What is a Reefer Container?

A reefer container is a refrigerated container that is used to transport refrigerated goods. They are often used by food and beverage companies, in addition to other types of products like pharmaceuticals and vaccines.

Reefer containers have an insulated body with temperature controls that can be adjusted according to the needs of the cargo being transported.

Reefers have enabled food-producing nations across the globe to export their frozen and chilled goods to purchasers regardless of location. This trade is expected to continue to grow.

How Refrigerated Shipping Containers Work

Refrigerated shipping containers are an essential part of the global supply chain, allowing perishable goods to be transported worldwide while maintaining their quality and freshness.

These containers are specially designed to regulate temperature and humidity levels, ensuring that products such as food, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals arrive at their destination in optimal condition.

Refrigerated containers, also known as reefers, work by circulating cold air within the container to maintain a consistent temperature.

They are equipped with a refrigeration unit that is powered by a generator, which can be located either on the container itself or on the transport vehicle.

The temperature inside the container can be set to a specific range, depending on the requirements of the cargo being transported.

Refrigerated shipping containers come in a variety of sizes and types, ranging from small containers that can be transported by truck to large containers that can be loaded onto cargo ships.

They are also available in different temperature ranges, from -60°C to +30°C, to accommodate a wide range of products.

Understanding how these containers work is crucial for anyone involved in the transportation of perishable goods, from shippers and carriers to logistics providers and consumers.

Refrigerated Shipping Containers

Refrigerated shipping containers, also known as reefer containers, are specifically designed to transport temperature-sensitive goods such as food, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.

These containers are equipped with a refrigeration unit that maintains a constant temperature, humidity, and atmosphere throughout the entire transit time.

What are Refrigerated Shipping Containers?

Refrigerated shipping containers are similar to regular shipping containers in terms of dimensions and construction, but they have additional features that allow them to maintain a specific temperature range.

These containers are typically steel and have airtight doors to prevent air leakage. They also have insulation, which helps to reduce heat transfer and maintain the desired temperature inside the container.

The temperature range of refrigerated shipping containers can be adjusted depending on the type of cargo being transported.

The most common temperature range is between -25°C to +25°C, but some containers can maintain temperatures as low as -60°C or as high as +30°C.

Types of Refrigerated Shipping Containers

There are several types of refrigerated shipping containers available, each designed for specific purposes:

Standard Reefer ContainerThis is the most common type of refrigerated shipping container. It has a temperature range of -25°C to +25°C and is suitable for transporting most types of temperature-sensitive cargo.
High Cube Reefer ContainerThis type of container is taller than the standard reefer container, providing more space for cargo. It has a temperature range of -25°C to +25°C and is suitable for transporting cargo that requires more vertical space.
Offshore Reefer ContainerThis type of container is designed for use on offshore oil rigs and other remote locations. It has a temperature range of -25°C to +25°C and is suitable for transporting food, water, and other supplies to offshore locations.
Specialized Reefer ContainerThese containers are designed for specific types of cargo, such as pharmaceuticals, frozen foods, or chemicals. They have a more precise temperature control system and may have additional features, such as air filtration or humidity control.

How Do Refrigerated Shipping Containers Work?

In this section, we will discuss the working of refrigerated shipping containers in detail.

Refrigeration System Components

The refrigeration system in a shipping container consists of several components that work together to maintain the desired temperature and humidity levels. The main components of the refrigeration system are:

  • Compressor
  • Condenser
  • Evaporator
  • Expansion Valve
  • Thermostat

The Refrigeration Cycle

The refrigeration cycle in a shipping container is similar to that of a typical refrigeration system. The refrigerant, which is a special type of fluid, circulates through the refrigeration system and undergoes a series of phase changes to absorb and release heat. The refrigeration cycle consists of four main stages:

  1. Compression
  2. Condensation
  3. Expansion
  4. Evaporation

Temperature and Humidity Control

The temperature and humidity inside a refrigerated shipping container are controlled by the refrigeration system. The thermostat, connected to the refrigeration system, monitors the temperature inside the container and sends signals to the compressor to adjust the cooling capacity as required.

The humidity inside the container is controlled by adjusting the temperature of the evaporator coil. When the temperature of the evaporator coil is below the dew point temperature of the air inside the container, moisture in the air condenses on the coil and is drained away.

Benefits of Refrigerated Shipping Containers

Refrigerated shipping containers, also known as reefers, offer numerous benefits for transporting temperature-sensitive products. Here are some of the key advantages:

Longer Shelf Life for Perishable Goods

Refrigerated shipping containers help to extend the shelf life of perishable goods by maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the transportation process.

This ensures that products such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy remain fresh and safe for consumption for longer periods.

Reduced Food Waste

Refrigerated shipping containers help to reduce food waste by preventing spoilage and degradation of perishable goods during transportation.

This is achieved by maintaining a consistent temperature and controlling humidity levels, which helps to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that can cause spoilage and contamination.

According to a study conducted by the World Resources Institute, food loss and waste account for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Refrigerated shipping containers can reduce food waste, leading to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased Food Safety

Refrigerated shipping containers help ensure food products’ safety by maintaining a consistent temperature and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and other pathogens.

This is particularly important for products such as seafood, poultry, and meat, which are highly susceptible to contamination and spoilage.

Challenges of Refrigerated Shipping Containers

Energy Consumption

One of the biggest challenges of refrigerated shipping containers is their high energy consumption. These containers require a constant power source to maintain the temperature of the goods being transported.

This means that they need to be connected to a power source throughout the entire shipping journey, which can be a challenge if the journey involves multiple modes of transportation or if the destination is in a remote location.

The energy consumption of refrigerated shipping containers can also be affected by external factors such as ambient temperature, humidity, and the quality of the insulation.

This can lead to additional energy costs and affect the quality of the goods being transported.

Maintenance and Repair

Maintenance and repair of refrigerated shipping containers can also be a challenge.

These containers have complex systems that require regular maintenance to ensure that they are functioning properly.

Failure to maintain these systems can result in equipment breakdowns, which can lead to spoilage of goods and additional costs.

Repairing refrigerated shipping containers can also be a challenge as they require specialized knowledge and skills.

This can make it difficult to find qualified technicians who can repair these containers in a timely and efficient manner.


Refrigerated shipping containers are also more expensive than regular shipping containers. They require specialized equipment and systems to maintain the temperature of the goods being transported, which can drive up the cost of transportation. In addition, the energy costs associated with refrigerated shipping containers can also be higher, which can further increase the cost of transportation.

The cost of refrigerated shipping containers can also be affected by other factors such as the distance of the shipping journey, the type of goods being transported, and the quality of the insulation. All of these factors can contribute to the overall cost of transportation.

Reefer Containers – FAQ

How do reefer containers work?

Reefer containers work by using refrigerants such as ammonia or propane. The reefer container’s body is insulated, preventing heat from entering and exiting the cargo compartment.

As this insulation cools down, it creates an environment where cold air can be stored for long periods before being dispersed evenly throughout the container to keep temperature consistent.

While this type of container can be used with a number of products, it is primarily designed for transporting refrigerated goods such as food and beverage items, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, or electronics.

The insulation allows the product to maintain its temperature consistently while in transit so that they are not negatively impacted by fluctuations in heat levels. This is especially important for products that must be kept at a specific temperature.

What industries can benefit from reefer containers?

The primary industries that can use reefers are food and beverage companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and electronics producers.

Many of these products require precise temperature levels to be maintained during shipping so the insulation properties of a refrigerator container come in handy.

Reefer containers are primarily used by companies who have refrigerated goods to ship, like food and beverage producers or pharmaceutical manufacturers.

They can also be utilized in industries such as electronics manufacturing where the product needs to maintain a precise temperature during shipping.

What is a genset for a reefer container?

A genset is a generator that provides electricity to refrigerated containers. These generators provide power during all phases of the reefer container operation or when needed for specific purposes such as defrosting and boosting cooling capacity.

The most important parts are the engine, alternator (see-saw), starter motor, fuel system, exhaust gas and oil system.

The reefer container is powered by a generator, which has an engine that provides electricity to the refrigerated storage space of the cargo compartment.

This power is often utilized in two ways: continuously or on-demand for specific instances like defrosting and boosting cooling capacity.

The most important parts of this machine include the engine, alternator, starter motor, fuel system, exhaust gas and oil circulation.

How do reefer containers work with energy?

Reefers use an external power source, like shore power or generator, to provide the refrigeration unit of the cargo compartment with electricity.

If there is insufficient voltage in these sources then it can be supplemented with a heavy duty deep cycle marine type battery installed onboard.

Can a reefer be modified?

Reefers are modified to be used more efficiently and for specific purposes. A common modification is installing a cargo container cooling unit (CCCU) on the exterior of the reefer.

This device draws additional cold air into the body, which helps keep the temperature at its desired level while in transit or storage.

Many reefers can be modified with an exterior cargo container cooling unit. This device helps keep the reefer’s desired temperature level by drawing cold air into the body of the refrigerated compartment.

How long does a reefer take to cool?

The time it takes for a reefer to reach its targeted temperature is dependent on how much power is applied to it and what type of product is stored inside.

On average, it takes about two hours to reach a set temperature level that can maintain the desired conditions for storing certain types of goods.

What is the temperature range for a reefer container?

The temperature that a reefer can maintain ranges from -65c to 40c. This may vary from one container to the next, so it’s important to know which type of insulation your refrigerated cargo will require when choosing a suitable window for purchase.

Read next: Shipping container markings: What do they mean?

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