A truck driver, a diesel mechanic, and a cargo insurance guy walk in to a bar…

Okay… it wasn’t a bar. Call the title of this article poetic license, a.k.a ‘fibbing’. It was really an auto repair shop called ‘Rainbow Muffler’ in Jacksonville, Florida. This past Saturday I was indeed at a local automobile repair shop having a family member’s car repaired. (You’re welcome Kate.) On this occasion the repair was not by appointment but on a first come first serve basis. Waiting for your car to be repaired or leaving it and coming back were the only two options offered.

Since my wife was off shopping and there wasn’t much else to do I opted to wait. I sometimes choose to wait for repairs. Waiting gives me the opportunity to do absolutely nothing, but technically still be doing something; I am waiting for the car. Waiting for the car is sort of like authorized laziness. When not home, sitting most anywhere else doing nothing would be the act of a lazy person or a ‘creeper’ up to no good. Not wanting to be known as either I reserve my sitting and doing nothing for the auto repair shop.

While I and a few other customers were busy waiting, an inevitable conversation was struck up between me and a few other guys toiling at waiting. Of course initial chit chat included the weather, our vehicles being repaired, and plans for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Once all of the surface conversation subjects were covered the banter became a little more in depth. The next level was the ‘what do you do?’ question that tends to come up. Here’s where it gets cool. Of course there was yours truly, ‘the cargo insurance guy’, then came the ‘diesel mechanic’ specializing in refrigerated truck unit repair, and the third guy was the ‘truck driver’ who drove, you guessed it, refrigerated trucks. What were the odds?

As it turns out I wasn’t doing even close to ‘nothing’ after all. In addition to being busy waiting, I then multitasked my way to getting the idea of writing this article. I had inadvertently found myself in the middle of a veritable refrigerated transportation think tank of sorts; each member of the think tank bringing something different to the table from their own perspective. My think tank comrades were very well rounded and brought more to the table than just their specific professions. I now bring you a few of the things our small group would like every refrigerated shipper, receiver, and transporter, to know.

Just chill will you?

All shippers should ensure both the *trailer as well as the freight be pre-cooled prior to loading. In the event the freight is not pre-cooled well, trailer cool down periods are too long to prevent many perishable inventory from degrading. Remember, refrigerated trucks are designed to maintain temperatures rather than changing (lowering) temperatures. Pre-cooling of the freight is especially important with meat shipments. Since many meat shipments are often packaged to prevent contamination, the very same packaging that protects from contamination acts as insulation to the meat. This insulation prevents the refrigerated trailer from reducing the internal temperature of the loaded product.

The driver transports your freight and maintains reefer settings. They are not your loadmaster.

Not all drivers can stop you from making loading mistakes. When loading keep in mind refrigeration units are designed to circulate chilled air around your freight intercepting warm radiant heat from the walls and floor of the trailer. Depending on whether the trailer is an iced load, bottom air delivery refrigeration unit, or a top air delivery refrigeration unit, will dictate the method of loading. For this writing I am addressing only top air delivery refrigeration unit trailers. Stacking freight on the floor or against walls diminishes the trailer’s abilities to keep all of the freight at proper temperature. Since items such as meat have no respiration heat generation each package should be stacked tight to each other but not against the walls or directly on the floor. Many fresh fruits and vegetables produce respiration heat and must be loaded with more ventilation surface in mind and most often have holes in the packaging to allow full product ventilation. Always check the recommended loading specifications for your particular commodity. The trailer floor should be deep grooved and free of debris utilizing pallets or floor racks to maintain air flow to the bottom of the packaging. When unloading the trailer make note of the manner the freight was loaded by the shipper. If inventory stacked on the floor, past the height limit marked in the trailer, or against walls blocking the flow of chilled air from moving around all of the freight, duly note the bill of lading, carefully inspect the freight, and notify the shipper of loading standards and procedure required to receive further shipments.

No, I don’t want your crew to fuel my reefer unit as a bonus for waiting.

Engines that run on diesel are a wondrous thing. Properly maintained and operated they will run hour after hour, day after day, and year after year. Despite being the rock star of hard working engines, they do have their kryptonite. Improper fueling is one of those weaknesses. The wrong type of fuel can damage the engine. Another embarrassing goof is to fuel the diesel driven reefer unit while it is running. While fueling there are air bubble pockets and tank debris stirred up by incoming fuel that an eager fuel pump is ready to suck up. Fueling while operating can cause the immediate shut down of the diesel engine. Long story short, don’t assume you can ‘help’ with the reefer diesel unit. It annoys the driver and can cause problems.

Get the lead out will you?

Despite the best efforts of truckload, partial truckload and LTL transportation companies that haul refrigerated freight, opening the trailer doors at each stop is a reality with freight on board and more with less than truck load. These ‘door open’ times can impact the internal temperature of the trailer. Whether truckload or less than truck load, the ambient temperature outside the trailer along with the length of time the trailer is open can be your freight’s enemy. Even though most drivers know their business well and have set guidelines in place for how long trailer doors can be kept open in non-temperature controlled environments, shippers and receivers have to help. Keeping loading and unloading times minimized is important. When the doors of a reefer trailer are opened don’t pick that time to go into slow mode or decide you need a Snickers Bar. If the freight is warmed, it may take a while (too long) to bring it back to acceptable temperature. Also note, even though many refrigeration units employ automatic deicing of the coils, it is not implausible that leaving doors open too long with the refrigeration unit running may cause unnoticed icing on coils blocking refrigerated air circulation during transport.

Write a letter and tell someone who cares.

Confusion and miscommunication between freight owners, 3rd party transportation companies, shippers, and transport companies result in a significant number of claims. Ensure all temperature and humidity specifications for your freight are provided to each 3rd party provider, shipper, and truck, in writing for every shipment. Clearly define all specifications to include whether temperature is stated in Centigrade or Fahrenheit, whether the fresh air vent settings are cubic feet per minute or cubic meter per hour. Also, never allow the vent setting to be stated in percentages such as ‘25% open’. Remember, if the driver does not have the proper information they cannot follow instructions that are not there.

Sometimes we want ‘Big Brother’ over our shoulders.

Temperature monitoring devices should be utilized for every shipment. Today’s devices are not only inexpensive; they can monitor and record temperature variations as well as what day and time they occurred. This data is vital in the event of a temperature related loss as well as key in focusing on the continuing improvement of your process. Having temperature monitoring devices allows drivers and the people responsible for ensuring the equipment is operating properly to not have to worry about being blamed for a temperature related loss that didn’t happen due to their actions.

So that’s it. If you want to know more about refrigerated shipping, simply go to Rainbow Muffler in Jacksonville Florida and wait for the right combination of customers to walk in. You never know what you can learn by listening more than you talk. If you are too far away from Jacksonville, you may want to take a moment to talk to the people that repair, maintain, and operate reefer units for their paycheck. They are a wealth of information and are typically happy to share it with others. It is a great way to get insight on the connecting components of refrigerated transportation.

* Take note trailers should not be pre-cooled if not loading in at a temperature controlled loading area. Pre-cooling the trailer and loading in a non-temperature controlled area can result in excessive moisture ingress into the trailer. When loading in a non-temperature controlled area the pre-cooled freight should be quickly loaded and the refrigeration unit should be started immediately upon the trailer doors being closed.