The Importance of the Cold Chain: 5 product types needing temperature controlled transportation

When you hear about temperature-controlled freight the first thing you probably think of is perishable food and dairy products. However, food is just the tip of the iceberg (or iceberg lettuce?) when it comes to types of cargo requiring temperature-controlled protection. Here are six different varieties of freight needing to move through a cold chain.

#1: Perishable Food and Dairy

As you might expect, food and dairy are the major end-user industries of cold chain services. Meat and seafood dominated the global cold chain, claiming close to 50 percent share of the total market in 2016. Dairy, frozen desserts and fruits and vegetables are other important end-user segments of the cold chain industry having significant market share.

Recent improvements in cold chain technologies have brought the amount of food loss during distribution to around 7 percent. According to a Food Processing Technology report, with a properly functioning cold chain, perishable food loss could be brought down to as low as 2 percent.

#2: Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceutical products requiring cold-chain handling have been increasing steadily over the last decade. Of the top 50 global drug products in 2010, just 18 required cold-chain handling. By 2020, 27 of the top 50 sellers will be drugs requiring cold-chain storage and handling between 36–47 degrees F. In today’s economy, insulin is the largest cold-chain biopharma product.

According to Novo Nordisk, one of the original makers of insulin in the 1920s and still a market leader, the unit demand for insulin worldwide grew 6% per year between 2009–2014. What’s driving this increase is the introductions of new biotech therapies combined with the tightening requirements for life sciences shipments.

#3: Electronics

Electronic circuitry is also best shipped at lower temps. Under high temperatures sensitive electronics can degrade and wear out more quickly, ultimately decreasing the service life of the component. One common cause of failure caused by high temperature and humidity is a phenomenon called metal migration. When this occurs, metal “whiskers” (called dendrites) grow from the conducting lines. With conducting lines being spaced closer together in today’s devices, shorts between lines can occur and cause device failure.

Additionally, when temperatures fluctuate, device interconnections and other components can fatigue from expansion and contraction due to thermal stresses and will eventually fail.

4: Photographic film

As a general rule, all undeveloped, photographic film should be shipped in a cool, dry environment. Exposure to sunlight and high temps can severely affect film quality, and will even cause some varieties to self-ignite. The most dangerous type, nitrate base film, was once the pioneer of motion picture film. It was prevalent up to the early 1950s when it was retired because of its high fire risk (nitrate film can burn underwater).

Still, its long history of commercial motion pictures and film records haunts many film vaults. In order to transport nitrate film the temperature needs to be as cool as possible; freezing is even recommended. Additionally, after film has been removed from cold storage it must be allowed to warm up gradually to room temperature before being opened and used. This prevents moisture condensation and spotting on the film.

#5: Flowers

Retailers want to receive cut flowers immediately after harvest to lengthen vase life, raise customer satisfaction, and spur repeat sales. At each step of the shipping process there is a risk that the flowers will be exposed to warmer temperatures, which will cause them to break dormancy ahead of schedule.

At about 12 days the clock runs out on a flowers lifespan, making the cold chain a critical and strategic part of the flower retail business. The right logistics company is instrumental in keeping both the cost and the temperature under control so flowers arrive fresh and customers are able to enjoy them as long as possible.

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