October 2003 | How-To | Ten Tips

Shipping Temperature-Sensitive Products

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Moving temperature-sensitive products can be a hassle. Delays and shipping snafus can wreak havoc on your bottom line. Jim Snider, vice president and general manager of FedEx Custom Critical White Glove Services, knows how crucial it is to guarantee that product arrives cool to the customer. Here are his 10 tips for shipping temperature-sensitive products.

1. Communicate your needs clearly. Spell out every detail, even ones that may seem insignificant. Specify the acceptable temperature range in degrees plus or minus the set point to ensure the proper parameters are used. Indicate Fahrenheit or Celsius.

2. Look for experience with your commodity. Temperature-sensitive commodities can be anything from fresh fish and produce to adhesives and pharmaceuticals, each with their own shipping characteristics. Evaluate your carrier's capabilities and experience with shipments that are similar to those you tender.

3. Maintain the temperature before and after transit. It may seem obvious, but shippers often stage temperature-sensitive freight on a dock that is not temperature-controlled. To ensure product quality, make sure your shipments remain in a temperature-controlled environment until the truck is ready to be loaded. The drivers should also keep the truck doors closed until the last possible moment to minimize any effect to the temperature inside the cargo box.

4. Plan for less capacity. Temperature-controlled trucks have less capacity. Cubic feet are reduced due to added insulation in the walls of the truck, and the added weight of temperature-control equipment affects payload capability. Review packaging diagrams, dimensions, and weight requirements to avoid last-minute surprises at the loading dock.

5. Quality is no accident. Ask about your carriers' temperature-control quality system, including training program. Do they have quality manuals or thorough Standard Operating Procedures in place? What is the age of their equipment, and do they have an appropriate equipment maintenance program? Are there controls in place to handle anomalies and temperature-out-of-tolerance alarms? Finally, do the carriers have a disaster recovery plan that will protect your assets while in their control?

6. Understand all your transportation options. There are numerous options to consider when routing temperature-sensitive shipments, including truckload and LTL refrigerated carriers as well as exclusive-use, temperature-controlled carriers. Temperature-controlled packaging for smaller shipments that can be routed through your regular express or ground carrier can also be an appropriate choice. Some carriers provide companion temperature-controlled air transportation as a separate or blended service. Each choice has unique capabilities and limitations that you need to understand in advance.

7. Consider companion services and special needs. Depending on the nature of your shipments, you may need to look for a carrier that can provide other services in addition to temperature control. For instance, a valuable shipment of pharmaceuticals may require additional security services, while deliveries to locations that do not have a dock may necessitate a truck equipped with a lift gate. Factor in all the capabilities you will need before you select your temperature-controlled carrier.

8. Factor in availability and response time. Ask about the carriers' business hours. Are they available 24 hours a day? Are they open on weekends and holidays? If not, consider the impact this might have on you and your business—and factor this into your contingency plan.

9. Ensure compliance with regulations. Your carrier is typically not subject to the regulations that apply to your industry, so you should evaluate the company's program to ensure that the service facilitates your compliance with any cold-chain requirements, government regulations, or agency guidance.

10. Incorporate into your existing contingency plan provisions for handling emergencies that affect temperature-controlled items. Be prepared for last-minute glitches that may affect your plan. Pre-planning and an arsenal of shipping options can minimize the effect of the inevitable crisis.

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