Transport Conditions

Avoiding Legal and Financial Consequences: The Role of Temperature Monitoring in Container Shipping

Container shipping serves as the circulatory system for global trade, ensuring a seamless flow of goods reaching every nook and cranny of the globe – literally. As per UNCTAD, global container throughput crossed 857 million TEUs in 2021, transporting billions of tons of goods annually accounting for over 40,000 billion tonne miles in 2022. This massive circulation includes a vast variety of commodities, with a significant portion being temperature-sensitive products carried in reefer containers. As per Ed Treacy, vice president, of supply chain and sustainability, at the International Fresh Produce Association 6-7% of all marine containers shipped globally are reefer containers.

Importance of Reefer Containers

A reefer container is a standard ISO sized container which comes in both 20' and 40' sizes used to transport goods that need to be temperature controlled such as Frozen/Chilled meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, flowers, pharmaceuticals, certain chemicals and also chocolate.

The container has an inbuilt refrigeration unit that helps in maintaining the temperature, humidity, and atmosphere of the container at the set parameters for the entire transit duration. Each reefer container needs to cater for the maintenance of the set parameters of :

  • Temperature - Each type of perishable cargo has its own individual temperature setting ranging from between +25°C to -35°C and reefer containers are designed to maintain the cargo at the temperature that these cargoes are set at.
  • Humidity - Some cargo requires to be transported at a specific humidity level ranging between 50-95% and reefer containers can reduce relative humidity levels accordingly.
  • Certain goods need to be shipped under a carefully controlled ventilation regimen allowing air flow through or around the cargo depending on the type of cargo shipped and therefore the container must have sufficient ventilation.

The reefer container records all relevant data including temperature, humidity, O2 and CO2 content along the fresh air supply setting in the container. Cargoes transported in reefer containers possess inherent sensitivities and several precautions need to be taken when shipping perishable cargo in reefer containers. Beyond maintaining precise temperature levels, these cargoes frequently necessitate the creation of a specific atmospheric environment within the reefer through a Controlled Atmosphere (CA). This requirement introduces additional complexities and challenges.

It is imperative that crucial data such as temperature fluctuations is monitored closely and in real time. While this is a crucial aspect of international reefer shipments this is also something that is often overlooked.

Why is temperature monitoring important?

The Swedish Club, a mutual marine insurance company, noted a 270% surge in reefer cargo claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily due to increased port delays. Britannia P&I Club recorded over 250 claims for alleged damaged reefer cargo in containers from 2020 to 2022, amounting to over six million US dollars, a figure that is on the rise.

Majority of these reefer claims are attributable to temperature abuse. This could occur if goods are packed at a temperature significantly different from the desired one, incorrect determination of the set temperature, malfunction or failure of the reefer container, or lack of electrical power after stuffing and before loading, or untimely plugging in of the container.

Cases have also been reported about temperature differences which are "correct" at the location of the air vent / motor, but progressively changes when moving away from it. Cold air can sometimes have a hard time reaching all parts of the container and mobile trackers at vantage points inside the container could assist in monitoring such fluctuations regularly.

Items like pharmaceuticals, perishable food, delicate electronics, and chemicals demand meticulous temperature regulation throughout transit to preserve their safety, quality, and efficacy. Consequently, the responsibility of maintaining the appropriate temperature conditions is not merely about preserving product integrity—it is a mandatory compliance that holds severe legal and financial repercussions if neglected.

Regulatory bodies globally enforce stringent guidelines for transporting temperature-sensitive commodities. Any deviation from these prescribed norms can invite legal actions ranging from financial penalties to criminal charges, depending upon the severity and impact of non-compliance. Let us consider the pharmaceutical sector to understand the potential financial implications of improper temperature control. A single container may carry medicines or vaccines worth millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars. If these sensitive pharmaceuticals are compromised due to inappropriate temperature conditions, the resultant financial loss could be staggering.

Moreover, the fallout from spoiled drugs reaching the market could be catastrophic, leading to health risks and triggering massive lawsuits. Similarly, the food industry faces monumental challenges related to temperature control. Food spoilage resulting from improper temperature management can lead to extensive waste and substantial monetary losses. Additionally, the legal repercussions of delivering spoiled food products could be disastrous, ruining a company's reputation and consumer trust, which can take years to rebuild.

Effective ways of monitoring temperature deviations

Effective temperature monitoring emerges as a critical safeguard against these legal and financial risks. Companies are increasingly investing in advanced temperature monitoring systems to maintain compliance, reduce loss, and protect their reputation.

Modern temperature monitoring technology, often powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, provides robust, real-time data on the conditions within a shipping container. These devices monitor not only temperature but also humidity, light, door opening, shock detection and other variables that could impact the goods during transit.

Traxens' trackers vigilantly monitor both temperature and humidity levels within the container. Upon any deviation from pre-set thresholds, notifications are promptly dispatched to ensure that optimal conditions are maintained. Our tracker also integrates Bluetooth Low Energy technology, which facilitates connectivity to remote sensors placed within boxes or pallets. This feature provides a more accurate and detailed tracking overview.

Incorporated within these devices are intelligent algorithms adept at detecting various incidents including door openings, shocks, and unauthorized removal of the device. When such events occur, real-time alerts are instantly generated, facilitating swift and timely response.In case of any anomalies or deviations from the defined parameters, these systems can alert the relevant personnel to intervene and rectify the situation, thereby minimizing the risk of product loss.

The advent of cloud-based platforms has further revolutionized temperature monitoring. Companies can now remotely access real-time data, which significantly enhances the response time in case of potential issues. This immediate access to data, coupled with traceability features, is pivotal in proving compliance with regulatory standards, thus protecting businesses from legal complications.

The need for Temperature Monitoring

However, the benefits of sophisticated temperature monitoring extend beyond risk mitigation. Adopting these systems can enhance efficiency, strengthen customer satisfaction, and promote sustainability—three critical facets of modern business success:

  • Efficiency improves as these technologies provide valuable insights that help optimize shipping conditions and routes, reducing costs and delivery times.
  • Customer satisfaction gets a boost as the delivery of high-quality, safe, and effective products is ensured, leading to increased trust and loyalty.
  • On the sustainability front, by minimizing waste resulting from spoilage, companies contribute towards a more sustainable use of resources, aligning their operations with global efforts to combat environmental challenges.

While the deployment of advanced temperature monitoring technologies is crucial, it is equally vital to train the staff effectively. Employees should understand the importance of maintaining appropriate temperature conditions, be capable of operating the monitoring devices efficiently, and act decisively in case of any anomalies.


The synergy between technology and personnel training is what culminates in a robust cold chain logistics system. The role of temperature monitoring in container shipping transcends the realms of legal obligation and financial risk mitigation. It forms the backbone of a reliable supply chain, ensuring the preservation of product integrity, enhancing operational efficiency, and bolstering customer satisfaction.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, and as our reliance on global trade escalates, the importance of effective temperature monitoring will continue to amplify. Thus, it remains an indispensable factor in the realm of container shipping and especially reefer container shipping.

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