With the North American produce season just kicking off, we surveyed truckers and carriers like you to find out what you can do as a reefer driver to ensure that your produce loads run as smoothly as possible. Seventy percent of the truckers and carriers we surveyed said that moving produce can be challenging and that the biggest issue right now is long wait times at shipper and receiver facilities. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed told us that dealing with produce that hasn’t been pre-cooled often is a problem, as well. The good news is that the truckers and carriers who answered our survey also shared their best practices for hauling produce, which we share here.  

Always Pre-Cool Your Reefer

Several truckers who answered our survey told us that pre-cooling your reefer is a must. Pre-cooling your reefer ahead of time will maintain product integrity. If you don’t pre-cool your reefer to the temperature required, you risk damaging the load, which can hurt your relationships and brokers and shippers, and hurt you financially. According to experienced reefer driver Kim Loescher, neglecting to pre-cool your reefer is one of the most common mistakes new reefer drivers make.

Load Your Pallets Correctly

Of the truckers and carriers we surveyed, 55 percent told us that proper load-in is important if you want to be successful running reefer. One trucker advised drivers to “watch for shippers loading over 445,000 pounds,” while another said that it’s important to “know how to load the pallets for the proper weight distribution.” In order for the produce to maintain the correct temperature, there has to be adequate airflow under and around the produce as well. Some reefer trailers have an air chute or T-rail that promotes air circulation. If you don’t have either, it’s important to load the produce on pallets to ensure adequate airflow. 

Maintain Proper Temperatures

A whopping seventy-nine percent of the truckers and carriers who responded to our survey said that maintaining the proper temperature in your trailer is vital if you want to do well running produce. As one driver told us, it’s important to “know your pickup points and delivery times, load correctly and make sure you know what temp to run.” You can verify the correct temperature for the produce load with the shipper. The BOL for the shipment should include the exact temperature required for the load. Due to COVID-19 restrictions at docks, using a pulp thermometer to verify the exact temp of the produce before it’s loaded may not be an option. 

Keep Your Reefer Clean, Fuel Topped Off

When you’re hauling food, the risk of cross-contamination can be high, especially if you haul several kinds of refrigerated freight, such as meat, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. It should be no surprise then that 64 percent of the truckers and carriers we surveyed reported that keeping your reefer trailer clean is especially important. Another tip offered by those who we surveyed is to keep your fuel topped off. If you run low or run out of fuel, you risk ruining the load, as even small changes in temperatures can make produce unsafe to consume.

“Don’t let your fuel tank go below half-full,” says owner operator Tamara Spivey. “That’s especially true in warm climates where you’ll use more fuel to keep the load cool.”

“Don’t let your fuel tank go below half-full,” says owner operator Tamara Spivey. “That’s especially true in warm climates where you’ll use more fuel to keep the load cool.”

Routine Maintenance

When we asked our survey-takers how they minimize overhead expenses during peak produce season, many answered that they keep their trucks, trailers and reefer units in good mechanical condition, always performing routine maintenance on all of the above. Performing routine maintenance will help you reduce the chances that  something mechanical will go wrong when you’re pulling produce. Routine maintenance includes your pre-and post-trip routines, which should involve checking your coolant and oil levels, doing a visual inspection to monitor any leaks and paying attention to any unusual sounds that your reefer unit is making. 

Be Patient and Have a Positive Attitude

With long waits at shipper and receiver facilities, it can be easy feel irritated while you’re waiting to load or unload. However, 66 percent of those who answered our survey said that being patient and having a positive attitude is key if you want to do well and enjoy hauling produce. 

“Always show up clean with a smile,” says owner operator Travis Griffin. “Everyone notices that. Also, always have a great attitude and be flexible. Give a little extra, even if you don’t feel like it. For example, I’ll ask, ‘Do you need me to do anything else? Do you need me to move around some trailers for you?’ Something simple like that.” 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

According to the truckers and carriers who responded to our survey, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a reefer driver is needing to pay “constant attention to loading and on-time delivery.” When delays and unforeseen events occur, it’s crucial that you share this information with your dispatcher, brokers and/or shippers. As one trucker put it, “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” Miscommunications about proper temperatures, delays, ETAs, expectations and requirements can end up costing you (literally!). If you see that damaged produce has been loaded into your reefer or the produce count/description is wrong, it’s important to share this information with your dispatcher, broker or shipper as soon as possible. 

“Communicate, communicate, communicate.” Miscommunications about proper temperatures, delays, ETAs, expectations and requirements can end up costing you (literally!). If you see that damaged produce has been loaded into your reefer or the produce count/description is wrong, it’s important to share this information with your dispatcher, broker or shipper as soon as possible. 

For more produce-hauling tips, read 7 Secrets to Success for Running Reefer. To download Trucker Tools’ free driver app, visit https://www.truckertools.com/carriers/