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Shipping Frozen Food: The Ins, Outs, and Wherewithal

This article covers the ins and outs and best practices to consider when shipping  within the food industry to stay compliant with the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This post covers the temperature best practices from origination to destination, sanitary provisions, and traceability of food and technology around traceability. When it comes to frozen food, this is often referred to as the Cold Chain.

 Cold supply chain temperature requirements and considerations:

  • The required temperature is the responsibility of the exporter depending on the type of frozen food shipped. However, the customer may have temperature specifications as part of their purchase order/agreement.
  • Shipping Frozen Food in General: All frozen food must be held at an air temperature of 0 degrees F; the internal product temperature should not exceed 10 degrees F.
  • Vehicles should be pre-cooled to an air temperature of 20 degrees F, or lower before loading. Frozen food freight shipments will not be accepted for transportation when the internal product temperature exceeds 0 degrees.
  • The most common temperature standards are “banana” (13 degrees C), “Chill” (2 degrees C) and “Frozen” (-18 degrees C), and “Deep Frozen” (-29 degrees C). Staying within these temperatures is vital to the integrity of a refrigerated freight shipment along the cold supply chain and for perishables, it enables optimal shelf life. Any divergence can result in irrevocable and expensive damage (liability section).
  • The major cold chain technologies involve dry ice, gel packs, plates (filled with liquids and can be used many times), liquid nitrogen quilts (insulated pieces that are placed over and around the frozen freight to act as a buffer in temperature variations and to maintain the temperature relatively constant and reefers (temperature-controlled container or truck).
  • The “last mile”: A shipment going to its destination. Trucks and vans, the primary modes of transportation for this stage, must meet the specifications necessary to transfer the cold chain transportation for this stage. Also important is the final transfer of the refrigerated freight shipment into the storage facilities, as there is potential for a breach of temperature integrity.
  • The forwarder advises the carrier of the ocean freight container of the requested temperature setting at the time of booking the freight.
  • Prior to loading, the shipping line (or trucker) will pre-trip the reefer container. The reefer person will turn on and set the container to the proper temperature setting required by the exporter so that when it shows up for loading on the ocean vessel it will be at the exact temperature.
  • The shipping line has a meter that records the proper temperature during the duration of the trip.
  • You receive a read-out from this meter with constant temperature graphs.
  • Carriers offer “protected” services at the port. For a fee, the container yard /port/terminal will send a person out to check the fuel level of the reefer container and its functionality just to ensure nothing is wrong.

Sanitary Provisions that come along with frozen freight shipping

  • All internal surfaces of vehicles and devices used for transporting frozen food shall be clean and free of objectionable odors before being loaded with frozen food.shipping frozen food freight

Food traceability & PTI when Shipping Frozen Food

  • Produce (Food) Traceability Initiative (PTI) is used to enhance traceability throughout the Food Supply Chain.
  • Solutions to marking cases and pallets to meet PTI requirements.
  • Includes a Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) for traceability of food en route to the customer overseas.
  • Many companies that ship frozen food or fresh produce are part of this initiative.
  • Each 3PL or supplier who consolidates frozen food should have traceability software and labels available to meet the PTI.


  • When shipping frozen food, there is technology available to combine an RFID tag for Identification/traceability and temperature control.
  • The RFID with temperature indicator tag is a microchip combined with an antenna in a compact package.
  • The packing is structured to allow the RFID tag to be attached to an object to be tracked. It also incorporates memory, a battery, and a clock to record sensor data in memory in constant intervals.
  • The 3PL and/or the Supplier may have this technology available.
  • 3PLs are combining GPS and temp tags.