The Ins and Outs of Refrigerated Shipping

by JRO on November 5, 2013

  • SumoMe

Refrigerated shipping is an important part of transportation commerce. As a type of shipping that allows for the transport of everything from medical goods to produce, it is vital to many industries.

Refrigerated Shipping Defined

Refrigerated shipping involves the use of refrigeration equipment that makes it possible to increase, decrease, or maintain temperature. This type of shipping is sometimes done by ship, but can also be done by plane, truck, or train.

Some of the most commonly shipped items include vegetables, fruits, fish, butter, meat, poultry, dairy products, and flowers. Refrigerated shipping also plays a vital role in the shipping of certain medical products, such as organs needed for transplantations. Hospitals or physician’s offices may also use it to safely transport infectious and non-infectious substances, human or animal clinical samples, and pharmaceuticals.

Large companies — such as grocery stores — that ship fresh products across the country often use refrigerated shipping. Individuals may also use the service: a person who wants to ship fresh fish from Maine to Colorado, for instance, would use refrigerated shipping.

The History of Refrigerated Shipping

As reported by History Magazine, refrigerated shipping dates back to the early 1840s, when makeshift refrigerated railroad cars were employed to transport milk and butter. By the 1860s, these cars were often transporting seafood and a variety of dairy products as well.

In 1867, the concept behind refrigerated rail cars took official form, when JB Sutherland patented the technology. Sutherland designed an insulated car that came with ice bunkers on both ends. Hanging flaps controlled the air that came in from the top of the car: this air then passed through the bunkers and circulated through the car.

Depending on the type of cargo being transported — whether it was meat or fruit, for example — one of two different types of car designs were used. The first railroad car to carry fresh fruit was built in 1867 by Parker Earle of Illinois. He filled a car with 200 quarts of strawberries and 100 pounds of ice and sent it along the Illinois Central Railroad.

The refrigerated rail car is credited, at least in part, for helping to establish several large mid-Western cities, particularly Chicago, Illinois and Kansas City, Missouri. Both of these areas became major destinations for refrigerated goods. The car was also a factor in helping people eat healthier: thanks to refrigerated shipping, new parts of the country had access to fruits like Georgia peaches, California grapes, Washington apples, and Florida oranges.

Overtime, refrigerated shipping spread from the train tracks to other areas of transport. The trucking industry, for example, started using refrigerated shipping in 1949 when Fred Jones patented a roof-mounted cooling system.

The Costs of Refrigerated Shipping

Per Texas A&M University, transportation rates for refrigerated shipping can vary dramatically. While the major variable in cost is distance, other factors affect shipping rates as well. Some of these factors include the perishability of products, the weight or size of items, the value of the shipment, the season of the year (rates may be higher during the snowy winter months, for instance), the destination area, and ease of delivery.

If the shipment involves things like infectious material, as may be the case for medical shipments, shipping rates can be even higher.


In addition to refrigerated transportation and shipping, Greg Jacobson writes on diamonds, gemology, trucking, air travel and other related topics.

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