The cold storage industry market in the United States is a big one — reaching a value of $33.08 billion in 2022 alone. From food supply to cosmetics, it’s more than safe to say that having a cold storage warehouse is essential to so many businesses as they preserve perishable items that would otherwise go to waste.
But first, get informed below.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cold storage warehouses so you can make a more informed decision about which cold storage warehouse system is best for your business’s needs.
Cold Storage Warehousing 101
Cold storage warehousing refers to the storing of perishable and sensitive items at a specific temperature to maintain their shelf-life, quality, and integrity. This would include (but isn’t limited to):
- Food (frozen food and non-frozen food)
You can probably guess how cold storage warehousing works, as they’re essentially giant refrigerators that double as a storage space. Put simply, cold storage warehouses work to maintain cooler temperatures via a combination of HVAC cooling systems and insulation.
While the insulation serves the same purpose as it does in the home — to limit the transfer of heat between the inside and outside — the cooling part is much more complex. It takes a combination of coolant, pipes, radiators, and fans to mitigate heat by replacing it with cool air.
Here’s the breakdown:
- The coolant — or refrigerant — acts as the lifeblood of the system. It’s made from anhydrous ammonia, and it circulates throughout a series of tubing, pipes, and other components.
- The compressor is the primary component in the cooling system. It’s responsible for raising the pressure of the coolant as well as the temperature through consistent compressions that pump the coolant into the condenser.
- The condenser works to remove heat from the coolant using tubing, fans, and sometimes a water spray. During this process, the coolant changes its state from a gas to a liquid and then flowers into the receiver.
- The receiver stores the high-pressure liquid condensate that comes from the condenser. This is how the receiver maintains the whole system’s pressure while acting as a buffer for times when increased loads come through, such as when more cool air is required. The receiver uses an expansive valve to regulate this pressure, as well as the temperature and the amount of coolant released into the separator.
- The separator receives and contains the coolant from the receiver. There are pumps outside of the separator that pull the coolant into another expansion valve, where the flow rate gets adjusted before it can enter the evaporator. These same pumps also work to adjust the load placed on the evaporator, which is determined by the overall cooling needs within the warehouse.
- The evaporator is responsible for bringing cold air into the space and lowering the temperature. It works by passing the already cold coolant through a series of tubes that have fans blowing air over them to absorb and release any additional heat. In turn, the air cools the evaporator to chill the space and maintain the goods within it.
- The process repeats itself on a continuous cycle to maintain temperatures ranging from -122.8°F to 70°F, depending on the business’s needs.
Who Needs a Cold Storage Warehouse?
There are different types of cold storage warehouse options, and these options are essential to a wide range of businesses that store and sell time-sensitive goods. Some of the more specific industries that utilize cold storage include:
- Restaurants and food outlets
- Grocery stores
- Food services firms
- Frozen food producers
- Importers and exporters
- Agricultural producers
- Healthcare institutions
- Cosmetic companies
- Skincare companies
Ultimately, if you run a business that depends on the sales or storage of perishable or temperature-sensitive items, you’ll need a cold storage warehouse for those items.
The Different Types of Cold Storage Warehouse Options
There are several different types of cold storage warehouses you can choose from, and they primarily differ in size and level of refrigeration. They can also be broken down into private and public cold storage.
Let’s start with the difference between public and private cold storage warehousing:
- Private cold storage is characterized as being owned by the same enterprise. Whatever products or goods the enterprise in question offers will be kept in the same cold storage facility. It’s common for private cold storage warehouses to be connected to the primary manufacturing facility to maintain optimal quality and freshness as well as to reduce costs. Of course, private storage warehousing is much less common as these facilities are expensive to build and maintain.
- Public cold storage is characterized as a cold storage facility that’s owned and operated by a third-party logistics partner, also known as a 3PL company. Public storage warehouses receive, store, and ship the items on behalf of various companies. You can think of public cold storage warehouses like storage spaces, as there are multiple storage spaces that cater to the different needs of the companies they work with. Additionally, public cold storage warehouses also offer value-added services that include things like assembling items, placing inserts in packages, providing extended quality control, and so on.
Now let’s talk about the variations in cold storage warehousing:
- Refrigerated containers: A refrigerated container is the most basic option for cold storage as it’s inexpensive and offers a small storage capacity for temperature-sensitive products. These cold storage containers are essentially shipping containers equipped with diesel-electric or grid-electric cooling units, generally maintaining a temperature range between -30°F and 70°F. They’re also customizable, meaning that they can take on different features such as floor types, indoor lighting, and remote temperature monitoring. They’re also mobile, which means they can be placed wherever your business needs.
- Blast freezers and chillers: Also known as shock freezers or flash freezers, blast freezers are used to rapidly chill products before they’re placed in long-term storage holdings — which means that blast freezers are considered an intermediary option between production and storage. These storage options use blower fans to quickly chill the air from 160°F to 40°F in just 90 minutes. This helps with several cold storage challenges, such as preserving flavor, quality, and nutrients, reducing bacterial growth, extending shelf life, and reducing the strain on conventional cold storage systems.
- Ultra-low temperature cold storage (UTL): UTLs rose in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as they’re necessary for safely storing vaccines. Aside from vaccines, UTLs are also used for storing medicines, blood, and tissue samples. This means they’re designed to function with optimal precision to preserve the most sensitive materials, and they’re often equipped with robust security systems to safeguard against theft as well as system failure. (UTLs are often referred to as pharmaceutical-grade cold storage).
- Cold rooms: Cold rooms are a common type of cold storage warehouse found in most commercial facilities and buildings today. This includes places like supermarkets, schools, hospitals, and even industrial areas that require specific temperatures to prevent spoilage or bacterial growth and contamination.
- Plant-attached cold storage: Plant-attached cold storage systems are typically located on the premises of the company that utilizes them — which means they’re private and attached to the facility. They’re often the perfect solution for companies that need to store their temperature-sensitive products for a long period of time and don’t want to waste money on long-term cold storage solutions outside of their building.
- Dedicated custom cold storage facilities: Dedicated custom cold storage facilities are designed to store perishable items, like large quantities of frozen foods. These facilities not only provide temperature control but monitoring and inventory management via specialized computer systems. The key to dedicated custom cold storage is automation, which cuts down on labor costs as there’s no need for manual transport from one warehouse to another.
How to Choose a Cold Storage Warehouse
There are hundreds of cold storage warehouses in the US to choose from. The challenge is knowing which type is best for your business and which warehouse will serve your needs best.
Here are the criteria you’ll want to consider when choosing among the carious cold storage warehousing solutions:
- The distance between your production areas and customer bases
- The facility’s access to roads, railways, and airports
- The storage capacity you require and what the facility can offer
- Whether or not the facility has a reliable energy source
- The facility’s monitoring capabilities and practices
- Whether or not the facility has an inventory control system to keep track of everything that comes and goes out
- The facility’s reputation and credentials — credentials should include HACCP and FSMA certifications if they store food
- Whether or not they offer value-added services, like palletizing, kitting, labeling, shrinking, wrapping, packaging, etc
- The costs
In addition to the above criteria, you’ll also need to evaluate your business needs regarding production, scaling, transport, and the specific types of items you need to store.
Does Your Business Need Cold Storage Solutions?
Whether you’re starting a business or are looking to upgrade your cold storage solutions, it’s important to take the time to evaluate your needs and learn more about what’s out there. There are more cold storage facilities available today than there were just a few years ago, which means the perfect solution is out there and waiting for you.