The Definitive Guide to Meat Transportation: Packaging, Logistics Management, and Best Practices

Jul 24, 2023

Why is meat transportation such a serious business? Because meat is attractive not only to burger lovers but also to all sorts of bacteria, and customers falling violently ill is a bad outcome in the food industry.

That’s why more care has to be taken when handling meat freights than most other things. A refrigerated truck is a minimum! We’ll also look over packaging, handling and legal compliance.

Now let us dig into the guidelines you need to follow in meat transportation.

Why is Proper Meat Transportation so Important?

When transported unsafely, meat can be exposed to biological, physical and chemical contaminants. And if the meat isn’t fresh, it doesn’t merely look bad, it also causes severe food poisoning.

Another major factor in meat transportation is maintaining the “cold chain”. In Europe, this means keeping meat under a certain temperature (EU Regulation 835/2004 sets it at 3C for offal and 7C for the rest) for the entire trip. This stops any microorganisms from proliferating and creating toxins harmful to human health. If it’s not taken care of, parts of the freight may be off, leading to losses for both the shipper and the carrier.

Best Practices for Refrigerated Meat Transport

We know why it’s so important to keep raw meat fresh, so we should also look into the hows of it all.

  1. Preparing meat for transportation

Depending on the intended sale criteria, the meat can be chilled or frozen. Chilling is often used for best cuts to maintain their sale value. On the other hand, meat bound for processing (into sausages, burgers, etc.) can easily be frozen. Also, the layout and the size of the area where meat is prepared for transportation matters. There has to be ample space for separating packed and unpacked meat, empty and dirty containers, keeping unused packaging clean, and so on.

  1. Temperature control and monitoring

Meat has to be kept chilled (or frozen) to prevent microorganisms from going buckwild and spoiling the load with all sorts of toxins. Governments are keen on the cold chain, with exceptions only made for handling necessities (that is, carting the meat from freezer to truck). As such, the temperature has to be both maintained and monitored as fluctuations can spoil the meat.

  1. Meat packaging considerations

The way the meat gets packed depends on what it is and we’re it’s being shipped. For long-range transport of primal cuts, the options range from freezing after wrapping in PVC and storing in a carton to chilling vacuum-packed or gas-flushed cuts. Some of the options are more expensive than others. The most expensive choice is gas-flushed carcasses for lamb. It’s most viable in the Middle Eastern markets that prefer their lamb non-frozen. For retail consumption, options range from vacuum packing (with a couple of days of shelf life) to freezing. Tray wrapping only exists as an option for goods prepared on-site and sold directly to consumers.

  1. Handling and loading procedures

Whatever happens, you don’t want the meat packaging to be damaged during handling or on the way. You’ll also want any particulates like leaves landing on the meat products during loading or offloading.

A lot of these issues are mitigated by proper employee training. They must know what to wear and how to handle meat. But there’s more to that than training slide presentations. The packing areas need to have enough space to separate packed and unpacked meat to avoid cross-contamination. The loading areas have to be configured for speed and safety. Lastly, cooler air vents have to remain unobstructed after loading.

  1. Compliance with food safety regulations

Dealing with food in the European Union? Have fun, you’re going to be reading the words “EU Regulation 835/2004″ a lot. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will also have a say in it. And all of that is before you start dealing with the standard of transporting meat outside the EU.

Meat Packaging and Temperature Control Options

We’ve already briefly touched on the importance of packing and temperature controls in preventing consumer incidents that get their own Wikipedia pages. So let’s go a little deeper into the subject.

  • Insulated containers and refrigerated trucks – insulated containers keep the cold in and the heat out, and are especially important when using passive cooling (dry ice, etc.). Active containers require power to function but can be made smart and responsive to outside conditions. At the same time, for road-bound travel, one will need a refrigerated truck that will keep the load in the right temperature range.
  • Dry ice and gel packs – these are the consumables that go into the passive cooling containers. These have to be prepared beforehand and stored properly before use. However, they take up space in the container and can’t respond to external changes.
  • Vacuum sealing and modified atmosphere packaging – this is for the big kids dealing with chilled meat rather than frozen items. Vacuum sealing already increases the survivability of meat. Modified atmosphere (gas-flushed) pushes that even further, at a cost. However, if a shipper wants to maintain the appeal and market value that non-frozen meat possesses, they’ll need to invest in these.
  • Monitoring systems for temperature control – to ensure that the cold chain remains both cold and a chain, a sophisticated network of temperature tracking systems has to be set up. Currently, smart central systems can gather data from wireless sensors placed all around the packages and the truck. They not only account for events like door openings and provide you with graphs of temperature data but also issue warnings.

Meat Logistics Challenges and Management

As you read this article, you might start to think that transporting meat is rather difficult. Truth is, yeah, it is a demanding sphere of logistics with its share of challenges. But even if the consumption of meat is decreasing in the EU, it’s doing so at a slow pace while increasing everywhere else. Hence, it’s very much a worthwhile endeavour to be prepared for:

  1. Scheduling and collaboration with stakeholders

The cold chain has to be observed by everyone from farm to fork. The preparation areas must have enough cold storage to keep the meet until the transport comes. The trucks have to arrive on time, load timely, and keep the temperature stable across the route. The final destination must be ready to receive, having both the necessary personnel for unloading as well as storage space. And all of them need to cooperate in collecting temperature data.

  1. Route optimisation for long-distance meat transportation

The less time the meat spends on the road, the better. Thus, the whole route has to be configured for safety and efficiency, especially if the truck is making multiple deliveries. Fuel costs aren’t the only factor here – there are also the power needs of the cooling unit to consider. Plus, the more time is spent in transit, the greater the odds of something going awry.

  1. Meat cold chain management

So the law is fairly stringent about cold chain management. The only exception it makes is for the brief and temporary temperature changes for handling. This means transporting the meat from storage to the refrigerated truck and vice versa. It’s up to the stakeholders to ensure that this happens as fast as possible. It’s also up to them to implement the cold chain management tools and collate reports about the journey.

  1. Warehouse management

Oh boy, the warehouses. A lot of digital ink has been spilt on how they should be planned to be spacious enough to allow for easy transit, with minimal chances of cross-contamination. They also must have areas to store clean packaging away from dirty containers awaiting washing. Lastly, they must ensure that the cold chain remains unbroken.

Vehicles and Equipment for Successful Meat Transportation

Luckily for all of us who haven’t gone vegan yet, when challenges in meat transportation appear, technology rises to the occasion. Here are some pieces of equipment to keep in mind when preparing the rare-rare freight:

  • Refrigerated trucks and trailers: whether it’s a regular truck or an articulated one, they come with a freezer unit installed. A combination of a diesel engine and batteries can keep the load cool even when the truck engine is off.
  • Temperature-controlled containers: passively cooled containers are the budget option that uses dry ice and gel packs. Active temperature containers have their own compressors and are programmable and Euro-palletized for easy moving. They can even be a part of temperature management systems.
  • Rail transport for meat: rail transport can haul meat long distances the same as trucks. However, it lacks flexibility, what with being bound to railroads. Otherwise, refrigerated rail cars are very similar to reefer trailers: high-quality cooler in the front, frozen foods inside.
  • Collaboration with 3PL providers: maintaining your own fleet of freezer trucks isn’t cheap. However, it’s a fairly mundane thing for 3PL carriers. With contracts, they can take care of your regular meat-hauling needs. And with spot shipping, they may help if the freight exceeds the limit on the contract or a special buyer crops up all of a sudden.
  • Other advancements in meat transportation technology: much like a good truck, technology doesn’t stay in one place. Both refrigerated trucks and refrigerated containers are getting smarter all the time. RFID technology allows tacking them in real-time. The thermal sensor advances are making sophisticated monitoring systems that are more adaptable to individual needs. They can now discern better between regular operational disruptions and actual emergencies!

How Spotos Successfully Streamlines Meat Transportation

If you don’t have a refrigerated vehicle yourself and don’t want to own one, you can always turn to Spotos for your meat trucking needs. We offer you access to a large fleet of refrigerated vehicles, vetted to fit the needs of meat transportation. Plus, Spotos offers full liability insurance in case your shipment isn’t well-insulated for some reason. But that shouldn’t be a problem as Spotos works with reliable carriers all over Europe.

If you use the Smart pricing function that the platform offers, you’re guaranteed to get the most kilo-per-Euro when transporting your offal, rump steak, backfat, etc. Spotos also enables you to track the freight in real-time and even contact the driver. Let’s seal the deal (pun intended) and start transporting meat with Spotos today!

Meat Transportation FAQ

What Is A Safe Temperature For Frozen Meat?

A safe temperature for frozen meat is -18C.

How do you transport fresh meat?

Regulation (EC) 853/2004 requires the fresh meat to be pre-chilled to 3C for offal and 7C for carcasses and to be kept at that temperature during transit. Pre-chilled meat can then be put in isolated containers equipped with thermal sensors for transport.

How do you transport cooked meat long distance?

Cooked meat is best transported chilled to 7C (3C for offal) and in an insulated container.

How should raw meat be transported?

According to EU law, raw meat should be pre-chilled to 3C for offal and 7C for others for transport. This temperature is to be maintained for the entire transit.

How should meat be stored and transported?

Meat should be chilled or frozen, put into appropriate packaging, and transported while maintaining the temperature as required by regulations.

How do you transport refrigerated food?

Refrigerated food is best transported by refrigerated trucks or box cars, or even containers that provide their own refrigeration.

How do you keep frozen food frozen in transit?

Frozen meat must be kept at -18C by the refrigerated truck or active cooling container.

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