Temperature Controlled Shipping Guide


Cold chain breakdowns can cause profitable items to become worthless. In fact, according to DeltaTrak, if a cold room temperature increases by only 2 degrees Fahrenheit, the relative humidity drops approximately 7%, which reduces produce shelf life by 50%.1 A reliable refrigerated shipping strategy and skilled expertise can help avoid such disruptions.

As with many industries, some temperature sensitive products and commodities are at greater risk than others. Accordingly, this guide delves into the variety of service options and temperature ranges to consider. It also offers best practices you can use to reduce disruption and maintain quality/safety.


Temperature Controlled Shipping Guide

What is temperature controlled shipping?

When discussing temperature controlled shipping, most people refer to refrigerated or frozen shipping, but the true definition is much broader than that.

At its foundation, temperature controlled shipping protects goods from exposure to ambient or varying temperatures while in transit—whether that requires cooling or heating. The most critical aspect is that temperatures must be regulated throughout the entire journey, from the origin facility to the final destination.

Because not all products require a consistent, regulated environment, some industries rely more heavily on temperature controlled shipping.

Top industries and commodities for temperature controlled transportation

  • Food & Beverage
    • Refrigerated and frozen products
    • Confectionary
  • Floral
    • Hot house growers
  • Healthcare
    • Medical Devices
    • Pharmaceutical
  • Retail
    • CBD


Temperature controlled service options

When it comes to temperature controlled shipping, each mode of service will come with its own pros, cons, and price. Learning how to balance these in relation to the product being shipped can lead to the most efficient, cost-effective option.

Full truckload service
With dedicated service options, end-to-end visibility, and an extensive pool of capacity, truckload shipping is one of the most popular choices for temperature controlled shipping. It is ideal when you have larger volumes that require flexible origins and destinations.

Less than truckload service
Perfect for smaller volumes of freight, less than truckload (LTL) offers more shipment size flexibility than truckload service. While shared trailer space can offer cost benefits, it may not be ideal for certain products—like bananas and broccoli (primarily due to ethylene sensitivity).

Intermodal service
Often chosen for lower costs and fewer carbon emissions, intermodal service is a popular temperature controlled alternative when over the road capacity is tight. It is ideal for products that can withstand a longer transit time and are less sensitive to the rougher ride.

Air service
Speed to market is the largest advantage of air service, making it great for pharmaceuticals and other high-value cargo. Unfortunately, temperature can be difficult to maintain at transfer points and its high price tag make it the least cost-effective option.


Standard temperature ranges for common products



Challenges to proper cold chain management

Due to the sensitive nature of the products transported via this service, there are often complex challenges in temperature controlled shipping.

Growing demand
The growing demand for cold transportation stems from a variety of places—namely ecommerce and international markets. According to Digital Commerce 360, total retail ecommerce sales of temperature controlled products increased 14.2% in 2021 after 31.8% growth in 2020.

Need for cold storage
With many products shipping to consumers’ homes rather than stores, there is an even greater needs for temperature controlled storage. In fact, a market study published by Global Industry Analysts, Inc., estimated that cold storage construction is projected to reach $22.9 billion in value by 2026, increasing 17.2% per year.

Seasonality shifts
On top of these new trends, the industry continues to face ongoing challenges like capacity shifts based on geography and the harvest season of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Food safety regulations
For any company transporting food items, safety is a top priority. Accordingly, staying in compliance with changing regulations is extremely important. Employees at all levels of an organization must understand and support food safety culture.


Top 3 cold chain best practices

While temperature controlled supply chains are growing in complexity, there are several best practices you can apply for positive outcomes.

  1. Secure expertise
    While the average consumer doesn’t always see it, there are countless people involved in the safe transportation of temperature sensitive shipments.

    Qualified expertise—whether an internal resource or an external vendor—is key to a seamless transit experience.

    • 8k dedicated temp controlled experts
    • 21K vetted, reliable temp controlled carriers
    • Expansive refrigerated consolidation network
    • Largest temp control network in North America

  2. Determine capacity needs
    The best mode of transportation for on load may not be the same for the next. But a highly strategic approach to capacity can help mitigate higher costs and secure the space you need.

    Part of this approach should include considering the needs of your carriers. Aligning your goals with theirs can create advantages for both sides.

  3. Establish proven processes
    Standard processes are critically important for food safety and should be extra vigorous at “spoilage risk events” (i.e., loading and unloading).

    Tasks like confirming product temperature, inspecting equipment, checking air flow should all be included in standard procedures. All parties should know what is expected and who is responsible.

Establish a culture focused on food safety
While not all industries need this best practice, for those that move food products, the sanitary transportation of food is more than a regulation to follow, it should be a priority for every company involved. Be sure to focus on

  • Proactive communication
  • Defined policies
  • Food safety trainings

At C.H. Robinson, and within our Robinson Fresh division, we have prioritized food safety goals, communicating and training on them to create food safety champions throughout the organization. Accordingly, our Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification requirements have an overall average audit score of 98%.


Achieve long-term success

Stay competitive in today’s market—and tomorrow’s—with continuous cold chain process improvements. But temperature controlled shipping is not one-size-fits-all. Successfully aligning your products with the right service delivers immediate results.

While long-term success requires ongoing, thorough collaboration and communication. When all parties are on the same page, and your strategy is backed by a reliable network and modal flexibility, it’s easy to satisfy customers and boost loyalty.

About C.H. Robinson

C.H. Robinson solves logistics problems for companies across the globe and across industries, from the simple to the most complex. With $30 billion in freight under management and 20 million shipments annually, we are one of the world’s largest logistics platforms. Our global suite of services accelerates trade to seamlessly deliver the products and goods that drive the world’s economy. With the combination of our multimodal transportation management system and expertise, we use our information advantage to deliver smarter solutions for our 100,00 customers and 96,000 contract carriers. Our technology is built by and for supply chain experts to bring faster, more meaningful improvements to our customers’ businesses. As a responsible global citizen, we are also proud to contribute millions of dollars to support causes that matter to our company, our Foundation and our employees.


1. DeltaTrak, “Produce Shelf Life: Issues and Extension Methods from Harvest to Retailer.”