated environment.  

To do this, simply follow these short steps. 

  • Place your frozen food into a watertight plastic bag
  • If you feel extra protection is needed, wrap the food with regular bubble wrap
  • Place your bagged (and bubble wrapped if applicable) frozen food into the insulated container

If you’re worried that your temperature sensitive items might be taken out of a temperature controlled environment for a prolonged period of time, follow these two steps:

  • Put some blocks of dry ice on top of your perishable goods. Don’t fill the dry ice up so high that you can close the lid of the insulated container
  • Fill empty spaces within the insulated container with frozen gel packs

Once you’ve finished packing your perishable goods securely, you can move onto the final step.

4. Sealing and Labeling

The final steps you will need to complete are sealing your shipment and placing a shipping label up. You can seal your insulated container of frozen food using simple packing tape to hold the flaps shut. Unless your receiver specifies otherwise, you can pick a shipping label template of your choice. Once this is done, your shipment of frozen food can be transported. 

Cold chain warehouses workers inspecting producte

What To Look For In Cold Chain Food Storage Providers

Now that you know all the steps needed to ship frozen food, you’ll need to find a reliable carrier that can perform cold chain logistics. There are many carriers to choose from that provide either transportation or storage services. Some companies can even offer both of these services. 

To find the right one, look for some of the features we’ve listed here when you’re researching a frozen food carrier.  

Food Safety Certification

When looking for a frozen food storage and distribution provider, you should ensure that they have a food safety certification. This certification is a normal requirement in the food industry. Food safety certifications show that the cold chain food storage provider has employees that have undergone the training required to handle frozen food items.  

The food safety certification is important for both storage and transportation providers to have. 

Track and Trace

A good cold chain storage provider should also be able to provide you with tracking and tracing services as well. 

Some of the ways that track and trace will help when shipping frozen food include: 

  • You’ll be able to track frozen food
  • With track and trace, you can find faster routes
  • Track and trace tells you when your freight will arrive
  • Knowing when you’ll receive your freight gives you time to prepare for its arrival

Frozen foods are perishable which means knowing where your shipments are and when they’ll arrive are extremely important. For example, traffic delays could cause frozen food to arrive late which can put goods at risk of spoiling past their shelf life. With track and trace, you can identify a route faster than the one goods are currently traveling on. 

Having the knowledge of when your frozen food will arrive ahead of time is useful as well. The receiver of your frozen food can be notified and have time to prepare for the arrival. 

Meets Temperature Standards

The cold storage provider you choose needs to offer frozen food storage that meets each cold chain temperature standard. Refrigerated foods have different temperature standards they must be kept at to prevent them from going bad. 

Temperature Ranges for Refrigerated Goods

Temperature StandardDegrees
Deep Freeze-25 to -30 Degrees Celsius
Frozen-10 to -20 Celsius
Chill2 to 4 Celsius
Pharmaceutical2 to 8 Celsius
Banana12 to 14 Celsius

Having a frozen food storage provider that can store frozen goods at these different temperature standards is important. The reason being is that if you ship different refrigerated goods, but have a provider that doesn’t offer storage for the temperature standard required, you’ll have to search for a new provider who does.

Searching for a new storage partner in the middle of a shipment will give you stress that you don’t need to deal with. 

Truck Fleet Size

When looking for a refrigerated shipping company to transport freight, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the truck fleet size to see if it matches up with demand. Since produce constitutes a large amount of frozen food, the availability of reefer trailers is much smaller during the post-harvest. 

Therefore, a refrigerated shipping carrier with a smaller fleet of trucks is a great option when shipping frozen goods prior to the harvest season of certain fruits and vegetables. During the harvest season, however, you should choose a carrier with a larger truck fleet. 

Carrier Delivery Range

The range that refrigerated carriers can reach is another important factor to consider. Despite there being numerous refrigerated carriers around the country, many are restricted to only certain geographical areas within the United States. 

Consider the following shipping zones when determining how far you need a carrier to transport goods. 

  • Zone 1: 0-50 miles
  • Zone 2: 51-150 miles
  • Zone 3: 151-300 miles
  • Zone 4: 301-600 miles
  • Zone 5: 601-1000 miles
  • Zone 6: 1001-1400 miles
  • Zone 7: 1401-1800 miles
  • Zone 8: 1800 – or more miles

Many carriers use this system or something similar to help organize the freight they transport.

USA Refrigerated Freight Can Provide Cold Chain Food Distribution

At USA Refrigerated Freight, we provide shipping for any refrigerated goods you need to have transported. Compared to some other refrigerated carriers around the country, we have an impressive truck fleet and the ability to transport your freight within any geographical range that you require.

We have experience in moving a variety of temperature sensitive products such as:

  • Fresh produce
  • Cosmetics
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • And more! 

Fill out your quote below or contact our team at (866) 849-4923 for more information about our cold chain food distribution services. 

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