Three operational conditions (processes) are fundamental in a cold chain:
- Conditional demand. The demand for a product at a market (or place of consumption) is conditional to its qualitative attributes. Each product has a specific level of perishability. For some products, such as vaccines, value (and demand) drops to zero if the shipment has been slightly damaged since the product can no longer be used. Other products, such as produces (fruits & vegetables), see a decline in their value in relation to the level of spoilage that took place during transit, since it will limit their shelf life and, as such, their commercial potential.
- Load integrity. Relates to the load conditions that must be provided to ensure that a product keeps its value during transport. It can include adequate packaging and packing, as well as the conditioning that the product must go through before transport (being washed or cooled down). The reefer has become a common temperature-controlled transport unit used to ensure load integrity since it can accommodate a wide range of temperature settings and accordingly a wide range of temperature-sensitive products. However, using reefers and many other refrigerated modes of transportation is facing the empty backhaul problem as the majority of refrigerated trades do not have a return equivalent.
- Transport integrity. The series of tasks and safeguards that must be performed to ensure that the temperature-controlled environment remains constant. A breach of integrity can take place during transport, at terminals and distribution centers involved in the transport chain. For instance, the temperature of a shipment is often constantly tracked so that deviations can be mediated as soon as possible. An outcome of more stringent requirements in transport integrity has been the setting of specialized modes and terminal facilities designed to support cold chain logistics.