Reefer cargo security: The not-so-foolproof measure you need to be aware of

Story by

Jim Heide

Tags /

  • Cargo
  • Dynamic
  • Freight
A white cargo truck driving along a highway on a sunny day, with winter scenery alongside it on the left.

Fresh eggs. Thin-skinned fruits. Freeze-protect beverages. Moving reefer cargo became a far more serious challenge in the last year, as demand for capacity continued to climb.

And, sadly, where there’s high demand, there’s sure to be the unscrupulous few who won’t think twice about consumer health or your balance sheet if it means they can bank more cash.

It’s why the freight industry has become more diligent about sealing reefer trailers before they leave warehouses—and maintaining proper seal protocols when inspected by law enforcement. If they’re not in place and the consignee rejects the load, brokers and shippers know they’ve just bought themselves a trailer.

Unfortunately, every time you throw up a reefer cargo security measure, someone else will find a way to subvert your efforts.

In fact, Adrian Parkhideh, VP of Go To Market Strategy for Project 44 shared that it’s not unheard of for a shady driver to completely remove the trailer doors—exposing your reefer cargo to temperature fluctuations while still maintaining seal integrity—to load more product onto a partially loaded trailer. Sure, it’s not the norm—there are an awful lot of honest carriers out there—but he estimates it does happen 10-15% of the time.

And, that’s a lot of potential liability for shippers and freight brokers simply trying to move reefer cargo to market.

Making the situation even more complicated, if caught, these unscrupulous carriers will simply apply for a new MC number and operate under a new name, making it a challenge to identify new carriers with integrity when trusted standbys can’t take a load.

This is especially true for smaller operations that have fewer resources to vet carriers on the fly.

So, what can you do to protect your business against unethical reefer carriers?

It begins with doing your critical due diligence—and ends with ensuring your full and fast financial recovery.

Here are some best practices you’d be wise to adopt before booking with a new carrier:

  • Inquire about the carrier’s reefer hauling experience—can they speak to the proper care in loading, securing, and transporting your temperature-sensitive goods?
  • Confirm the prospective carrier is a legal entity in good standing and has been operating for at least one year
  • Enter their USDOT number on the FMCSA site and confirm their authority is active
  • Review the carrier’s safety rating on the FMCSA’s SAFER system and opt for carriers classified as Satisfactory
  • Review the carrier’s CSA scores and out-of-service (OOS) percentages on the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System, or SMS—and steer clear of carriers with an OOS over 20%
  • Review the carrier’s history on a third-party system, like TIAWatchDog, Carrier 411, or Freight Guard, and ensure there aren’t any negative reports
  • Confirm your loads will be tracked via telematics—keeping in mind that telematics devices that can be hidden within the load and are thus harder to disable are preferable
  • Confirm the driver will notify dispatch within one hour of delivery that the load has been completed, and that the driver will send a POD
  • Ensure the carrier’s cargo and reefer breakdown insurance limits meet your requirements—and make sure you have those certificates in hand before your load departs
  • Put your own reefer cargo insurance policy in place to protect both your balance sheet and your customer relationships in the event of an unexpected loss (remember: carrier liability policies only protect against provable carrier neglect and pay a fraction of your load’s value)

And, here are a few steps you’ll want to take before turning a load over to a driver to prevent fictitious pickups:

  • Review the driver’s load tender or ratecon against internal load tender records to confirm the motor carrier matches
  • Capture driver information and enter it into your yard management or transportation management software, including pictures of:
    • The driver’s license
    • The driver, validated against the driver’s license
    • The MC number placard on the vehicle
    • The vehicle license plates
    • The vehicle VIN
    • Verify the driver’s information with the motor carrier’s dispatch team

In this business, reputation is everything. And, given the massive supply chain disruption we’re currently facing, delays in replacing a rejected reefer load can not only strain your customer relationships but your cash flow, as well.

By doing your critical due diligence and protecting against cargo loss, however, you’ll be far more likely to safely deliver your temperature-sensitive freight, retain your customers, and ensure the sustainability of your business.