A cold chain can functionally be considered as the close interaction between three technologies:
- Product. A product has physical attributes requiring specific temperature and humidity conditions. These conditions dictate its transport, which must takes place in a manner that does not undermine its physical attributes to an extent that is judged unacceptable. These physical attributes relate to how perishable and fragile a product can be; how it handles the cold chain process. Otherwise, the product may lose its commercial value in whole or in part.
- Origin / Destination. The respective locations of where a temperature-sensitive product is produced and consumed. It underlines the difficulty of making a product available at a market from where it is produced, which can be an important constraint. Because of advances in cold chain logistics, it became possible to use increasingly distant sourcing strategies, some of which are spanning the world.
- Distribution. The methods and infrastructure available to transport a product in a temperature-controlled environment. They can involve temperature controlled containers (reefers), trucks and warehousing facilities.
Operational conditions within the cold chain must be consistent so that the processes of load and transport integrity of the shipments are maintained.