What the heck is a reefer?

October 5, 2018


Simply put, “reefer” is short for refrigerated containers. These shipping containers are widely used to transport temperature sensitive items all across the world. In commercial use, you might see a reefer transporting fruit, vegetables, seafood, dairy, etc. They are also commonly used to ship other temperature sensitive goods such as flowers, medicine and wine.

A little background on refrigerated containers:

Before modern shipping containers came along, bulk cargo shipment products were stored together in a single place where workers aimed to keep the products cool by any means possible. However, this meant that shipments could really only carry one commodity at a time as one items temperature needs would be different from another. Consumers quickly became tired of buying/eating the same old product and shipment receivers would often open up the cargo only to find spoiled/rotten produce. Product quality was a major issue for many years.

The unsung hero:

Around 1955, a trucker and businessman named Malcolm McLean recognized the major issue with the shipping methods at the time. McLean had the idea that the process could be made more efficient if only the trailers containing products could be lifted and laid down on the ship rather than hassled around as it had been for years. In 1955, McLean made his move. He took out a 42 million dollar loan, bought two oil tankers, docking, shipbuilding and repair facilities. He morphed the ships and designed portable shipping containers capable of being stacked.


In 1956, McLean’s first container cargo ship, “The Ideal X” set sail from Port Newark, New Jersey. History was made and over the years, these new stackable containers became the golden standard for shipping mass quantities of goods.

But what about refrigerated units?


While the problem for non temperature sensitive goods was seemingly solved, the fragile commodities still needed a little something more. Time and time again, shipments arrived with mass quantities of sensitive goods which has become spoiled.


In the 1970’s companies such as Maersk began working on temperature controlled shipping units. This work consisted of sending employees along with refrigerated shipments to control and monitor a computer which controlled the refrigeration functions of the shipping container.

Reports have revealed that employees had quarters to sleep, eat and shower in but that they all took turns cycling through the lab to monitor the progress of the computer and it’s goods. This experimental process went on for almost a decade.


Though this was just the beginning, it was a massive development in modern shipping methods. Today’s refrigerated shipping containers are capable of delaying or accelerating the ripening process of fruit to coincide with the shipment delivery date.


The quality and build of modern day reefers is the key to successful shipments. According to the Shipping and Freight Resource, “Reefer containers are bottom air delivery units designed to distribute chilled air from the floor, via specific T-shaped decking, with the advantage of producing a consistent and uniform flow of air across the entire shipment, powerful enough to ensure a perfect air exchange with the goods.”


A modern quality reefer should be able to maintain temperatures ranging from -13°F to 75°F which means they are generally equipped to keep goods both cool and warm. Many reefer containers have now been fitted with technology which allows you to view and control the conditions within your container at all times. Reefer container owners now have the ability to control the temperature of their container from the convenience of their smartphone.


Who might be commonly using these containers? Here’s the rundown:

  • Restaurants: Depending on the size of the restaurant, refrigerated containers may be used for portable meat/produce/product storage or for shipment purposes. Whether those products are imported or exported, a reefer container is a reliable means of getting a restaurants products where it needs to be. Another use might be for temporary product storage in emergency situations or for storage during high volumes seasons.
  • Disaster relief efforts: In times of disaster, one might think that it would be easier to simply fly the products into the country in need. However, it is undeniable that reefer ships are capable of carrying more than two times the amount of containers as an airplane. Should a disaster relief effort need mass quantities of temperature sensitive products, reefer ships are the way to go. Regardless of how they are sent, reefer containers are a solid go to means of containing sensitive disaster relief items.
  • Medical suppliers: Whether they’re in need of local storage or need to ship products out, reefers are a fantastic way to keep medicine and sensitive equipment cool.
  • Flower Companies: This 40 billion+ industry is a frequent user of reefer storage containers. According to AboutFlowers.com, “imports account for about 64% of fresh flowers sold by dollar volume in the United States.” Refrigerated containers are key in this operation as different flowers depend on various temperatures for growth.
  • Hollywood: It sounds far fetched but when you’re working on a multi million dollar production, the last thing you want is spoiled props. Refrigerated containers are wonderful for preserving sensitive movie making equipment, props and costumes.
  • Industrial: Needs for industrial uses will vary. We’ve seen refrigerated shipping containers used for storage of sensitive products such as chemicals and byproducts.
  • Large events: Whether it’s a musical, traveling band, a circus act, concert, etc. reefer containers are excellent for transporting goods for large events.


Why choose a Tuff Box refrigerated container?

Our reefer storage containers are built to be a cut above the rest. Our containers are electric powered, environmentally friendly and extremely efficient. The Tuff Box reefer container uses a vapor injection system which delivers more cooling capacity, while the aluminized coating creates maximum insulation and rust protection. These top of the line modifications reduce the amount of power our reefer container units consume. Tuff Box refrigerated shipping containers allow you to keep items temperature controlled (below 0°F and up to 75°F). Our containers are best suited for cold industrial storage, extra food storage, and agricultural products.

Tuff Box refrigerated shipping containers are available with two size options. Both the 20 foot and 40 foot sizes are 9’ 6” tall offering plenty of vertical storage.

If you’d like to learn more about renting a refrigerated shipping container from Tuff Box, contact us and speak with one of our local professionals. We would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have!

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