“Can you transport products with different temperatures together and do it safely?”
This is a common question trucking companies receive. The answer to the first part is straightforward: yes, refrigerated transport with multiple temperature zones is now common practice. Doing it safely? Well, that’s another matter. While safe multi-temp-zone transport is achieved thousands of times each day on the nation’s roadways, there are several key considerations that must be addressed for that to happen.
Key Considerations for Safe Multi-Temp Transport
Positioning Temperature Zones in the Trailer
When dealing with multiple temperature zones in a trailer, the two main questions are:
- How many different temps can a trailer handle?
- How is each set of products best positioned?
Regarding the number of zones a trailer can handle, several modern trailers are designed to safely handle three temperature zones. However, many carriers – especially those who deal with frozen products – will only transport two zones at a time. A frozen temp zone not only requires a host of precautions to maintain its own temperature integrity, it also doesn’t play nice with others. You don’t want to have another sensitive temperature zone right up against it, because the temp of that second zone could gradually drop. By dealing with only two temperature zones, you can ensure the integrity of the frozen zone, while allowing for enough space between it and the second zone.
As for positioning, the ideal scenario is to keep the coldest items in the nose of the trailer, where a stable temperature is more likely. The warmer (“warmer” being a relative term) items can then be positioned closer to the rear for unloading through the back door.
Coordinating the Route
Sometimes, the ideal loading scenario (cold products in the nose, warmer products in the rear) is not possible due to appointment-window scheduling. In this case, the carrier needs to assess if the work can be done safety within the confines of a Food Safety Plan (see below), and the equipment.
The temperature-controlled transportation carrier, shipper, and consignee can often work together to modify the appointment schedule to accommodate the safest method of shipping. Safety is, of course, paramount to every member of the cold chain, so consignees are often willing to accommodate these requests.
Reducing Turn Time
Delivery turn time is always a hot button with carriers, but it’s an even bigger deal when it comes to refrigerated transport. Every time a trailer door is opened to unload one temperature zone, there is risk of temperature degradation among the other zones as the outside air enters the trailer. To prevent degradation, unloading should occur as quickly as possible. As with routing, shippers, carriers, and consignees can collaborate to speed the process – in everyone’s best interest.
Complying with FSMA
Historically, food safety regulations regarding the product distribution process focused more on reacting to safety incidents, such as when recalls are required. But the recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) shifts the focus more toward prevention. Under the Act, shippers are largely responsible for defining what constitutes safe practices for food handling and transportation. These practices must be clearly defined in a Food Safety Plan. Adherence to this Plan is an important responsibility of carriers, loaders, and all other members of the cold chain. This involves, among other things, trailer specifications, clean-out requirements, and temperature monitoring – particularly for multi-temp loads.
A variety of monitoring systems exist for reefer trailers. These systems all enable carriers to ensure adequate conditions across each temp zone throughout the refrigerated transport journey. The information allows drivers to make modifications, if necessary, to bring the temperature back to spec (e.g., after doors were opened for product unloading), and is also fed wirelessly to shippers and other key stakeholders so that they can monitor temperatures remotely.
On the whole, refrigerated transport of multi-temperature products – whether food and beverage, or chemical – is safer than it’s ever been, thanks in large part to regulations like FSMA that help to define what safety looks like in the first place.
When partnering with a transportation provider for your temperature-sensitive products, look for one with a good grasp of these regulatory measures, as well experience moving multi-temp loads.