Investigative Report: Protecting Freight from Summer Heat

Summer time is generally seen as a happier time of the year. It means the sun is shining, trips to the beach and lots of outdoor activities. Children are off from school and families are together. It’s viewed as a time with less stress and more fun. Unless you need to ship a product that is temperature sensitive.

Enclosed trailers can become like ovens and can generally get up to 30ºF warmer than the outside temperature, with temperatures reaching over 100ºF in some cases.1 Companies need to be aware of these shipping conditions and need to use the proper equipment to be sure that their product is not affected by these temperatures. The solution to this problem would be a refrigerated (reefer) trailer to keep it cool and also monitor the temperature. If proper precautions are not taken and a load does not arrive in good condition it can be rejected by the receiver or cause a serious problem for the user of the product.



Most perishable food products need to be kept cool during the transportation process but we will focus on frozen food, meats and seafood. Frozen food generally requires the continuous temperature of the trailer to be held at 0ºF and the product itself should not reach more than 10ºF. The trailers also need to be pre-cooled to an air temperature of 20ºF or lower before they are loaded.2 Staying within these temperatures is vital to the integrity of a shipment along the cold supply chain and for perishables it enables optimal shelf life.

Shipping meats and seafood is very similar to the precautions that need to be taken to ship frozen food. The trailer needs to be cooled before being loaded and there needs to be a constant temperature held in the trailer. Of course, meats and seafood are held at a higher temperature so shipping these types of food varies, even the temperatures depend on the type and if they are cured or not. Shipping these isn’t as generalized as shipping frozen food but the range of temperature varies anywhere from 31ºF to 64ºF.4


Food needs to be shipped using a reefer and kept at specific temperatures for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons would be bacteria…the longer food sits at a higher temperature range, the greater the risk of bacteria growth. Most frozen foods, if held at 40ºF, would need to be thrown away because they were completely thawed out and cannot be refrozen.3 On the other hand, some partially thawed out food can be refrozen but it may affect the quality or taste. Cross-contamination and sanitization is also a risk especially for less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments, when multiple products are carried in a single trailer at the same time. Normally products are loaded onto wooden pallets in a trailer for shipment. Wooden pallets are very porous and can absorb the liquid from the defrosted shipments. They can spread any bacteria that was growing to other products, not to mention if a splinter from the wood punctures another product and further contaminates it. Road Scholar Transport, however, operates trucks with aluminum floor trailers to create a more sanitary environment for your products. We conduct regular sweeps on all trailers to ensure that your freight is being transported in a clean, and therefore safe, environment as well as have record of what has been transported since the last time the trailer was cleaned.

What if…

When the shipper delivers food to a consignee and the food has been exposed to heat and is rejected, the shipper is greatly affected. Let’s say that a shipper delivers spoiled food to a grocery store and it is rejected. Not only will the store refuse to pay for the product, but the shipping company needs to then pay to dispose of the food products in a safe manner. Disposal of spoiled food is not simple and different things need to be determined, like if the food considered hazardous waste or if it requires special handling now. Disposal can become costly in itself and then the shipper needs to worry about contamination concerns. If the food spoils in a trailer, the trailer is now contaminated with the bacteria and needs to be properly sanitized with the approved cleaning equipment by the USDA’s FSIS (United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service). Lastly the shipper can lose brand equity and business because of this mishap. The name of the company may not be respected but actually frowned upon.

On the opposite end of this example, the grocery store has some consequences as well. If the grocery store rejects the spoiled food they lose out on profit since they have no product to sell. Rejecting this shipment is the best option for the store because the consequences are more detrimental if they are unaware of the heat exposure and accept it. Let’s say that the grocery store accepts the spoiled shipment and customers purchase them. Now there are health concerns with customers ingesting contaminated food that can cause illness or maybe even death. Recalls will be made according to the reports and the grocery store will have to pull the product from the shelves and find a way to dispose of the spoilage just like the shipping company would, except the store would need to find a way to transport it. A study performed by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association indicates the average direct cost to a company per recall is $10 million, while indirect costs can reach hundreds of millions of dollars. Indirect costs would include lawsuits, stock value declines, fines, lost sales, and reputation hits.5 If a customer becomes sick or dies because the store did not reject the original shipment, this will negatively affect the brand equity. Customers may no longer trust this grocer and it will cause a loss of business.


The US Food and Drug Administration requires that refrigerated biologics are stored and transported within 36ºF to 46ºF unless a medication is deemed stable at other temperatures. Biologic drugs are manufactured inside a living system like a plant cell, unlike traditional drugs, which means they are temperature sensitive and require a reefer trailer to keep it cool and also keep it from dropping below the specified temperature.


Biological products need to be shipped and stored at lower temperatures since they are complex mixtures that are not easily identified. They are heat-sensitive and susceptible to microbial contamination; better known as bacteria, yeast, and fungi. The heat may either reduce or destroy the drug potency which can cause the user to experience clinical setbacks, recurring symptoms, and other adverse events. On the other hand, these drugs can also be damaged if the reefer trailer is too cold and actually freezes.

For example, in 2014 Ampio Pharmaceuticals was forced to delay the results of a clinical study on a new biologic drug. They determined that both the study drug and placebo may have frozen during shipment to clinical sites. Unfortunately, the drug in question specifies precise minimum temperature conditions because it may lose potency if it is exposed to temperatures approaching freezing.6

What if…

If the shipment of a biological drug is exposed to heat during the transportation process and is not caught before being sent to customers, it can cause some serious issues. In this scenario we are talking about medicine, which can clearly affect someone’s life. If a trailer is not monitored and the temperature increases, affecting the drug, it can cause health issues, maybe even death in some cases. This will clearly hurt the manufacturer and also the shipper given that both names with be negatively affected. Then both companies will have to deal with a recall and, as mentioned before, can be very costly. Medications can be even harder to dispose of as well because of its chemicals and will need to follow federal guidelines correctly.


Reactive chemicals are substances that have the potential to vigorously polymerize, decompose, condense, or become self-reactive due to shock, pressure, temperature, light, or contact with another material. Reactive chemicals have something called a flashpoint, which is the lowest temperature at which vapors of a material will ignite. With that being said, shipping these requires a reefer trailer. Most chemicals need to be transported 50ºF less than their flashpoint, which varies with the type of product being shipped.9


Explosive products can cause sudden or instantaneous release of pressure, gas, and heat if the environment in which they are being transported changes suddenly. Heat, light, mechanical shock, detonation, and certain catalysts can initiate explosive reactions. Compounds containing the functional groups azide, acetylide, diazo, nitroso, haloamine, peroxide, or ozonide are sensitive to shock and heat and can explode violently.

What if…

If a reefer trailer is not used or if a reefer trailer’s temperature is not monitored, the chemicals can explode when exposed to heat. This would be extremely detrimental to the surrounding area, the driver and people nearby.

In March this year there was a deadly explosion in Arkansas that was heard for miles. A truck driver hauling a load of fertilizer chemicals was killed and three first responders were injured when the truck’s wheels caught on fire and ignited the load, setting of the explosion that was heard for miles and led to the evacuation of homes within a 1-mile radius of the blast.10

Robert Medford, The Fire Chief, said that when ammonium nitrate burns, it generates oxygen as it decomposes, which causes the fire to increase in intensity. He said that the way to fight an ammonium nitrate fire is to flood the material with as much water as possible to reduce the temperature of the burning material. "To put water on it can make the situation worse, especially if you can't put what the hazmat procedures manual calls 'copious' amounts of water," Medford said. "We only had 1,000 gallons of water on hand, which was not enough to fight that fire, so we made the decision at that point that we needed to pull back and let it burn."10

The explosion left the tops of the surrounding pine trees bare and created a crater that stretched across the roadway. The blast took out the windshield of a fire truck and a school bus that luckily no children were aboard and the driver was not injured. The blast actually registered on the system that Arkansas Geological Survey uses to track earthquakes and was felt as far as 75 miles.

Road Scholar Transport

Being aware of the issues that can strike your temperature sensitive loads ahead of time means that you can take the proper precautions to ensure that your load arrives in good condition and won't be rejected by the receiver or cause serious problems for the end user down the road.

Fortunately, Road Scholar Transport offers temperature-protect trailers to help your products maintain the right conditions throughout the entire transportation process as well as hazmat certified drivers who participate in a training program that keeps them “up to speed” on the latest techniques to prevent accidents and protect hazardous cargo. Combine Road Scholar’s drivers’ experience with our strict in transit security protocols and the result is a “security officer” behind the wheel escorting your freight.

Many carriers use blanket wrap, but we DO NOT. Our reefers are imbedded with technology that tracks the temperature within and alerts our team in the event that the temperature goes out of range so that we can rectify the situation prior to the product losing its integrity. We can also provide an audit trail of the trailer temperature throughout the entire transportation process, as well as every time the trailer door was opened/closed, giving you and your customer piece of mind that your products maintained the proper quality and security from point A to point B.

To learn more about Road Scholar Transport’s Temperature-Protect Service visit our Temperature-Controlled Freight page at . We welcome the opportunity to learn more about your transportation needs. Contact us today.