Perishable Goods Shipping: Challenges and Opportunities for the Container Industry

The Ascendancy of Perishable Goods Shipping in the Container Industry

The demand for perishable goods is rising as more shipping companies offer reliable services and reefer containers for the international transport of temperature-sensitive shipments. Due to the introduction of reefer containers, it has become easier to transport these temperature-sensitive goods over large distances within less time. Industries worldwide benefit as the containers are versatile to store and transport all sorts of goods, including medicines, food, vegetables, and bakery. Since the shipping of perishables is the cause of economic bloom for many import and export businesses, it has become crucial to tackle the erupting challenges. Shipping of perishables has led to the surfacing of many challenges for the logistics and transportation industry. Let us delve deeper into the shipping of perishable goods.

What are perishable goods?

Technology is evolving and being integrated to benefit the shipping industry and maintain the flow of the supply chain. The shipping industry transports millions of tons of cargo annually, depending on the demands of diverse industries. Among the various types of freight being transported internationally, perishable goods are in high demand. Perishables are goods vulnerable to external environmental changes and may decay, spoil or contaminate and become unsafe or unsuitable for further usage if not refrigerated or frozen. Industries cannot store these goods longer and must be utilised within their lifetime. Thus, these are also known as sensitive goods as they are time and temperature sensitive. Preserving their shelf life is crucial until and after the goods reach their destination; otherwise, they are rendered valueless in the global market.

Types of perishable goods 

Industries ship various perishable goods annually, including pharmaceuticals, florals, food, and dairy products. Irrelevant to the season, the demand for these products persists throughout the year.

  • Frozen food such as meat and packaged products.
  • Dairy items such as cheese, butter, and ice creams
  • Floral products such as tropical flowers and plants 
  • Pharmaceutical products such as drugs and medicines
  • Fresh food products such as seafood and shellfish
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Bakery products such as breads and pastries

Preparations for shipping of perishables 

Before shipping sensitive goods across the country, shippers and shipping companies must take care of a few things and a checklist to ensure they do not get spoiled during transit.

  1. Choice of shipping mode– Usually, sensitive goods are shipped in reefer containers by air as it is the fastest way of international transport. But if the shelf life of the goods is enough, they can be shipped via sea, which is a cost-effective means of international shipping.
  2. Preparing for shipment– The category of products the shippers want to ship may vary based on their requirements. While some sensitive goods, such as bread, can be transported without refrigeration, other goods, like fruits and fresh food, may require refrigeration, and frozen products, such as meat, require freezing temperatures for transportation. The containers must be prepared accordingly, ensuring the temperature requirement of the cargo and that there is no room for air or water leaks into the container.
  3. Proper coolants– Shipping companies offer derivatives for coolants in case of shipping refrigerated or frozen products, as all coolants provide different temperatures to the goods.
  • Insulated Boxes– Pharmaceuticals such as vaccines, blood, body cells and medicines are stored in boxes covered with thick foam padding to preserve the cold environment of the box.
  • Dry ice– Medicines, injections, and meat products are stored using dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide that maintains the environment of the goods at freezing temperatures of around -109° F.
  • Ice packs– They are used for preserving fruits at relatively less cold temperatures than dry ice. Seafood can be preserved using gel packs with freezing temperatures between -32 and -60° F.
  1. Packing– It is done according to the coolant chosen for preserving goods. Fruits can be loosely packed in breathable packaging, surrounded by ice packs on top and bottom layers. Packers must adequately fill the free space with bubble wrap or tissue paper dunnage. Frozen goods must be sealed into airtight and watertight bags to be placed into dry ice containers. Contents inside insulated boxes must be placed appropriately into frameworks to avoid any spillage or cargo damage during transit.
  2. Labelling– An essential part of packing perishable cargo is to label appropriately to avoid mishaps and damage. Each box must be marked as ‘perishables’ and can have arrows to indicate the opening. ‘Fragile’ labels on vulnerable shipments and ‘dry ice’ labels to warn the workers to use proper equipment during cargo unloading and loading. 

Tips for perishable goods shipping

  1. Check for regulatory policies– In the case of cross-border trade, shippers need to check if the destination country allows the perishable being shipped. Compliance with packaging and additional standards for shipping sensitive goods can help save time and money.
  2. Predicting shipping time– Different modes of transport take different times to ship the goods to the exact location. It is crucial to forecast the supply chain demands to know if the preferred means of the transport industry is receiving an influx of orders which may impact the timely delivery of your shipment. Avoid being caught in congestion or traffic and plan the shipment of goods accordingly.
  3. Multi-origin shipping- Shippers must have a well-built network with warehouses to ship the perishables in the least amount of time and spend less.
  4. Insurance of the goods- Since these are sensitive shipments, they risk getting damaged before they reach the destination. Therefore, it is crucial to get the load insured to avoid losses.
  5. Use IoT sensors– These technologically innovative devices offer real-time data about the shipment’s status. They can help track and regulate the temperature, humidity and pressure when attached to reefer containers.

Best practices while handling perishable goods

  1. The warning or informative labels on the boxes must be adhered to when loading or unloading shipping containers having perishable goods.
  2. Shipping companies must prepare the containers to receive shipment so that the temperature does not drop and the quality is not hampered due to any delays caused during loading or unloading. 
  3. The workers must wear protective clothing while handling sensitive goods as they may have to work with dry ice or goods at freezing temperatures that may damage their skin, especially their hands, if touched.
  4. Workers loading the goods must always maintain hygiene as the goods are mainly food products and pharmaceuticals, which will be valueless if contaminated.
  5. All equipment must be properly working and sanitised.
  6. Containers must be free from moisture and contaminants, such as insects, rodents, or pests that may damage the shipment.

Benefits of shipping perishables in containers

  1. Temperature controls– Perishables require to be preserved in various temperatures. Containers are manufactured to withstand severe temperatures to cater to the cargo requirements. Reefer containers offer temperatures ranging from -35° C to 35° C depending upon the size of the container. 
  2. Intermodal shipping– Reefer containers are suitable for intermodal transportation of goods as they offer the flexibility of being shipped through all means of transport. Therefore, facilitating the perishable goods shipping throughout the supply chain.
  3. Cost-effective– Container partitioning is possible if there is more than one type of shipment with different temperature requirements to be loaded in a single reefer container. It is an efficient way of transporting frozen and chilled products in one go instead of investing in multiple containers.
  4. Sizes– Based on the requirement of the consumers, reefer containers are available in sizes of 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft. It becomes easier to store and transport small to large shipments.

Challenges related to perishable goods shipping

  1. Maintaining temperature– It is necessary to maintain an optimum temperature required for the goods to ensure the product quality and shelf-life upon reaching its destination. However, the temperatures may rise due to equipment or machine failures, malfunctions, and power outages that may require some time to get fixed. The time taken to resolve the machines may end up damaging the cargo.
  2. Proper packaging and handling– Skillfully packing and loading perishables onto containers is complex. The methods can be expensive and difficult to achieve and cause many mishappenings while working with dry ice or due to cross-contamination.
  3. Delays– Even the minutest of delays can cost a significant shelf-life of perishables. In case of long delays, the reefer containers may not have enough resources to power the temperature, which leads to total cargo damage. Due to increasing disruptions in the supply chain, shipment delays are a substantial challenge shippers face.
  4. Updated regulatory requirements– International shipments already go through close inspections, and perishables are subjected to even more significant complexities. The regulatory standards are constantly updated, and any failure to comply with them leads to the cancellation and rejection of the shipment at the borders, leading to significant losses.

The challenges faced during perishable goods shipping have led shipping companies to formulate new strategies to ease transportation and allow shippers to invest in the transit of sensitive goods.

LOTUS Containers is a stellar marketer of reefer containers across the globe. We offer all types of new and used containers to suit the requirements of the cargo.

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