Offshore Reefer

What Is a Cold Chain Process?

what is cold chain process

Global trade has undergone an immense change in recent years. Almost all goods are now available instantly at any corner of the world and can be shipped with complete safety.


Source: Statista

The graph above shows the growth in GDP and trade volume. Although globalisation has merged the gap between the nations, physical separation does matter from a logistics perspective. The greater the transportation distance, the higher the risk of damaged goods.

There are various causes for the goods to get damaged, such as shock, temperature variations etc.

As global food and pharmaceuticals are growing enormously, it becomes imperative to transport perishable goods such as pharma and medical supplies over large distances.

Food and medical industries increasingly rely on cold chains to ensure that cargo is not damaged during transits.

What is a cold chain process?

As the name suggests, the cold chain is a specific logistic management process used for perishable goods. These goods must be kept at a controlled temperature to ensure safety and high quality.

This process includes various operations, from preparing, storing and transporting goods.

For the cold chain process to be successful, the goods that are sensitive to temperature must be kept within the desired temperature range from start to stop.

For example, let’s consider a pharmaceutical company transporting vaccines. If the temperature goes below or above the desired temperature, the effectiveness will be lost. So these companies rely heavily on cold chains to ensure that the drugs are not compromised before reaching the market.

Also read- A complte guide to shipping pharmaceuticals

What are the main components of cold chain management? 

Any cold chain process has four major components. They are:

  1. Trained personnel- Well-trained staff who know how to transport cold chain freight.
  1. Temperature-controlled storage- Specific refrigerated facility where the freight is stored before it is shipped to its destination.
  1. Temperature-controlled transportation- These are specialised cargo containers designed to transport goods at a colder temperature through roadways, waterways and air.
  1. Effective management procedure-  This will help to ensure that the entire handling and transport operations go seamlessly.

Steps involved in the cold chain process

Let us look at some essential steps in the cold chain process.


Unlike most people think, storage doesn’t happen when the temperature-sensitive product leaves a manufacturer’s premises. Instead, it starts right when the products are at the refrigeration facility.

Insulated containers, refrigerants, vaccines, and medical refrigerators are critical to effective storage.


Certain products need the optimum temperature to retain their quality. 

Therefore, proper temperature control is necessary to ensure that these items stay good in quality. In addition, appropriate packaging helps to preserve the product quality and energy-efficient storage.

Various packaging systems include gel bottles, gel packs, envelopes, insulated containers, pallet systems, cold chain parcels and refrigerant bricks to prevent damage during transportation and keep the products cold.


The temperature sensitive goods are moved around the world in various ways.

These products are transported by road, rail, air or sea. A variety of specialised vehicles, such as reef containers, refrigerator vans or trucks, help to ensure that the shipment remains cold.


Depending on the product type, suppliers of cold chain products need to track specific shipment information such as humidity levels, environmental parameters, temperature range etc.

Equipped with this information, the suppliers can audit their supply chain process for any activity that leads to product inefficiency.

Data logging is a technique companies use to make sure that cold chain supply management goes seamlessly. This technology helps ensure rigorous monitoring of goods sensitive to temperature. In addition, it also helps to address any quality issues before it is too late.

Read: How Reefer Container Tracking System Saves You Operational costs?

Customs clearance

The cold chain process can be global, regional or local.

  • Local: When the production region is close to the area of consumption.
  • Regional: When the point of production and consumption are in different areas within the same country.
  • Global: When the products need to be shipped overseas to reach the consumers on the other side of the globe.
Customs clearance

Photo by Tom Fisk

For global cold chain supply, customs paperwork is a vital step to ensure that the product can be delivered quickly. However, if the customs paperwork is not cleared correctly, it can result in delays spanning weeks, risking unnecessary expenses, product quality and delivery time.


The final step in the cold chain process is product delivery. Once the product reaches the destination point, it will be delivered per the consumer’s preferred method.

Why is it important to have an efficient cold chain process?

Without a cold chain process, perishable goods such as food items or medicines may quickly deteriorate. There are three types of deteriorations for food items. These are:


Contamination of food items due to the action of microbes such as thermophiles, mesophiles etc., which can act on vegetables and meat products.

Enzyme deterioration

All animal and plant products will have their enzymes, which support various cell metabolic activities. However, after death, these enzymes begin to digest their tissues rapidly, breaking down the fats, carbohydrates and proteins. 

If the temperature is lowered through the cold chain process, it is noted that:

  • Enzyme deterioration entirely stops below -60ºC and
  • Gets reduced by 90% at -18ºC.


This is another reaction of the perishable goods with the oxygen content in the atmosphere.

The above three deteriorations are directly related to the absence of cold chains. Therefore, to stop or slow down all these processes, keeping the goods at a lower temperature during all the cold chain stages is important.

The importance of cold chain for various industries

For any logistics operation, keeping the goods at the required temperature is essential as it affects the usability and integrity of these goods. Let us look at the importance of cold chains for some industries.


The cold chain has a crucial role in the military as they transport medical supplies and food items to remote regions. As an example, the stats tell us that the American military ships over 25,000 pounds of vaccines and other medical products to be delivered within two days.

Food industry

There is no doubt that because of the cold chain, food and beverages produced overseas are available in local markets.

For transporting food items, maintaining optimum temperature is a must. Keeping the food items above or below the required temperature can lead to mould, bacterial growth or rotting. 

Therefore, various regulatory bodies, including the FDA, have strict regulations on the requirements for transporting food products.

Chemical industry

It is vital to maintain certain chemicals at a specific temperature. Even a slight hike in the temperature will trigger an exothermic reaction resulting in catastrophe, risking the nearby crew and cargo.

Thus it is crucial to ensure that the chemicals are preserved at the required temperature.

Oil and gas

The oil and gas industry poses a high risk to the environment and people. Thus, it is essential to ensure that these products are transported in explosion-proof offshore reefer containers with temperature controlled logistics. 

Read: Temperature controlled logistics

Cold chain logistics

The container used for refrigeration mainly determines the temperature range at which the shipment is transported. The type of packing is done depending on the:

  • Size of shipment
  • Outside temperature &
  • Duration of transit

The primary cold chain technologies include:

Dry ice

This is solid carbon dioxide at -80°C. Dry ice is specifically used for shipping food items, dangerous goods and pharmaceuticals to retain the shipment in a frozen condition for an extended period.

Gel packs

Certain pharmaceuticals and medical shipments should be stored at a temperature ranging from 2-8 degrees. Many of you might have noted the packing as chilled products.

As this is above the freezing point, the standard method is to use packages or gel packs which contain the changing substance that could go from liquid to solid and vice-versa.

Initially, during the packing stage, these gel packs will be in the frozen state, while during the transit, they will melt into liquid retaining the internal temperature.

Liquid nitrogen

This is specifically used to keep the packages frozen for a long time and is mainly used to transport biological items such as organs, tissues or bodies. The extra low freezing point of -196°C will help preserve the items during transit.


During transit, there is a possibility of temperature variations in the packing. This might spoil the quality of the items. Therefore, to maintain a constant temperature, insulated pieces are placed around and over the cargo to retain the inner temperature for a long time.

This is extremely useful in places with a rapid variation of outside temperatures.

Eutectic plates

Most popularly known as cold plates, these are almost similar to gel packs. However, instead of gel, the liquid is filled, allowing the user to reuse it several times.

Cold plates have several applications, such as keeping a constant temperature in delivery vehicles, maintaining a constant temperature in rolling refrigerated units etc. 


This can be a semi-trailer, van or iso container. Reefer container is the common name given to a refrigerated container. These carrier units have a unique design and special insulation coating to ensure temperature-controlled air circulation by an attached refrigeration plant.

Why are offshore reefer containers an integral part of the cold chain process?

Offshore refrigerated containers, also known as offshore reefers, are used by various industries to transport products sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

These containers are equipped with automatic temperature control systems, data monitoring systems and other sensors. These specifically designed carriers can maintain a temperature range of (-76 degrees Fahrenheit.

It will help to ensure that by no means at any stage of the shipment process are the products subjected to temperature variations. This is vital if you transport meat, seafood, fruits, flowers, chemical or vegetables.

Check out Ice Storm and Ice Wave– two DNV certified products offered by MGS to keep your cold chain process effective!

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