Containers vs. break bulk - when quality matters

Raul Saca · 2013/07/29 6
In the reefer world there was a belief that loading chilled refrigerated cargo on break-bulk reefer vessels was better for the quality of the cargo than loading on reefer containers.

Break-bulk operators would still like you to believe that’s the case today, however, the facts are a little different.

Fruit in containers

When loading fruit in containers in most parts of the world, the container travels to the farm and the cargo is loaded directly into the container. The container is sealed and the cargo is immediately under refrigeration.

This means that the cold chain is maintained throughout the journey, right until the end receiver decides to take the cargo from the container once at their premises.

Fruit as break-bulk

In case of loading break-bulk the fruits are harvested and loaded either on refrigerated trailers or ambient temperature trucks to travel to the ports.

In today’s congested ports, vessels are forced to complete loading of all cargo in one day. However, the entire capacity of the reefer vessel cannot be harvested in one day, which means that part of the cargo needs to be unstuffed from the trailers and trucks and placed under refrigeration at facilities in or around the ports waiting to be loaded.

Breaking the cold chain

Once the vessel is under loading operations, the cargo is taken out of the cold storage and transported alongside the vessel in refrigerated trailers again. Then the cargo is then taken out for loading below deck in the refrigerated chambers of the reefer vessel.

The cold chain is broken for the second time when going out of cold storage and again third time when taken from the refrigerated trailer to load below deck and finally once again upon discharging the vessel at destination.

So when loading break-bulk on reefer vessels the cargo is handled up to 4 times and the refrigeration cold chain is broken no less than 3 times.

And the winner is…

Now ask yourself what is best for the cargo, uninterrupted cold chain and single handling of cargo loading in refrigerated containers or loading break-bulk on reefer vessels with several handlings and cold chain interruptions.

Less handling of cargo means less chance of damage, uninterrupted cold chain means less temperature variations and overall better cargo outturn.

It is obvious that the quality of the cargo will be best when loading in refrigerated containers.

Raul Saca Director of Reefer Business Bio


Raul Saca


Director of Reefer Business


Commodities: Bananas, Pineapples, Melons, Grapes, Apples, Reefer Vessels Operations, Reefer operation, International reefer logistics.

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Commodities: Bananas Pineapples Melons Grapes Apples Reefer Vessels Operations Reefer operation International reefer logistics