Using Shipping Containers for Moving Perishables
Aug 2020

Using Shipping Containers for Moving Perishables

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The demand for shipping food from farms to cities is growing along with the world’s population. This is also putting more demand on the transportation industry to find easier, more efficient ways to safely ship perishable food items to reduce food waste. It is a costly endeavour putting pressure on producers looking for the best way to maintain freshness while still delivering their product in a timely, cost-effective manner. This brings the shipping container Toronto area businesses into the picture as a potential solution. They can meet proper load distribution requirements, and be modified to suit the specific needs of your perishables in transport. While reefer containers are the safest mode of transport, shipping container modifications offer an ideal solution for moving perishables in a temperature-controlled environment.

Why is refrigeration required?

Perishable food items require refrigeration to prevent or slow the growth of pathogenic and spoilage bacteria. Bacteria can cause foodborne diseases but also lead to deterioration of the produce. This can result in faster spoilage leading to waste. When it comes to quality, improper shipping can affect produce in a number of ways, including the appearance, smell, texture, and taste. This can lead to issues with customers and interfere with your chances of securing repeat business. To deliver the safest and highest quality produce, cooling is of the utmost importance.

What is a reefer container?

Reefer containers are designed to maintain consistent, suitable temperatures during transport. They assist in stopping bacteria growth while also providing efficient airflow. This stops gas accumulation and controls moisture, creating the ideal environment for your shipment.

The Importance of Pre-cooling

Reefer-style shipping containers are not designed to cool off the goods. Instead, their role is to maintain a consistent temperature so that food remains at a safe temperature. As a result, before food can be loaded, it must be pre-cooled to reach its optimum temperature. This also helps the containers to run more efficiently, as the energy used to maintain colder air is not struggling to cool items.

Ship Compatible Products

A major goal when shipping perishables is trying to make as few trips as possible. While this can cut down on transportation costs, it can put the shipment at risk if not loaded properly. This is why shipments should consist of products that require the same shipping temperatures. If you try to ship some items, for example, that must be frozen, with fresh items such as lettuce or tomatoes, it will be impossible to reach an ideal temperature that works to keep both items safe. Shipping compatible items with the same distinct temperature thresholds are the only way to avoid unsafe storage.

Proper Packing Materials

Different types of food items require different types of packing materials. Items such as pip fruits, for example, require pallets in hand with cardboard or plastic crates. On the other hand, when shipping onions and garlic, they are shipped using trays with plastic and wooden crates or plastic sacks.

Efficient Loading

When loading the container, speed is of the essence. Loaders must avoid allowing produce to sit on loading docks too long where temperatures can’t be controlled. As well, the load should be placed leaving enough space for air to circulate. Space is also required between the shipment and the container door.

Generator Set for Longer Hauls

If the shipment is facing longer transit times, it is best to have a generator set to protect from temperature drops. When shipping frozen items for trips longer than eight hours and chilled items longer than two hours, you will have the power required to keep the shipment cooled. If a generator is not possible, we advise allowing the container power to stabilize six hours in advance of the shipping time. This also helps expel any accumulated ambient air. Expelling air is an important step, as over time, it can increase container temperatures on longer hauls.

Shipment Unloading

Once you arrive at the destination, it’s important to know how your shipment will be unloaded. If shipping the container via a flatbed truck, you will need a forklift to unload it. Shipments over 100 miles away should arrange to rent a forklift at the final destination. However, this can be costly. Although the flatbed is cheaper than a roll-off truck upfront, you should weigh all the costs. In many cases, trips over 100 miles tend to come out ahead with a roll-off.

Container Size

This is an obvious factor in any shipment, as you want to ensure you have sufficient space for your load without having too much extra space that can make it easier for items to be damaged. The common container sizes are 20-feet standard, 40-feet standard, 40-feet high cubes, and 40-feet super-high cubes. It takes some math to figure out proper sizing based on the size of the pallets or crates, the quantity, and the overall square footage to accommodate their size. Don’t forget to factor in spacing between items to allow for air circulation.


It’s always tempting to go for the cheapest shipping container, but this can lead to far more costly issues than investing in a better quality container in the beginning. If you purchase a container with defects, it can impact the way proper cooling is distributed and maintained. Because there are several types of shipping containers, you want to choose one suited to your needs. As mentioned, a reefer container is best for storing perishable items that need refrigeration. However, they tend to be quite expensive when purchased new. A cost-effective option is to consider having a standard shipping container in the required size modified to provide cooling. The standard ISO shipping container provides a versatile platform that can easily be altered for a number of purposes. They can be adapted for use in any industry at highly competitive prices. Best of all, you can have the shipping container modified to your exact specifications.

For more information on the shipping containers that Toronto area businesses trust, speak to our team at Sigma Container Corporation today.

Tom Bray is a freelance writer with over five years experience writing for online publications and over ten years in business and sales. He studied journalism and media and has written for various online outlets on multiple topics. His specialty subjects are shipping containers and transport logistics.

Tom’s passion for writing and transport logistics motivates him to provide frequent direct marketing content that can show you how a shipping container can be effectively utilized and modified to each person’s needs.

You can connect with Tom via email at