An Owner-Operator’s Guide to Cold Chain Logistics

Whether you’re transporting fresh foods, medical supplies, or other temperature-sensitive goods, you need full visibility across your entire supply chain. Failing to keep goods within the right temperature ranges can result in spoilage and degradation.

So how do you maintain shipments at the correct temperatures? How do you minimize waste and keep your customers happy?

It all starts with building a strong cold chain logistics system.

In this article, we’ll explain what cold chain logistics is, why it’s important, and the main elements that make it up. We’ll also look at how the CalAmp Application can help improve your supply chain operations, reduce risks, and ensure compliance.

What is cold chain logistics?

Cold chain logistics is the process of transporting temperature-sensitive goods, like food, pharmaceuticals, and other products, across the supply chain. The temperature of these goods is maintained as it moves from the manufacturer to the distributor and, finally, to the customer.

Industries that rely on cold chain logistics include:

  • Food and beverage
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Chemical
  • Oil and gas
  • Military

The demand for “cold chain” products is soaring. The global cold chain market was valued at $241.97 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $986.91 billion by 2030.

Global cold chain market and growth

This explosive growth is largely driven by a growing middle class in developing countries. As wages increase and consumers have more disposable income, they’re willing to spend more on quality and fresh products from around the globe.

Depending on the goods that a company is transporting, certain temperature standards must be met. This ensures the integrity of the goods and prevents unwanted damage, like overripening, discoloration, and mold.

The optimal temperature range will differ for every type of cold chain product. Here are the main temperature standards:

  • Bananas: Bananas and other tropical fruits, like oranges and pineapples, must be kept within 53.6°F and 57.2°F. This helps control and delay the ripening process.
  • Pharmaceuticals: Pharmaceuticals, like over-the-counter medications and vaccines, must be kept within 35.6°F and 46.4°F to remain viable.
  • Chilled: Goods like dairy products, fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat are kept at 35.6°F to 39.2°F to delay their deterioration.
  • Frozen: The temperature range of -4°F to 3.1°F is often used when transporting meats like beef, poultry, and pork.
  • Deep freeze: The coldest temperature range that conventional refrigerated units can maintain (-18.4°F to -22°F) is used for transporting frozen seafood, like shrimp and fish.

No matter what you’re transporting, investing in the right cold chain logistics solution will help maintain the integrity of temperature-sensitive products.

Why is cold chain logistics important?

An effective cold chain relies on careful planning. Even a small delay can cause product degradation and discoloration.

Here’s why a strong cold chain logistics system is important:

It helps maintain product safety

If certain goods aren’t kept at the right temperature, harmful bacterial growth can result.

For instance, when food is left at room temperature for too long, bacteria can grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40°F and 140°F. This is known as the “Danger Zone.” Effective cold chain management helps maintain product safety.

Cold chain for COVID-19 vaccines

And it’s not just foods that are at risk of becoming contaminated. Vaccines, for example, must be kept at extremely low temperatures during transport. If their temperature falls outside the recommended range for an extended period, they can be rendered ineffective.

Maintaining uninterrupted temperatures is key to ensuring product safety. This often requires 24/7 monitoring, along with tools like sensors and a monitoring platform.

It reduces waste and loss

Food spoilage is a major problem in the global supply chain. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that $400 billion worth of food is lost annually between harvest and retail.

Maintaining proper temperatures is crucial to ensuring the quality of perishable goods, like fruits, vegetables, and meats. Solid cold chain logistics can help you reduce food waste and ensure that goods reach their destination spoilage-free.

It enables compliance

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) issued a final rule on the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food (STF) to enforce safety standards on food during transportation. This rule affects shippers, carriers, loaders, and receivers.

Inspector checking cargo

With real-time cold chain monitoring in place, you can prove compliance with temperature logs.

It improves customer service

If you’re delivering for a shipper, they want to know that their goods will reach their destination without degradation or discoloration. Maintaining cold chain integrity across your supply chain will keep your customers happy.

What are the elements of a cold chain?

A cold chain consists of many moving parts that work together to maintain the integrity of temperature-sensitive goods during transportation.

Here are the main elements that make up a cold chain:


Temperature-sensitive goods are carefully packaged in cardboard or styrofoam boxes with insulated liners and gel packs to keep the contents cool. Proper packaging ensures that the goods are maintained at the recommended temperature.


Cold storage facilities keep goods at the right temperature ranges to prevent degradation. Of course, goods can’t always be kept in these facilities. Carriers also use reefers or refrigerated containers when transporting temperature-sensitive goods to a distribution facility.

For example, here’s a reefer that Cathay Pacific uses to transport COVID-19 vaccines:

The reefer that Cathay Pacific uses to keep vaccines cool

(Image Source)

Some COVID-19 vaccines must be stored at -13°F to 5°F (-25°C to -15°C). A generator inside the container keeps the vaccines within the desired temperature range and ensures their viability.


Refrigerated trucks provide climate control to ensure that cargo is kept at a consistent temperature. These vehicles transport goods from manufacturers to distributors and suppliers.


An important element of the cold chain is temperature monitoring. This is typically achieved through smart sensor tags placed inside a container.

Monitoring temperature and humidity for cold chain goods

These types of sensors can also monitor humidity levels.


If you’re transporting perishable goods overseas, you’ll need to complete the necessary documents to clear customs. Any delays can cause your cargo to degrade. You’ll also need to consider the extra time it takes for goods to go through customs.

End customer

Another element in the cold chain is the end customer. In some cases, proper transport may mean integrating with their processes for receiving cold deliveries.

Challenges in cold chain logistics

The cold chain process isn’t like the regular supply chain process. Numerous considerations must be made when transporting temperature-sensitive goods.

Here are some of the top challenges that companies face:

Temperature fluctuations

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the cold chain logistics industry is maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the entire journey.

Temperature fluctuations can affect the integrity and quality of perishable goods. Temperature excursions can also occur when goods are left out too long during loading and unloading.

Equipment breakdown

Equipment must be maintained to ensure that it works properly. Any mechanical failures or electrical issues can cause reefers to break down, which can affect cooling systems and lead to perishable goods spoiling.

Substandard packaging

Perishable goods that are improperly packaged can become damaged in transit.

Improper packaging damaging goods in the chain chain

How goods are handled during transit can also damage the contents inside. For example, if loaders aren’t careful during loading and unloading, they risk causing damage to the packages.

Microbial growth

Mold can grow in damp environments such as within industrial freezers and reefers, due to water leaks and high humidity. If these issues aren’t addressed, microbial growth can occur, affecting food products' safety. Keeping refrigeration units dry and minimizing condensation levels are key to preventing mold.

Human errors

Another challenge in the cold chain comes down to human errors. Cold chain logistics requires complex processes. Professionals must have the appropriate training when handling and transporting cold chain products.

However, mistakes can happen along the way. Things like leaving a package outside too long, not having the correct paperwork, or forgetting to close the door of a reefer can all happen as a cold chain product is transported.

Ensuring cold chain integrity throughout the distribution journey can prevent these problems. Investing in a supply chain logistics solution can also help. Let’s look at how in the next section.

How CalAmp can help you achieve end-to-end visibility in your cold chain operations

The cold chain is rife with challenges. The good news is that using a technology-enabled logistics platform can help you tackle these challenges and improve your operations.

Here’s how the CalAmp Application can help with cold chain monitoring.

Gain real-time visibility

Whether you’re shipping one package or an entire truckload, clear visibility across your supply chain is vital for ensuring timely shipments. It also enables you to document that cargo has been maintained in the right conditions.

Smart sensors monitor temperature, humidity levels, light exposure, and shock in real-time. They continuously log and transmit data to the CalAmp Telematics Cloud. That data can be integrated into your own back-office application or viewed and monitored from one screen in the CalAmp Application.

Monitoring shock levels with smart sensors

You can also set up geofences — or virtual boundaries — and receive alerts when drivers enter and exit designated areas. This can help prevent cargo theft and loss.

Monitor temperatures and set up alerts

If shipments exceed their recommended temperature ranges, you need to know immediately so that you can take steps to prevent spoilage.

CalAmp’s Xtreme Temperature Tag communicates with a telematics gateway that can send alerts if a shipment exceeds a certain temperature threshold. In this situation, you can communicate with the driver to address the issue or divert the shipment to a local retailer to minimize spoilage and reduce loss.

Monitoring temperature-sensitive cargo with CalAmp

What’s more, you can also set up alerts for other environmental excursions. Examples include variations in humidity, light exposure, and even dwell time.

Promote driver safety

Risky driving behaviors like speeding, tailgating, and hard cornering don’t just endanger the lives of your drivers and those around them, but they can also damage precious cargo.

When you combine the CalAmp Application with telematics devices, you can track the locations of your fleet and monitor data, like fuel usage and idle time. These systems can also alert you if a driver engages in aggressive driving.

Detecting instances of harsh braking and risky driving behavior with CalAmp

This data improves your fleet safety program and promotes driver safety.

Integrate with your Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) platform

Data silos can occur when your data exists in separate sources. These instances prevent you from clearly understanding your supply chain.

The CalAmp Application can integrate with your EDI platform to facilitate information sharing and transparency across your supply chain. Bringing telematics data into your systems helps you make better business decisions.

Keep detailed data logs

Our solution records detailed data logs, which facilitates compliance and demonstrates an unbroken cold chain.

If something goes wrong at any point, these data logs can help you diagnose what went wrong enabling you to take steps to improve your cold chain and make it more efficient.


Transporting temperature-sensitive goods isn’t a simple process. Any missteps along the way can lead to product safety issues and waste.

With continuous temperature monitoring using smart sensors in your supply chain, you can track the movement of goods in real-time and maintain an unbroken cold chain.

Request a demo today to learn how our solution can help you achieve end-to-end supply chain visibility and strengthen your cold chain operations.

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