How to Estimate Your Food Truck’s Shipping Container Capacity

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A refrigerated food shipping container, also known as a genset or reefer container, is a key part of the modern supply chain.

The ability to import and export chilled and frozen foods opens opportunities for businesses. At the same time, it provides more options for consumers. These intermodal containers can carry exciting new products and established customer favorites locally and across the globe.

Understanding how to make the most of a frozen food shipping container is crucial. When cold food shipping containers are used but underfilled, that represents an inefficiency and possibly a significant cost.

Having too much product to ship but not enough space in your shipping containers is a different but still major concern.

Accurate calculations for the space available in a cold storage shipping container is especially important for truckload shipping. Each truck is an additional cost and another entity within the supply chain. To ship your loads by truck in a cost-effective manner, you’ll want to understand how much frozen or cold cargo a container can accept.

Keep reading to learn more about the capacity of reefer shipping containers for truck transport. We’ll review processes that can help you better manage your frozen and chilled food loads.

We’ll also take a closer look at loading, unloading, and related needs. There are plenty of other relevant facts and considerations for refrigerated food shipping containers.

Refrigerated Food Shipping Containers: Key Facts

Reefer containers can keep many types of refrigerated products safe and secure by maintaining the correct temperature. That includes food, of course. There are many other goods that require refrigeration to ensure their quality and integrity, too.

Products commonly shipped in a refrigerated food shipping container include:

  • Produce
  • Meats
  • Fish and seafood
  • Medicine
  • Flowers
  • Chemicals

Refrigerated containers are also commonly used to transport dry goods. The refrigeration unit is simply turned off and the container is then loaded.

We know you’re focused on transporting your chilled and frozen products, but we think that’s an interesting application. It speaks to the widespread use and versatility of these containers.

Three tractor-trailer cabs sit parked in a semi-circle at the Port of Oakland.

Refrigerated Food Shipping Containers: Limitations and Special Considerations

Reefer containers offer some unique benefits for the supply chain. But they also have some limits to keep in mind.

Reefer Containers Maintain Temperature but Don’t Substantially Decrease Them

A refrigerated food shipping container cannot substantially lower the temperature of food — or any other good — placed inside of it.

Products must be refrigerated or frozen to their desired temperature before being loaded into a food shipping container. That helps to ensure that the cargo is safe throughout its travel. That’s true whether its journey involves rail transport, container ships, or shipping container trucking companies.

Frozen Food Shipping Containers Must be Loaded Carefully

Shipping containers for frozen food must also have their cargo packed for optimal air distribution. Those patterns change based on whether the cargo is chilled or frozen. 

Industry blog Shipping and Freight Resource highlighted a key consideration for successful reefer shipping: proper loading of the container.

Cargo kept cold, but above freezing, needs to be stored in ventilated boxes to promote proper air circulation and temperature control.

Frozen cargo needs to have cold air circulate around the cartons loaded into the refrigerated food shipping container. This cargo should be stored as blocks to promote a low temperature.

There are a number of other needs when it comes to safe and effective loading of genset container cargo. That includes everything from securing the pallets that individual boxes sit on to setting the correct humidity level. And the details may change slightly for each refrigerated food shipping container.

Types and Capacities of Refrigerated Food Shipping Containers

Want to determine how much space is needed for your load in a climate-controlled container? What about figuring out the type of container your company needs? It’s crucial to keep the many special qualities of a reefer container in mind.

We’ve already looked at how loads need to be positioned to achieve the most effective and consistent airflow. And how that changes from a refrigerated load in a food shipping container to a frozen one.

The type of carton or box used will also affect the amount of available space. Some packaging may be large or bulky in comparison to the actual product. In other instances, it could be minimal. Each type of product and package may require a different strategy for stowage.

You also need to account for the cooling equipment taking up space within the container. There is also the crucial need to maintain air space above the cargo.

Additionally, intermodal containers aren’t all manufactured to the exact same specifications. Those differences aren’t enough to cause problems when transporting them. However, you may see some variation between containers due to that lack of uniformity.

A tractor-trailer cab sits in a parking lot in the Port of Oakland, in front of a container ship.

Estimating Your Refrigerated or Frozen Food Shipment

It’s difficult to make exact predictions about the space needed for your shipment in a refrigerated food shipping container. At least without specific information about the load, the container, and airflow requirements.

However, you can certainly estimate the size of your load. To assist in that process, we’ve gathered the relevant specifications for common cold food shipping containers.

That includes size measurements and some estimates of total usable capacity. You can start making your own estimates based on the cubic capacity listed. Or, you may also be more comfortable referencing the number of pallets that can fit in a given container. To that end, we’ve included both.

There are many types of reefer containers hauled by transport companies over short and long distances. Some of the most common types include:

  • 20 ft. refrigerated food shipping container
  • 40 ft. refrigerated food shipping container
  • 40 ft. high cube refrigerated food shipping container

20 Ft. Frozen Food Shipping Container

A 20 ft. reefer container has generally has the following specifications:

  • An internal length of about 17 ft., 9 in.
  • An internal width of 7 ft., 5 in.
  • An internal height of 7 ft., 4 in.
  • Its maximum load capacity is about 60,400 lbs.
  • Its total cubic capacity is just under 1,000 sq. ft.

The 20 ft. format is a common size for intermodal containers in general. As a guide to capacity for frozen or refrigerated foods, you can fit 10 standard United States pallets, double stacked, within a 20 ft. food shipping container.

40 Ft. Frozen Food Shipping Container

A 40 ft. frozen food shipping container generally has the following specifications:

  • An internal length of about 38 ft.
  • An internal width of 7 feet, 5 in.
  • An internal height of 7 feet, 4 in.
  • Its maximum load capacity is about 61,000 lbs.
  • Its total cubic capacity is slightly under 2,100 sq. ft.

The 40 ft. shipping container offers significantly more capacity in terms of volume. You can fit 20 standard US pallets, double stacked, within a 40 ft. food shipping container.

40 Ft. HC (High Cube) Frozen Food Shipping Container

A 40 ft. HC frozen food shipping container generally has the following specifications:

  • An internal length of about 38 ft.
  • An internal width of 7 feet, 5 in.
  • An internal height of 7 feet, 9 in.
  • Its maximum load capacity is about 65,000 lbs.
  • Its total cubic capacity is about 2,350 sq. ft.

The main benefit of the 40 ft. HC container is the extra vertical space as compared to a standard 40 ft. container.

You can fit about 20 US standard pallets, double stacked. Yet, there is a significant amount of additional cubic capacity to work with due to the added height.

Iraheta Bros: An Industry Expert in Frozen and Refrigerated Food Shipping Containers

At Iraheta Bros, we pride ourselves on our deep knowledge of the Port of Oakland and our skills in interfacing with each and every one of its terminals. Our all-around understanding of the Port and skill and experience in drayage and intermodal freight makes us valuable for all types of import and export businesses shipping products through the port.

However, we place a special emphasis on strong competencies related to refrigerated and frozen food shipping containers, including:

  • Utilize drivers who are experts in choosing the appropriate equipment for chilled and frozen food shipping containers at the Port
  • Operate an on-site steam clean facility to properly maintain refrigerated and frozen containers
  • Train our drivers to not only properly use genset equipment, but to troubleshoot it as well

We’ve expanded our chilled and frozen cargo offerings with our full-service, food-grade warehousing services. This is a temperature-controlled, state-of-the-art environment. Advanced technology and strict quality control processes ensure the safety of your valuable cargo.

Work with Iraheta Bros – Request a Quote Today!

How to Estimate Your Food Truck’s Shipping Container Capacity

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