Reefers and Source Loading in the Chilled Meat Cold Chain


Cold Transport Chain Transit Time (Days) Typical Shelf Life (Days)
Refrigerated truck / Cold-storage facility transloading / Air 4-5 30-35
Refrigerated truck / Cold-storage facility transloading / Maritime shipping 15-16 30-35
Source loading with Reefer / Maritime shipping 15-16 55-60

Source: adapted from APL.

There are several alternatives to ship meat, which conventionally was in a frozen form. This state implies a loss of quality because ice crystals are forming during the freezing process (blast freezing reduces this risk), which can damage tissue and lower the quality of the meat. Outside freezing (or transporting live animals, which is complex), there were no effective way to transport meat over long distances. However, the development of cold chain technologies are enabling to ship chilled meat over long distances.

The fastest and most expensive way to transport fresh meat is to use air transportation, which requires bringing meat from the packing plant to a cold storage facility where shipments will be brought to the “chilled” temperature range (around freezing point; 0 to -2 Celsius) and placed into air transport containers. Maritime shipping can also be employed, but the usage of a cold storage facility to transload the meat into reefers in addition to the 15 days that the ocean journey may take on average, shaves half the expected shelf life of about a month. The advantage is that this alternative is much cheaper.

The diffusion of reefers is permitting an additional form of cold chain distribution; source loading. By source loading the cargo directly at the packing plant into a reefer conveys a notable time advantage in terms of the extension of the shelf life by about 25 days. This is the outcome of the elimination of intermediary stages in handling the cargo, leading to potential breaks in the integrity of the transport cold chain. So, the advantages of an expanded shelf life are combined with the cost effectiveness of maritime shipping with a net gain of about 10 days of shelf life.