by Pride Transport | Jun 03, 2020
We all know that trucks move the goods we need across the highways and byways of this great nation every day. Even during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the men and women of the trucking industry are on the road, keeping the nation supplied. All the best professional drivers know the ins and outs of delivering goods, how to survive the long haul, and where the best places for good food are when they’re on the road. It just comes with the territory.
There is, however, a certain cross-section of drivers that know a few more things. These are ones who get fresh avocados to Maine, Maine lobster to Utah, and fresh Utah milk to grocery chains small and large all over these United States. I’m talking, of course, about the men and women who drive reefers.
They have to know a few more details about their cargo and the refrigerated trailers they haul to get the goods to their destination safe and fresh. We thought we’d take a closer look at what these folks need to know and share a few things that only reefer drivers would know.
The Pros and Cons of Driving a Reefer
Like any job, driving reefers is going to have its pros and cons. Here are some that reefer drivers have to deal with.
Fresh food is always in demand, either for households or restaurants and grocery stores so, you can bet that reefer drivers are going to be in demand no matter the state of the economy.
Reefer drivers earn more money than regular drivers.
Long haul drives are common for reefer drivers and that usually translates to more money.
Lumpers will often unload your cargo for you.
If you do have to unload yourself, a nice, cool refrigerated trailer is much easier to work in than a non-refrigerated trailer that can be sweltering hot in the summertime.
Most grocery stores and chains have dedicated loading docs for reefers so they’re usually easier to maneuver into.
Reefers often need early morning deliveries so that means a lot of night driving.
The refrigerator units have to run constantly, even at night, and the constant noise can be difficult to tolerate.
Reefers need to be cleaned out after each haul.
Reefer drivers are responsible for controlling the cooling equipment.
Breakdowns could lead to cargo spoilage.
Reefer repairs are more expensive than other vehicles.
Understand the Contract
It’s important for reefer drivers, especially new ones, to fully understand the details of each job they do. They have to read their contracts carefully and do their homework.
They need to know; who pays for repairs? Who pays for storing the load or transferring it to a working reefer if there is a breakdown? Who pays for loss of load due to an incorrect temperature? Knowing the details of a particular job will keep a driver from making costly mistakes.
They also have to understand that carrying perishables, like produce, means they will be delivering to odd places like farmers’ markets with little or no help unloading. They could also end up picking up a lot of stuff as they deliver. Knowing this beforehand cuts down on frustration and allows the driver to better budget their time.
Reefer drivers know all about temperature since they are responsible for keeping the right temperature in the rig at all times. The right temperature isn’t a comfort thing, it’s vital to the well being of the loads they carry.
If the temperature is not precise the food could be lost which could cost the company thousands of dollars. Even worse, people could get sick from eating contaminated food, and then the trucking company is looking at millions of dollars in lawsuits. On top of that, there is a loss of sales, due to a bad reputation. So, there is a great deal riding on the driver keeping the precise temperatures for all the various perishable cargo they haul.
In 2017 the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed to protect food from contamination on its way from farm to consumer. This act included guidelines for cleanliness, required temperature controls, keeping ready-to-eat foods away from raw foods as well as guidelines for food safety training, and record-keeping. Reefer drivers must keep strict records of foods delivered, temperatures, and other details that must be available for examination for at least one year.
Being aware of the temperature is just one of the things that reefer drivers know about and have to keep track of on a daily run. But, there’s more.
Reefer Drivers Know This
It’s the little things that suddenly become big problems if they are ignored or not done right. Things that could lead to loss or spillage of cargo that reefer drivers learn and make part of their daily routine.
They know not to overload their truck. They learn to stack loads properly to provide airflow through the entire truck so all the food stays at the correct temperature.
They precool their reefer. If they put cold food in a hot truck then the temperature of the contents will lower before the truck cools to the appropriate temperature. They know to precool first and allow it plenty of time, especially in the heat of summer.
As we’ve seen, the temperature of the trailer is paramount so before picking up the load, they check with the shipper and get the exact right temperature for the load they are about to carry. If the temperature is off even slightly when the load is delivered, the receiver may reject it on food safety concerns.
Reefer drivers always keep in mind that bacteria grow at temps between 40 and 140 degrees so it’s crucial to be precise.
Reefer drivers know not to rely on the trucks thermometer and they use a pulp temperature thermometer, which takes the internal temp of products, before, during, and after transit. And, they keep meticulous records of the temperature readings.
A reefer driver knows to fill up the gas tanks before they pick up the load for the day. Reefers need to be kept running at all times so the refrigerator unit keeps working and the trailer remains cool. Any stop could possibly affect the temps of the food they are carrying. So, stopping for gas is usually not a good idea. Arriving to pick up with full gas tanks is not just a good idea, many shippers won’t load a truck if the gas tanks aren’t full.
Understand the Cargo
A reefer hauls all sorts of perishable and non-perishable goods and the driver has to have a clear understanding of what each load requires to arrive unscathed at its destination.
When it comes to produce it’s never one temp fits all. Some fruits and vegetables are more sensitive to temperature changes. Lettuce, for instance, is likely to wilt and rot when exposed to higher temperatures. But citrus and melons actually like the higher temperatures. Checking with the shipper and knowing which fruits and vegetables need what temperatures, saves the reefer driver a lot of stress and eliminates the possibility of losing the cargo.
Meat, Poultry, Fish and Dairy
Since bacteria start growing at 40 degrees keeping meat and poultry below that temperature at all times is imperative. If a reefer has different temperature zones this allows for various products to be shipped at the same time. However, the driver knows exactly where to stack products, how to stack them precisely, and at what temperatures every item has to be maintained within to stay fresh.
Sub-zero or elevated temps can cause problems when transporting pharmaceuticals. Reefer temps for these products can vary greatly depending on the chemical compounds.
When hauling pharmaceuticals, drivers understand that people’s lives depend on the products arriving on time and in perfect condition. Stabilized temperatures must be confirmed with the pharmaceutical manufacturer and checked against regulatory guidelines before the product is shipped.
Plants and Florals
What could be more tragic than the wedding floral displays arriving wilted or dead? Well, actually, a lot of things would be more tragic but still, it would be a bummer.
When transporting flowers and plants, reefer drivers know that high temps wilt and kill most florals and they prefer a lower temp, ideally, 33 degrees, to keep their petals and leaves fresh and bright.
Getting products from point A to point B is boilerplate for reefer drivers. The reality is, they have to be aware of more details and meet more regulations and standards than most truck drivers.
Knowing this information and keeping a gauge on trailer temps are bread and butter for reefer drivers. These men and women take the time to learn the rules and regulations so that we can go to the market and feel safe buying fresh meats, produce, and medicines. Reefer drivers do the work that takes the worry out of our lives.