Shipping Perishable

How to Handle Perishable Foods in Offshore Reefer Containers?


Imagine living for months at an oil and gas platform and not able to have apples, fresh vegetables, or scrumptious fish steaks just like how you would on land. That’s the life on oil rigs without offshore reefer containers. With these reefer containers, life at sea can be very close to what it is on land. 

The transport of chilled or frozen cargoes in offshore refrigerated containers, or offshore reefer units, is a large and steadily growing business.

Most container ships can now provide the necessary power supply and some modern ships are able to carry in excess of 1.000 reefer units.

These units provide a regulated temperature and humidity and, in many cases, a controlled atmosphere as well.

Offshore Reefer Containers provide the optimum conditions for the carriage of

  • meat
  • fish
  • fruit
  • dairy produce
  • flowers
  • perishable cargoes

There are different types of reefer container operation, including Cold Treatment, Controlled Atmosphere, and Super Freezer, as well as various important procedures that should be followed in order to ensure correct operation.

The safe carriage of these cargoes, many of which have high value, is important for all those involved in the supply chain – the growers or producers, the logistic supplier and other transport companies, and the final consumer.

What are these Refrigerated Containers?

What are these Offshore Refrigerated Containers?

Offshore Refrigerated Containers or Offshore Reefer Containers are big fridges that are used to ship perishable products to consumers. They come commonly in two sizes: 10 feet (10’/10ft), and 8 feet (8’/8ft).

These containers are temperature controlled in order to avoid the damaging or staling of the food items such as :

  • fresh fruits
  • vegetables
  • seafood
  • meat
  • dairy
  • flowers
  • pharmaceuticals
  • photographic film
  • chilled and frozen goods

These containers are set up in a way that they might be spoiled if kept overnight.

Please note that these refrigerated containers look very similar to the normal shipping containers but function as a fridge for your perishable products making them an ideal choice for transporting or shipping goods.

How does the offshore reefer container work?

You might be wondering but how do the reefer containers work; they are bottom air delivery units specially designed to distribute the chilled air from the floor deck designed in the form of T.

The chilled air from the floor deck of the reefer container is spread uniformly across the products kept inside it making it fresh and healthy just the way it should be.

The refrigerated containers can be adjusted according to the requirement of the specific perishable product kept inside of them.

Just the way the reefer container can maintain the lowest temperature (-35 degrees Celsius), it can also maintain the warmest temperature (+35-degree Celsius) for the warm goods.

The control unit on the reefer container allows you to set or adjust the parameters including the humidity, ventilation, atmosphere, and not the least temperature of the container but the settings usually depend upon the type of cargo that is being used to transport.

The reefer containers require a constant supply of electricity for everything to work smoothly and this electricity is supplied by the vessel’s power outlet or by the gensets portable generators.

Offshore reefer container barge

What are the advantages of choosing reefer containers to ship perishable products?

If the product that is being shipped to the consumer is a perishable product like fruits and vegetables then the shipping company chooses a reefer container or refrigerated containers over any other way to ship because of the following reasons:

  • The products don’t need to be kept in a refrigerator as the reefer container works exactly like a refrigerator and keeps your fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat, etc., healthy, and fresh.
  • The reefer containers are available in various shapes, sizes, and forms which makes it easy for the shipping company to use them whether it is via air, water, or road transportation.
  • The products that arrive in reefer containers are fresh and healthy to use. The perfect amount of temperature and other settings adjusted on the refrigerator containers makes them durable.
  • Since the reefer containers come in various sizes and forms, you can divide the container according to your products like you can put the chilled perishable products on one side and the frozen ones on the other since they both require different temperatures.
  • They can prevent products from ripening too quickly and ensure a longer shelf-life by circulating cool air and avoids the wastage of perishables.
  • The refrigerator containers are safe for the products and safety for food products is very essential.

What are the different types of refrigerated containers?

Now you may be wondering that if the reefer containers are available in different forms that what the types of reefer containers. Well, we’ve got that covered for you; let’s look at the different types of reefer containers used to ship perishable products to the consumers.

  • Closed reefer container:

    This reefer container is basically known as a conventional type of refrigerated container that comes in a one-piece and integral front wall. The cooling and heating unit in the reefer container is all-electric automatic.

  • Modified/ Controlled Atmosphere (MA/CA) reefer containers:

    This reefer container is an insulated reefer container that can maintain a constant atmosphere and use the air exchange system to replace the already used oxygen. This is done to maintain an ideal atmosphere inside the container for the perishable products’ freshness and durability.

  • Automatic Fresh Air Management Containers:

    reefer container is advanced and uses the latest technology for regulating the air inside. It automatically adjusts the air inside accordingly; one could say that it is like the MA/CA reefer containers and controls of the container can be adjusted to extend the shelf life of a cargo irrespective of the atmosphere or conditions outside the reefer container.

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How to avoid a damaged refrigerated container?

When you ship a perishable product like fruits and vegetables in a cold storage container, it is possible that there might be a problem that you have to face; leakage. But in order to avoid leakage, try out these tests on your reefer container to fix the problem.

  • Soap water test:

    It is a simple test where you spray soapy water on the troubled pipe on a low-pressure line and if there is any form of leakage in the reefer containers’ pipe, the bubbles would appear and you’ll know a problem to fix.

  • Electronic leak detector:

    An electronic leak detector is a portable unit that is carried to detect the leak in the reefer container. Make sure you use it in utter silence.

  • Inbuilt fixed type leakage detection unit:

    To make life and work easy, some reefer containers come with an inbuilt leakage detection unit that provides you with an audio-visual alarm in case there is any leakage.

  • Halide Lamp Test:

    Halide lamp test is also done to detect the leakage but it works on the principle of the colour of flame. For testing for the leakage in the reefer container, the halide lamp is passed around the area where there is a slight doubt for the leakage. It is the most traditional form of test for leakage in a container.

What is the right way to handle a reefer container cargo?

One of the things that need to be taken care of is the fact that cargo that contains reefer container must be handled precisely and in the right process which starts from the time of packaging to storing, to transporting, and finally the last processing. The entire process needs to be handled with a lot of care and utmost attention because the products that are being shipped are perishable food products that need attention otherwise, they could get damaged in case you miss out on any single step. Let’s look at the various steps to be kept in mind while handling the reefer container.

  • Pre-shipment:

    One of the very first steps that the shipper must do before shipping the products is to provide accurate information about the things or products that are being shipped in a reefer container. The freight forwarder handles the important things like looking for the right reefer container vessel, shipment dates, cargo size, weight, and conditions. So, for a freight forwarder to work smoothly, the shipper needs to provide accurate information.

  • Pre-cooling:

    The reefer containers are used to maintain a certain temperature for the products kept inside but what about the product’s temperature when it’s not inside the reefer container? The shipper needs to pay attention to the fact that the perishable product that is being shipped inside the reefer container must be pre-cooled in order to prevent surface thawing and freezer burn which happens when the reefer container’s and product’s temperature don’t match. So, to avoid it the shipped needs to make sure that the pre-cooling is done properly.

  • Packaging and stowing:

    The cartons used to store the perishable products must be strong enough to hold the product’s weight and is capable enough to hold the weight of the stacks of cartons placed above it. It should also be able to protect the products kept inside it. The chilled fruits and vegetables you need should be provided with the proper air supply while packaging so that they don’t go stale and the frozen goods are needed to be packed as a solid block with each other.

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Best practices in offshore reefer container shipping

In order to cut and reduce the risk of damage and spoilage, Here are some do’s and don’ts:


  • For proper stability pack the cargo tightly.
  • For the reefer prescribed temperature and humidity is to be set.
  • Cargo should be pre-cooled.
  • Along with proper ventilation, correct settings should be ensured.


  • Stow the cargo above the marked red line
  • Allow tight stuffing that can block the airflow
  • Pre-cool the reefer if it is not in cold storage
  • Allow gaps between the pallets and the door
  • Miss shipment deadlines especially in the case of perishables


In conclusion, we have discussed what are offshore refrigerated containers and how they work, as well as the advantages of choosing reefer containers to ship perishable products.

We have also included a few different types of reefer containers and how to avoid a damaged container alongside the right way to handle a reefer container cargo and some practices in reefer shipping.

These are a few common questions on how to handle perishable foods in offshore reefer containers.




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