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All About Reefer Containers

Whether you are familiar with them or not, reefer containers are one of the most essential types of shipping containers out there. Here at Northstar Transport Services, reefer containers are just one of our many services. But let's start with the basics. What is a reefer container? Keep reading to learn all you need to know!


What is a Reefer Container?


A reefer container is short for a refrigerated container. They typically ship items at cold temperatures and are similar to regular containers. The inside of a reefer container acts as a refrigerator where the temperature is controlled to maintain the cargo at the same temperature they were chilled to. Some everyday items transported in the containers include goods like fruits, meat, seafood, milk and dairy products, juice and beverages, wine, and pharmaceuticals. Regardless of the temperature surrounding the container, the temperature inside can range between -30°C and 30°C.


Reefer containers can be used for dry shipping cargo as well. The refrigerator unit is turned off when transporting dry cargo, then called a non-operating reefer (NOR). There is a price incentive to use NORs rather than a dry container because the loading space of a non-operating reefer is less than the space of a dry container.


Types of Reefer Containers

There are several types of reefer containers. The primary three containers include closed reefers, modified/controlled atmosphere (MA/CA) reefer containers, and automatic fresh air management containers (AFAM). Some other types are cryogenic cooling reefer containers, redundant refrigeration reefer containers, and refrigerated or cool tank containers.

There are several types of reefer containers. The primary three containers include closed reefers, modified/controlled atmosphere (MA/CA) reefer containers, and automatic fresh air management containers (AFAM). Some other types are cryogenic cooling reefer containers, redundant refrigeration reefer containers, and refrigerated or cool tank containers.


The closed reefer is the most commonly used container and includes an automatic cooling and heating unit. The MA/CA keeps a constant cool atmosphere by using an air exchange system to replace consumed oxygen, ensuring that the container is up to temperature throughout the shipping process. The AFAM is similar to the CA in controlling oxygen, but it also uses sensors to control the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to extend the cargo’s shelf life.

Reefer containers are meant to keep goods fresh. The container will maintain its cool temperatures, support humidity levels, stay well-ventilated, and be adequately powered to conserve the product's quality.

How do they Work?


Reefer containers are meant to keep goods fresh. The container will maintain its cool temperatures, support humidity levels, stay well-ventilated, and be adequately powered to conserve the product's quality. A particular T-shaped layout allows air to properly be distributed to all of the cargo inside. No matter what severe weather conditions the container may be enduring, the inside will stay at those consistent temperatures set by the control box.


The ventilation, removal of gasses, and water drainage contribute to the quality of the goods. Fresh air must be ventilated in the container to remove the gasses, and a drainage system removes water. Certain cargo needs a specific amount of humidity, so in addition to the container being ventilated, dehumidification will be set up to the proper level for the goods to be sustained. Reefers are connected to a power source on the ship, but they are also powered by generator sets that give the refrigeration unit electricity. Equipping gensets could prevent fresh goods from going bad with a backup power source.


What is the Cost?


The cost will vary depending on if a reefer is bought or rented out and what kind of reefer is being purchased. The price has increased immensely due to the lack of availability and the ups and downs of the pandemic. It could cost about six times as much as a standard container. The price may range between $7,500 to $27,000 for new and used containers. Factors affecting the price can include the size, the cooling mechanism used, and other customizations made to the reefer container. It is suggested to buy one in order to save money and lease out that container when it is not in use.


Reefer containers are a great alternative to reefer ships and have significantly impacted trade. They have increased their market share quickly, especially since the need for them since the pandemic. For more information on reefer containers and services, contact Northstar Transport Services today!


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