The advent of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution laid the foundation for civilization as we know it today.  

Farming tied once-nomadic hunter-gatherers to the land, and the resulting food surplus allowed populations to flourish and diversify. Small settlements became towns, which later grew into cities, kingdoms, countries and so on. And, since fewer people were needed for food production, new and specialized roles emerged, giving rise to craftsmen, traders, soldiers, administrators and, thousands of years later, truckers – just to name a few. 

Despite the benefits that the new agricultural bounty brought to humanity, there were limitations, such as transporting food long distances.

As soon as food is harvested, it starts to spoil. Despite preservation techniques – things like salting, smoking, cellaring – reliable, safe long-distance food transportation remained a challenge for millennia. For thousands of years, then, season and proximity largely dictated what the people of any particular area consumed. Flash forward to today and food, both fresh and preserved, is routinely transported hundreds or even thousands of miles. 

What makes this possible? Refrigeration – more specifically, for our purposes, refrigerated trucking. 


The Origins of Refrigerated Transportation 

The concept of preserving food through refrigeration is not new. Before modern refrigeration methods, ice was the primary medium to keep perishables fresh. However, transporting goods over long distances while maintaining their optimal temperature was challenging (and definitely not FSMA compliant!).  

This challenge initiated the first attempts at creating refrigerated transport.

The earliest attempts can be traced back to the mid-19th century and ice-filled rail cars. These cars, though primitive, were a starting point. They had insulated walls and were packed with large chunks of ice and salt, providing a relatively cold environment for perishable food, such as meat and dairy. However, these early methods were unreliable, leading to significant food waste. 


The Birth of Refrigerated Trucking 

The true innovation came in the early 20th century when mechanical refrigeration units were developed for trucks. These units, unlike the earlier methods, didn’t rely on ice but on mechanical systems, providing reliability and consistency that was previously lacking.  

This marked the birth of refrigerated trucking as we know it today. 

The refrigerated truck, with its controlled temperature, ensured that perishables could be transported over longer distances without spoilage.  

This was revolutionary for several reasons: 

Expanding Markets: Producers could now transport their goods to previously inaccessible markets. This meant that consumers in urban areas could enjoy fresh produce, dairy and meats from distant farms. 

Seasonality and Variety: Foods that were once seasonal could now be enjoyed year-round, thanks to the ability to transport them from different regions or even countries. This led to a diversification of diets and introduced global cuisines to new areas. 

Economic Growth: The growth of the refrigerated trucking industry created jobs, spurred technological innovations, and bolstered economies by facilitating trade. 


The Evolution of Refrigerated Trucking 

While the advent of reefer trucks was groundbreaking, it wasn’t without challenges. Early refrigeration systems were not very efficient and needed frequent maintenance. Furthermore, the global nature of the food supply chain introduced complexities related to varying international regulations, transport routes and energy costs. 

However, with challenges came innovations. Technological advancements in the latter half of the 20th century led to more energy-efficient and reliable refrigeration units. The introduction of digital technologies in recent decades, such as real-time temperature monitoring, GPS tracking and the use of artificial intelligence, has further refined the process. 

The Modern Era and Beyond 

Today, refrigerated trucking is not limited to food alone. Pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and other sensitive goods are also transported in reefer trailers. Moreover, as the world becomes increasingly globalized, reefer trucking continues to be crucial to the global supply chain, ensuring that products are delivered in optimal condition, regardless of distance. 


EROAD: the Future of Refrigerated Trucking Today 

EROAD is revolutionizing the transport of food, beverages and other perishable products with our AI-powered reefer solution.  

  • Transform your cold chain operations with remote reefer monitoring and controls.  
  • Improve safety, compliance and efficiency with asset tracking, driver behavior data and vehicle inspections.  
  • Save time and money with real-time product temperature alerts that allow you to ditch the probe. 

Click here to learn how EROAD’s reefer solution can help you transform your cold chain operations




From Ice to AI: a Brief History of Cold Chain Transport

by | Aug 14, 2023 | , ,

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