| Written by Mark Buzinkay

As projections for the seaborne trade in reefer cargo for 2024 are optimistic, cold chains have come under pressure over the past years. However, cold chains are the backbone of global and regional trade for industries like pharmaceuticals, perishable foods and precious goods. The proper functioning of the cold chain and all its components are required for a surge in reefer logistics.

Cold chain components

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Cold chain challenges in 2024

Fresh produce like apples, grapes, or bananas is constantly in danger of damage or rot, whether at the production sites, the warehouse, the quai, or the transport mode. Shipping passages may be blocked or congested, leading to longer idle times and later arrival: the Panama Canal "dried up," and the Red Sea is partly blocked. Delays are not good for cargo that is harvested and sold to a specific customer at a particular time and place, seeing the product's shelf life shortened.

As reported by industry media, a breaking infrastructure in the ports of South Africa is limiting and damaging the country's export of fresh crops. Cargo handling equipment is out of commission, and repairs are very slow due to the low training level of the workforce. Israel's agricultural output is obstructed by shipping deviations due to the Red Sea blockade. And tougher environmental regulations make reefer transport costlier and more complex. 


What are cold chain components?

In general, the cold chain must ensure the safe transport and storage of temperature-sensitive cargo. It has three main components:

  • transport and storage gear
  • skilled personnel
  • efficient handling process

The nature of the cold chain varies from product to product. To give an overview, let's have a look at frozen berries. The cold chain may look like this: (1) Harvest, (2) road transport, (3) pre-storage treatment, (4) freezing, (5) protective packing, (6) refrigerated road/train transport, (7) oversea shipping in reefers, (8) road/train transport to warehouse, (9) temporary storage and distribution, (10) supermarket cold room/store, (11) cold room store at home. 

If quality is to be maintained, the product must reach the freezing process within a short time after harvesting and be held below zero subsequently.

As indicated before, skilled personnel and efficient handling operations are crucial aspects of the cold chain. Employees and workers must be knowledgeable about how to plan and execute refrigerated cargo processes to avoid breaking the cold chain. And processes must be interlinked and optimised to reduce transport and storage time to a minimum. 

In this article, we focus on the first of the cold chain components—transport and storage gear. It's the technological backbone of the cold chain and makes it feasible. Each specific cargo needs a specific temperature range, humidity percentage, and individual mix of gases to be kept in the best condition and to control the ripening process.  


Cold chain components: Storage 

Cold chain storehouses, also known as refrigerated warehouses, play a crucial role in this logistics chain. The core concept behind cold chain storehouses is to provide an uninterrupted, temperature-controlled environment that extends the shelf life of perishable goods, maintains product quality, prevents food waste, and ensures safety and efficacy, especially in the case of pharmaceuticals. This is achieved through sophisticated cooling and freezing technologies, along with real-time monitoring and management systems.

The primary tasks associated with cold chain storehouses include:

  • Storage: Providing appropriate temperature and humidity-controlled spaces for different types of products (e.g., fresh produce, frozen foods, pharmaceuticals).
  • Inventory Management: Keeping track of stock levels, expiration dates, and ensuring efficient use of space.
  • Order Fulfillment: Preparing and organising products for distribution while maintaining the cold chain integrity.
  • Monitoring and Control: Continuously monitoring environmental conditions (temperature, humidity) and equipment performance to ensure compliance with required standards.
  • Quality Assurance: Regularly inspecting products and storage conditions to maintain quality and safety standards.

To effectively function, cold chain storehouses must meet specific requirements:

  • Temperature management: Capable of maintaining different temperature zones for various products, ranging from chilled to deep-frozen conditions.
  • Reliable equipment: High-quality refrigeration systems, backup power supplies, and insulation materials to ensure constant temperatures.
  • Monitoring systems: Advanced systems for real-time tracking of temperature and humidity, along with alarms for deviations (learn more about cold chain tracking).
  • Sanitation and safety: Strict hygiene and safety protocols to prevent contamination and ensure worker safety.
  • Regulatory compliance: Adherence to local and international standards and regulations concerning the storage and handling of perishable goods.

The benefits of cold chain storehouses extend across the supply chain and include:

  • Extended Shelf Life: Slowing down the deterioration of perishable goods, thereby reducing waste and economic loss.
  • Quality Preservation: Maintaining the nutritional value, taste, texture, and appearance of food products, and the efficacy of pharmaceuticals.
  • Market Expansion: Enabling the geographical expansion of markets by allowing producers to safely transport goods over long distances.
  • Consumer Safety: Reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses and ensuring the delivery of safe and effective pharmaceuticals to consumers.
  • Sustainability: By reducing waste and improving energy efficiency through advanced technologies, cold chain storehouses contribute to more sustainable supply chains.

The challenge is offering enough storage at a striking distance (to a terminal) at a reasonable price, partly determined by the energy costs. 


Cold chain components: Transport

With the growing demand for innovative medicines, biopharma products, healthy food and premium products, the cold chain trade is on an expansion course. 

The transport between harvesting, storage and end-consumer is an essential and challenging aspect of all cold chain components. This process involves specialised transportation methods and equipment to maintain a controlled temperature environment, ensuring product integrity, quality, and safety throughout the journey. 

Cold chain transport's vision revolves around refrigerated trucks, containers, and other transport modes equipped with temperature control systems. These systems are designed to keep perishable goods at their required temperatures throughout the transportation process. The goal is to minimise exposure to temperature variations that can degrade product quality or efficacy, e.g. wine, drugs or fruits.

Key tasks in cold chain transport include:

  • Pre-cooling: Reducing the temperature of products to their transport temperature before loading to prevent heat infiltration and prepare the cooling room (reefer) to the adapted temperature.
  • Loading and unloading: Efficiently managing the loading and unloading process to minimise exposure to outside temperatures and reduce the risk of temperature abuse.
  • Transportation: Using appropriate vehicles and containers to maintain the required temperature and humidity levels during transit.
  • Real-time monitoring: Implementing technologies for continuous monitoring of temperature and humidity within transport units to ensure conditions remain within specified ranges.
  • Documentation and compliance: Maintaining accurate records of temperature controls and adherence to transport regulations and safety standards.

That's why effective cold chain transport must meet several requirements:

  • Specialised Vehicles: Equipped with reliable refrigeration units capable of maintaining precise temperature conditions.
  • Temperature monitoring systems: Tools and devices for real-time reefer tracking of temperatures, enabling immediate action if temperatures deviate from set ranges.
  • Trained personnel: Skilled operators and handlers knowledgeable in cold chain management and responsive to temperature excursions.
  • Efficient routing: Planning and managing transport routes to minimise transit times and exposure to potential temperature hazards.
  • Regulatory compliance: Adhering to national and international regulations governing the transport of perishable goods, including food safety and pharmaceutical standards.

In particular, investments in software (cold chain solutions) that can improve visibility across the cold chain pay off. Shippers and shipment owners are demanding real-time information on location, temperature, humidity, and other conditions inside the reefer. These data are useful for insurance companies when it comes to identifying the responsible partner when handling claims. 


When everything goes right, cold chain transport offers numerous benefits across the supply chain:

  • Quality Preservation: Maintains the freshness, texture, nutritional value, and overall quality of perishable goods.
  • Safety Assurance: Reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses and ensures pharmaceuticals are effective when they reach consumers.
  • Waste Reduction: Minimizes spoilage and loss of perishable goods, contributing to more sustainable and efficient supply chains.
  • Market Access: Enables producers to reach distant markets, expanding consumer access to a wider variety of fresh and quality products.
  • Consumer Trust: Builds consumer confidence in the safety and quality of food and pharmaceutical products.


FAQ: Cold Chain Components

What are the key components of a cold chain?

The cold chain consists of several critical components that work together to ensure the integrity of temperature-sensitive products from production to consumption. These include pre-cooling systems that quickly lower the temperature of products post-harvest or production, cold storage facilities that provide a temperature-controlled environment for the safe storage of goods, specialised cold transport vehicles equipped with refrigeration units for moving goods while maintaining required temperatures, and real-time temperature monitoring and control systems that ensure products remain within specified temperature ranges throughout the chain. Each component plays a vital role in preserving the quality, safety, and shelf life of perishable items.

How does real-time monitoring technology enhance cold chain transport and storage?

Real-time monitoring technology is a game-changer in cold chain transport and storage, offering continuous oversight of product temperatures and environmental conditions. This technology, which includes sensors and IoT (Internet of Things) devices, allows for the automatic collection and transmission of temperature data in real-time. Such systems can alert managers to temperature deviations, enabling immediate corrective action to prevent spoilage or damage to sensitive products. Real-time monitoring ensures transparency, accountability, and compliance with regulatory standards across the cold chain, significantly enhancing product integrity and consumer safety.



The seamless integration of advanced storage and transport technologies, particularly those enabling real-time monitoring and localisation, is pivotal in revolutionising cold chain logistics. This integration not only fortifies the reliability and efficiency of the cold chain but also ensures the utmost quality and safety of temperature-sensitive products throughout their journey from production to consumer. The adoption of real-time temperature monitoring systems is a cornerstone in maintaining the integrity of perishable goods. By providing immediate data on environmental conditions, these systems allow for swift interventions, drastically reducing the risk of spoilage and ensuring compliance with global safety standards. This capability is essential for sustaining product quality, extending shelf life, and enhancing consumer trust in cold chain-dependent products.

Cold Chain Logistics Whitepaper

Delve deeper into one of our core topics: Cold Chain Monitoring