What is a reefer container?

Reefer containers are used for goods that need to be temperature controlled during shipping. Learn more about reefer containers, its dimensions and cost in this blog.
What is a reefer container
When shipping certain kinds of goods, it is important to keep a check on the temperature of the container and control it to avoid any damage to the products being shipped. This is where a reefer container comes into the picture. A reefer container, also known as a refrigerated container, is a specialized shipping container that is designed to transport perishable goods at specific temperatures.

What is a reefer container?

A reefer container is equipped with an in-built refrigeration unit that helps maintain a consistent temperature range throughout the shipping journey. Reefer containers are commonly used to transport consumables and food products such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and seafood, and a range of pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and other temperature-sensitive products that require strict temperature control. They are used to transport goods by sea, road, or rail and can be loaded and unloaded using standard container handling equipment.

Working of a reefer container

The refrigeration unit in a reefer container has a compressor that compresses a refrigerant gas, which is then circulated through the container’s evaporator coil. This process removes heat from inside the container, causing the temperature to drop to the desired range. The reefer container’s refrigeration unit is usually powered by a diesel generator set or plugged into an external power source, depending on the mode of transportation and length of the shipping journey. The refrigerated container temperature can be set and monitored using a control panel, which allows the shipper to adjust temperature and humidity levels as required. To ensure that the cargo remains at a desired temperature, the reefer container is insulated with high-density foam and has airtight doors to prevent outside air from entering. These containers are typically made of steel and come in various sizes, including 20-feet and 40-feet lengths1.

Uses of a reefer container

Here are some of the most common uses of reefer containers across industries:

Food and beverage industry:

Reefer containers are widely used in the food and beverage industry to transport fresh produce, frozen foods, and beverages.


The pharmaceutical industry also uses reefer containers to transport temperature-sensitive drugs and vaccines. The refrigerated containers are designed to maintain a specific temperature range to ensure that the medication remains effective and safe for consumption.


Certain types of chemicals and hazardous materials also require temperature control during transportation.

Flowers and plants:

Reefer containers are used to transport flowers and plants that require a specific temperature and humidity level to remain fresh.


Reefer containers are essential for transporting fresh seafood such as fish, shrimp, and lobster.

Bakery and confectionery:

These containers are also used to transport baked goods and confectionery products such as cakes, pastries, and chocolates.

Types of refrigerated shipping containers

Here are some of the most common types of refrigerated shipping containers5:

Standard refrigerated container:

These are the most commonly used reefer containers and are available in 20-feet and 40-feet lengths. They can maintain a temperature range of -30°C to +30°C and are ideal for transporting perishable goods such as fruits, vegetables, and meat.

High-cube refrigerated container:

These containers are similar to standard refrigerated containers but are taller, with an additional foot of height. They are available in 40-feet lengths and can maintain a temperature range of -30°C to +30°C. They are suitable for transporting bulky or tall items such as pallets of goods or large equipment.

Open top refrigerated container:

These containers have an open top, allowing for the easy loading and unloading of cargo. They can maintain a temperature range of -25°C to +25°C and are ideal for transporting items that are difficult to load into standard containers, such as machinery or oversized cargo.

Flat rack refrigerated container:

These containers have collapsible sides and can be loaded from the top or the sides. They are available in 20-feet and 40-feet lengths and can maintain a temperature range of -30°C to +30°C. They are suitable for transporting oversized or irregularly shaped cargo such as machinery or vehicles.

Insulated container:

These containers are designed to maintain a consistent temperature range without the need for a refrigeration unit. They are ideal for transporting goods that need to be kept at a specific temperature range, such as electronics or chemicals.

Dual-temperature container:

The refrigerated container has two separate compartments with different temperature settings, allowing for the transportation of goods that require different temperature ranges. The refrigerated shipping container is ideal for transporting goods such as frozen foods and fresh produce in the same container.

Controlled atmosphere container:

These containers can control the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity inside the container to extend the shelf life of perishable goods. They are ideal for transporting fruits, vegetables, and other produce.

Reefer container features and benefits

Temperature control:

Reefer containers or the refrigerated shipping container have built-in refrigeration systems that can maintain a specific temperature range, ensuring that perishable goods remain fresh and safe for consumption.

Humidity control:

Reefer containers can also control the humidity level inside the container, preventing growth of bacteria that can spoil the cargo.

GPS tracking:

Many reefer containers come equipped with GPS tracking systems that allow shippers to track the location of the container and monitor the temperature and humidity levels in real-time.

Remote monitoring:

Reefer containers can also be remotely monitored by the shipping company, allowing them to detect and fix any issues with the refrigeration system before the cargo is compromised.


Reefer containers can be used to transport a wide range of perishable goods, including fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, and pharmaceuticals.


Reefer containers can be a cost-effective solution for transporting perishable goods over long distances, as they can maintain a consistent temperature range without the need for additional refrigerated trucks or warehouses.

How to stow cargo in reefer shipping containers?

Stowing cargo in a refrigerated shipping container requires planning and attention to detail to ensure that the cargo is properly loaded and secured, and the temperature and humidity levels are maintained throughout the journey. Here are some stowage principles to consider when loading cargo in a reefer container7:


Before loading the cargo, the reefer shipping container should be pre-cooled to the desired temperature to ensure that the cargo is not exposed to any sudden temperature changes.

Proper loading:

The cargo should be loaded in a way that allows for proper airflow around the cargo and ensures that the temperature and humidity levels are maintained. The cargo should be loaded on pallets, and any gaps between the cargo should be filled with dunnage material to prevent shifting during transit.

Proper airflow:

Proper airflow is essential to maintain the temperature and humidity levels inside the container. The cargo should not be loaded too tightly together, as this can restrict airflow and cause temperature fluctuations.


The temperature and humidity levels inside the container should be continuously monitored throughout the journey, and any deviations should be addressed immediately to prevent damage to the cargo.

Securing the cargo:

The cargo should be properly secured using straps or other restraints to prevent shifting during transit. This is especially important for heavy or bulky cargo.

By following these stowage principles, shippers can ensure that their cargo is properly loaded and secured in a reefer container.

Dimensions and sizes of a reefer container

A reefer shipping container comes in a variety of sizes to meet the needs of different cargo types and shipping requirements. The most common sizes are 20ft and 40ft, with a standard height of 8ft 6in. There are also high cube options available, with a height of 9ft 6in.

Difference between reefer container and dry container

The main difference between a reefer shipping container and a dry container is that a reefer container is equipped with a refrigeration unit, while a dry container is not. Dry containers are used to transport non-perishable goods such as clothes, electronics, and machinery.

Reefer containers have brought a significant revolution in the shipping industry, enabling easy transportation of perishable goods. This innovation has opened up new markets for fresh produce, allowing consumers to access high-quality products from different parts of the world. With e-commerce exports, selling internationally and shipping across the world has become easier and can be done from the comfort of your home or manufacturing unit anywhere in India.

Amazon Global Selling: Your passport to easy exports

Amazon Global Selling – an e-commerce exports program – enables Indian exporters to reach hundreds of millions of Amazon customers shopping on its international marketplaces like Amazon USA, UK, UAE, etc. Simplifying international trade, the program provides support at every step from registration to logistics and compliance, allowing Indian exporters to sell their products worldwide. With Amazon’s fulfillment centers and distribution channels, businesses can reach new customers across 200+ countries and territories.

To support you for hassle-free logistics, Amazon has also launched SEND, enabling you to ship directly to international fulfillment centers at competitive prices. All you have to do is book, pay and track shipments without any hassles from India to the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a reefer container cost?
The cost of a reefer container varies depending on size, age, and features.
How do you set the temperature on a reefer container?
The temperature on a reefer container is set using the container’s control panel.
What is the capacity of a reefer container?
The capacity of a reefer container varies by size, usually ranging from 12-67 cubic meters.
Can a reefer container be modified?
Yes, a reefer container can be modified for specific requirements.
How are reefer containers powered?
Reefer containers are powered by a generator or electrical connection.
Are refrigerated containers airtight?
Refrigerated containers are airtight to maintain the desired temperature.
Published on April 18, 2023.


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