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Refrigerated LTL Freight: Transform How You Ship

December 12, 2022
 By Natalie Kienzle
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Refrigerated LTL Freight: Transform How You Ship
Last Modified: June 5, 2023
Not every business needs a 48-foot trailer of inventory on a weekly basis. LTL services have been the answer for smaller loads of dry goods, and now refrigerated products might be able to enjoy some of those same benefits.
Cold Chain Wins   |   Refrigerated LTL Defined   |   Challenges   |   Shipping & Packing   |   FDA Rules   |   Medical Cold Chain   |   Refrigerated vs Frozen   |   Mixed Loads   |   Our Services

Refrigerated LTL freight shipping has made it possible for retailers to ship smaller loads with increasing frequency. Between the highly perishable nature of refrigerated commodities and harsh penalties for violations, reefer freight is high risk. Finding a reliable reefer carrier, let alone LTL reefer carrier, is no simple task. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are the two authorities with the most influence over refrigerated freight operations. Refrigerated freight carriers and drivers follow the same regulations and safety standards for LTL delivery services as they do for full truckload deliveries. 

Let’s take a close look at how LTL refrigerated freight services can help your business. 

refrigerated tlt freight being loaded onto a trailer

Refrigerated LTL Freight For the Cold Chain Win

It’s no secret that supply shortages and tight truck capacity have made it difficult to secure consistent shipping services. More LTL carriers are offering options that include deferred services and delayed shipping to ensure trucks leave with full loads.

These solutions have actually created problems for retailers and shippers that need refrigerated transport. By nature, these products have a limited shelf life, so waiting until a truck can be filled isn’t always realistic. 

This is especially true for the following groups:

  • Small businesses with lower inventory needs
  • Retailers of specialty or made-to-order products
  • Local fisheries and butchers

If you happen to fall into one of these groups, see how finding a reliable refrigerated LTL freight service can make a difference in your business. 

What is a Refrigerated LTL?

The need for refrigerated freight services, or reefer services, is nothing new. The availability of reliable refrigerated trucking and shipping services has benefited communities everywhere. 

A refrigerated LTL is a reefer carrier that accepts less-than-truckload freight for delivery to multiple locations

Aside from the refrigerated part, it operates like any other Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) service. Because shipments are smaller and priced by Freight Class and National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) codes, costs are often lower. 

Shippers can benefit in other ways as well, including:

  • Faster times for delivery
  • Regularly scheduled shipments
  • Improved rates over parcel shipping
  • Reduced inventory costs

The majority of businesses that deal in refrigerated and frozen commodities don’t keep large inventories of supplies. There are frozen commodities that can be safely stored for months at a time. However, other products need a higher temperature range to stay chilled or fresh. These commodities need to be sold in a matter of weeks. 

Reefer LTL shipping means a small to medium business can set up frequent, small shipments to reduce the chance that goods will go bad before they sell. 

Of course, for refrigerated LTL shipments to be viable, a specific infrastructure needs to exist. Good location and proper equipment are crucial to successful refrigerated LTL trucking. 

worker explaining the temperature controls of a reefer trailer

What Are The Challenges of LTL Reefer Freight?

When a carrier chooses to offer temperature-controlled LTL services, they are taking on a considerable liability. Between the high probability of product loss and the strict regulations, a very specific infrastructure is needed. A refrigerated LTL carrier needs to take a few steps to make sure its services are profitable. 

Some of the challenges facing LTL reefer freight include:

  • Needing a refrigerated warehouse or cross docking location
  • Temperature maintenance during multiple deliveries
  • Limited distance capabilities
  • Trailer inspection and maintenance 
  • Compliance with FDA and CDC regulations

While these challenges have more to do with the carrier, shippers should be aware of them as well. A shipper can have a big impact on the success of reefer services by using proper packing techniques. 

Claims made to freight insurance companies about reefer freight are drawn out because of how much all aspects of the process, including packing, affect the delivery outcome.  

Shipping and Packing Needs

A shipper can contribute to a successful delivery with proper packing. The original shipment from the source to the distribution warehouse might be through full truckload reefers, but it’s possible to plan ahead for pallet breakdown and delivery. 

Best practices when packing reefer freight include:

  • Vacuum sealing as appropriate
  • Double boxing for insulation
  • Working within a refrigerated facility
  • Chilling to appropriate temperatures before delivery

The better the packing process from the start, the better items will hold up during the delivery process.

Once refrigerated commodities have reached a carrier, there are even more details that make a difference. 

On the carrier end, common best practices help build up a good record including:

  • Regular maintenance of reefer vehicles
  • Using bigger or smaller reefers when needed
  • Chilling trailers and containers before receiving goods
  • Loading in a refrigerated space
  • Training drivers in safe and quick unloading
  • Being responsive to customer service requests
  • Limiting operations to safe distances

Shippers and retailers should remember that reefer containers keep things at a specific temperature. They are not meant to bring temperatures down. 

When a door is opening and closing because of deliveries, cold air is lost. Drivers and others who minimize the time doors stay open, help keep the cold where it belongs. 

Being realistic is also important. Sometimes, reefer LTL services don’t make sense. If distances between deliveries are too great, drivers risk running out of the fuel that runs the gensets. These gensets are the units attached to reefer trailers that power refrigeration units. 

If a carrier doesn’t have access to a nearby cold storage facility or warehouse, even small delays cause a disaster. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has the ability to shut down carriers who aren’t operating safely. Failed inspections, bad driving records, and poor quality services can cost a carrier their DOT operating number. 

FDA Food Hauling Rules

It’s in a carrier’s best interest to follow solid practices because it will help them with FDA standards, too. The majority of reefer freight is food, which always falls under the FDA. 

In the last 10 to 15 years, food safety regulations have increased. In 2011 the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed. Since then, guidelines for safe food hauling have been updated. This includes the introduction of the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food (STF) rule

Fully understanding the new STF rules is important for anyone involved in cold chain logistics. This is because the STF’s rules are for more than just carriers. 

The groups that need to follow STF rules include:

  • Shippers
  • Motor vehicle carriers
  • Rail carriers
  • Loaders
  • Receivers

Since reefer carriers move more than just one kind of food, the STF doesn’t have a single set of requirements for temperature or storage. That responsibility belongs to the shipper. The carrier has to follow the directions of the shipper. If they do that, carriers have met the legal parts of the STF. 

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say that a butcher shop has ordered five whole pigs from a local slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse states that the temperature should stay between 34॰ to 40॰ Fahrenheit. That becomes the legal standard the carrier needs to follow. 

If a shipper puts the wrong temperature for the carrier, it’s the shipper’s fault when the food goes bad. The carrier’s biggest part, aside from following temperature directions, is to keep all vehicles and storage areas in sanitary conditions. 

Safe sanitary conditions are required in the following areas:

  • Vehicle and equipment design
  • Food storage area
  • Climate control
  • Vehicle storage area

A carrier should be able to clean and sanitize any area or piece of equipment that can come into contact with food. Since an LTL reefer service is going to have multiple stops, workers should be trained in how to maintain those standards during the entire delivery process. 

There are a variety of associations that shippers and carriers should be aware of to help them understand the legal requirements of food transport. 

These organizations include:

  • World Food Logistics Organization
  • Controlled Environment Building Association
  • International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW)
  • International Refrigerated Transport Association (IRTA)

The last two groups are set to merge and relaunch as the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) in Januray of 2023. Whether your focus is domestic or international, these groups provide good guidance. 

Working with an experienced refrigerated shipping service is going to be the best thing you can do for your freight moving forward. 

Medical Cold Chain Logistics

We mentioned earlier that the CDC also plays a role in refrigerated freight services. Aside from food, medical products make up a big part of cold chain logistics. Reefer LTL services are becoming more important as the number of places that carry medical products increases. 

Places that regularly need to stock up on refrigerated medical products include:

  • Local pharmacies
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Veterinary offices
  • Grocery pharmacies

The FDA does have oversight over medications since they are drugs. It also sets specific degree requirements for some medical devices. 

The CDC guidelines become important when transporting:

  • Vaccines
  • Infectious substances
  • Biopharmaceuticals 

While there are many more commodities included in the medical cold chain, these are the ones most sensitive to temperature changes. Vaccine storage and handling, for example, has taken on greater importance as more places are able to supply Covid-19 vaccinations. 

Medical devices and products do not fall under STF rules. This doesn’t mean they aren’t regulated, simply that they fall under a different set of rules. In most cases, the temperature requirements are set by the manufacturers the same way food products are. 

If the maker of the device or medication says it needs to be stored at a specific temperature range, that is what reefer carriers should follow. 

fresh meat being shipped in a chilled reefer trailer

Refrigerated Vs Frozen LTL Shipping

Temperature controlled shipping service isn’t simply about keeping things cold – it’s about making sure that things stay at a specific temperature range. That can mean keeping something below freezing or at a set room temperature. 

Frozen LTL freight is anything stored well below freezing. From frozen fish fillets to TV dinners, it all starts freezing at 32॰ Fahrenheit. Fully frozen is anything between -4॰ to 14॰ Fahrenheit. 

This makes frozen LTL shipping services the easier of the two. Reefers can maintain temperatures well below freezing so long as they have enough fuel.  

Refrigerated services serve a broader category of items and services are riskier. Temperature ranges are more specific and harder to maintain. 

Common Ranges of Refrigerated Products

Raw meat and poultry32॰ to 40॰ F
Fruits and Vegetables32॰ to 55॰ F
Bananas 53॰ to 57॰ F
IV Fluids68॰ to 77॰ F
Source: TransportGeography, FDA

At these ranges, shipping from coast to coast is actually easier than trying to do so as local LTL. So long as the container is closed, the temperature is steady. For a refrigerated LTL to do the same, everything in the truck would need to be at the same range. A temperature controlled loading and unloading dock would also help. 

Because of these challenges, many shippers prefer to send products through regular LTL services. So long as the products only take a few days or hours, it’s possible. 

To keep items cold during the move, they use things like:

  • Dry ice 
  • Cool packs
  • Single use cooling units 

When combined with decent insulation, safe shipping of all kinds of refrigerated freight is possible. It will always be riskier than shipping frozen, at least at the LTL level, but it can be done.  

Check out our article on refrigerated freight rates to get an idea of how much you’ll be spending when you ship perishable goods.

Can Reefer Trucks Carry Mixed Loads?

The last challenge that an LTL carrier faces is the need to combine shipments. To stay in business, LTL carriers need to fill their trucks and that means taking on products from multiple retailers. 

Reefer trucks can carry mixed loads as long as the products share a safe temperature range

Items that often travel together include:

  • Fresh vegetables
  • Flowers
  • Electronics
  • Deli meats 

Shippers have to pack things with care to make sure there aren’t leaks or spills; but aside from that, there is nothing that prevents them from traveling together. The same applies to frozen items. 

The exception is certain biological commodities. Lab samples of infectious diseases and human organs have unique transport services available. The risk of contamination is too great for these commodities to mix with common items. We’re pretty sure no one wants samples of influenza riding along with their deli meats.  

Chill Your Beans With USA Refrigerated Freight

When small businesses need options for reefer freight deliveries, consider refrigerated LTL providers in your area. You may find the perfect combination of price and peace of mind. 

USA Refrigerated Freight is here to connect you with carriers all over the nation to provide for your reefer freight needs.

We provide services for a wide range of commodities including

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Frozen goods
  • Flowers
  • and More!

Call us today at 866-849-4923 to speak with a representative or fill out a form online for a services quote

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USA Refrigerated Freight
315 NE 14th Street #4122
Ocala, FL 34470

(866) 849-4923
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