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Hauling refrigerated goods in the winter

Managing Editor of Fleet Equipment Magazine


If you haul refrigerated products, keeping them cold in the summer is of obvious importance; but in the winter it gets tricky—because there is such a thing as too cold.

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“For optimal food quality as well as food safety, temperature control of perishable products is always important regardless of whether it’s hot or cold outside,” says Bill Maddox, senior manager of product management for Carrier Transicold, Truck/Trailer/Rail Americas. “Just a few degrees can make a big difference in terms of quality at the end of a delivery.”

Can the cold outside affect the cargo in the unit? Well, yes and no.

“With today’s CPU-controlled reefer units and thermally efficient insulation, exterior ambient temps don’t have much impact,” notes Brett Olsen, marketing manager for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co.


That said, the units are only as foolproof as the process of checking them. Basic checks of the refrigerated unit, and knowledge of the correct temperatures for what you’re transporting, can alleviate the possibility of cargo being hauled at the wrong temperature. You just have to make sure that this is on the driver’s radar, because if it goes unchecked, that load might be ruined before it even arrives.

“Each type of cargo might have a different setpoint and mode for transportation,” says Ian Fox, product manager for refrigerated van at Wabash. “This must be clearly communicated and tracked during transportation. If you keep cargo above or below the specific setpoint indicated by the shipper, the load could be damaged or rejected. Certain types of produce have high water content and, if they are stored below the recommended temperature, can become soggy and water-logged when thawed. So, it is critical to keep all products in their specified temperature range.”


Telematics and technology can help you here.

FleetPulse with Reefer Control by Coretex can offer real-time monitoring and control for temperature-control units, so proper trailer temperature can be maintained,” notes Chris Hoyt, FleetPulse product manager for Great Dane.

“Most Thermo King refrigeration units can provide heat to the cargo to prevent it from getting too cold,” say Scott Koch and Freddy Muñoz, Thermo King district service managers. “The Precedent unit has an efficient heating cycle to maintain precise temperature control in a fuel-efficient manner.”


Koch and Muñoz recommend utilizing a tool that has built-in temperature loss protection such as Thermo King OptiSet Plus, to ensure optimal temperature control and engine run time while minimizing potential for setpoint/mode errors by the operator.


Additionally, Carrier’s Maddox notes that Carrier Transicold’s Vector trailer systems replace the traditional hot gas circuit with efficient electric heaters for improved temperature control, consistent heating and defrost, regardless of ambient temperatures, even in northern climates and mountainous regions where significant cold temperature extremes are experienced.

In addition, in extreme cold, you’ll want to look out for your drivers.

“If a reefer gets very cold you want to make sure your personnel is wearing proper clothing and PPE to prevent hypothermia, frostbite and ice burns,” says Cory Bogler, manager of customer care at Hyundai Translead. “Touching cold products and the cold metal in the trailer can cause ice burns. Be sure to always wear gloves when operating in a cold environment. Ice can also build up on the floors, be sure to wear proper shoes to prevent slipping. If you have excessive ice buildup inside, let the ice thaw before reloading.”



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