A reefer container, short for refrigerated container, is used to transport and store products at a specified temperature, usually between +30⁰C to -40°C. These containers are a core component in the global cold supply chain to keep our fruit and veg fresh, ice cream frozen, and vaccines potent.
Reefer containers are shipping containers that have been redesigned to maintain a set temperature and humidity, which is achieved through a refrigeration system and insulation.
The standard sizes of 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft make them easily compatible for transport on lorries and ships.
Reefer containers generally have two uses:
- Transportation of perishable goods
- Increase the cold storage capabilities of your site
Along with getting products from A to B, reefer containers are a simple and quick way to expand the cold storage capacity of your site, without having to build new infrastructure. They are a perfect short-term solution for increases in seasonal demand or longer-term capital expenditure alternatives.
You may have heard of the terms ‘reefer container’ and/or ‘cold storage container’, but are they the same, or what are the differences? In this blog we delve into what a reefer container is, and if there is a difference to a cold storage container to help you make the proper hiring or buying decision for your business.
The versatility of reefer containers
Reefer containers are not limited to a single type of good. They are incredibly versatile and can transport and store a wide range of perishable goods, including:
Fruits and vegetables: Fresh produce like bananas, strawberries, and avocados can be transported across the globe while maintaining their freshness.
Meat and seafood: Reefer containers keep meat, poultry, and seafood products at the required low temperatures to prevent spoilage. This is especially crucial in the sushi business.
Dairy products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt can be safely transported without compromising their quality.
Pharmaceuticals: Temperature-sensitive drugs and vaccines rely on reefer containers to maintain their potency throughout their journey and storage.
Chemicals: Some chemicals and industrial products require precise temperature and humidity control to maintain their integrity during transportation.
Product endurance testing: In its storage state, reefer containers can help develop and test products that need to withstand certain temperatures
How do reefer containers work?
Reefer containers operate on the same principles as the fridge in your home, but with a few added complexities to withstand the extra demands. Here’s a breakdown of how they work:
Insulation: Reefer containers have thick, insulated walls to maintain a consistent temperature. The insulation prevents external temperature fluctuations from affecting the products inside.
Refrigeration Unit: The heart of a reefer container is its refrigeration unit. This unit can be set to specific temperature and humidity levels based on the requirements. It works by either cooling or heating the air inside the container, depending on the external conditions and the product’s needs.
Air Circulation: Reefer containers feature fans to ensure even distribution of conditioned air. This prevents hot or cold spots within the container, ensuring that all cargo is kept at the desired temperature.
Monitoring and Control: Modern reefer containers are equipped with sophisticated monitoring and control systems. These systems allow for real-time tracking of temperature, humidity, and other vital parameters. If any deviations are detected, the system can send alerts, enabling quick corrective action.
Power Source: Reefer containers require a power source to run their refrigeration units. While at sea, they are often connected to the ship’s electrical grid. On land or during transportation, they can run on various power sources, including shore power and diesel generators.
Reefer container vs Cold storage container
Whilst traditional reefer containers are perfect for transporting goods, they may not be the best storage solution. Reefers have lower specifications than cold storage units and don’t have the necessary useability or safety requirements.
For example, a cold storage unit is fully designed to have users enter the container regularly, so features such as internal lights, wash-down drains and an escape mechanism are standard.
Reefer container spec:
- Floor discharge for evaporators
- Ribbed floor for airflow under the produce. Shipping stock is not loaded on pallets as they can get more in, so this type of floor is hard work to manoeuvre a pump truck and pallet on.
- Difficult to clean
- No wash-down drains
- No internal lights as standard
- No escape mechanism
- There is no integrated locking system because the reefer container would be customs-sealed at the quayside.
Cold storage container spec:
- Rear wall high evaporator discharge for better airflow
- Flat non-slip floor for easy pump truck use
- Wash down drains and full washable finish
- Escape mechanism / Man trap alarm
- Temperature alarm
If you’re looking for a way to transport your perishable goods, then a reefer container may be all you need. However, if you want to store your products at your site, then you’ll need a cold storage container.
Learn more about our cold storage solutions here.