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Refrigerated shipping containers can be literal lifesavers for users who need to store or move perishable, temperature-sensitive items/cargo. We delve deep to provide all the information you need about these cooled steel containers to make easy work of your purchase. We briefly check out the history of reefers; tell you how they work to keep your things cool; detail the different uses of reefer containers; get into the benefits of using refrigerated metal containers, and; give you tips for finding a good refrigerated sea container.

But that’s not all. We go ahead to provide you with a couple of real-life examples of our inhouse-customised reefers; tell you what you can store in these mobile fridges, and finally; we look at the dimensions of refrigerated containers. This is all the information you need to buy or hire a reefer.

Jump To:
The history of refrigerated containers
Overcoming the shortcoming
How do refrigerated shipping containers work?
What are the uses of refrigerated shipping containers?
What are the benefits of using refrigerated shipping containers?
What should you look for in a reefer container?
Refrigerated shipping containers for sale and hire in Australia
Examples of reefer containers
What you can store inside a refrigerated shipping container?
What are the dimensions of refrigerated containers?

The Refrigerated container is also known within the industry as a Reefer shipping container.


Back in 1956, the original shipping container was initially meant for transporting dry cargo only, otherwise known as general cargo.

In just a few years after its invention, the cargo container had become a huge success as it was able to reduce shipping times (by hastening the process of loading and offloading cargo) and improve space utilisation in ships and ports.

But even with all its benefits, the container had one major shortcoming: It could not be used to transport goods that were temperature sensitive.

View our range of refrigerated containers here >

Overcoming the Shortcoming

This shortcoming forced engineers to go back to the drawing board creating the first refrigerated container (reefer) in the 60’s. And as with every new technology, the first reefers were quite rudimentary. So much that they weren’t referred to as refrigerated containers, but rather as insulated containers.

The addition of cooling capabilities made the shipping container even more versatile, enabling it to transport temperature sensitive cargo such as vegetables, fruits, films, pharmaceuticals, plants, meat, eggs, among other products.

Currently There Are 2 Types of Refrigerated Containers:

  1. Porthole containers – These insulated containers have two holes on the rear wall for ventilation; thus people also refer to them as porthole containers. From the holes, cold air is pumped into the container and warm air evacuated to keep the contents at the desired temperature. This type of container requires being connected to a reefer plant where the air is cooled before being pumped into the container. The use of this type of “reefer” is decreasing by the day as companies shift to the more advanced models.
  2. Integrated containers – To replace the porthole container is a more sophisticated reefer that features an integrated cooling system. This system has made the modern shipping container more “independent” making it easier to switch between different modes of transport. The newer version can be easily moved from sea to rail and vice versa without any complications.


Both types of reefers (porthole and integrated) keep the goods inside them cool by circulating cool air. Cold air is pumped at the bottom of the unit circulating over and through the items before exiting the container through another opening at the top of the unit back to the refrigeration system. As mentioned earlier, the refrigeration system of porthole containers is not integrated into the container.

To enhance air circulation inside the container for increased efficiency, the floor of a reefer is grated and the walls have a corrugated design.

Integrated reefers feature a refrigeration mechanism that is either self-powered (using fuel run gen sets) or powered by external power points on quays, ships and landing bases.

Refrigerated shipping containers

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View our range of refrigerated containers here >


There’re numerous instances where shipping containers can be extremely useful for storing items that need refrigeration. While they are primarily used for shipping, these containers can also be used as portable cold rooms.

This makes them ideal for events where large amounts of food need to be kept cool or even factory needs where raw materials or products need to be chilled before processing or sale.

Portable Refrigeration for Large Functions

For large events where huge crowds are expected to attend, large amounts of food are required to feed them. Because of the sensitivity of food, cold refrigeration will be required onsite. This is especially necessary for warmer days such as during summer.

Reefers are the perfect solution for event refrigeration as they provide all the capabilities of a traditional cold room with the added advantage of portability. Furthermore, these units are completely independent as they have integrated gen packs and refrigeration mechanism to offer the ideal off-the-grid cold storage solution.

Reefers can be used for food storage in large events such as conferences, festivals, weddings, concerts, sports events, outdoor shows among other functions. And since it’s basically a shipping container, you can easily move it between different locations as you wish: the perfect outside catering solution!

A refrigerated container not only provides you with a cold room but also with a secure place to store your food as it is safe from vermin and theft.

Reefers for Disaster Relief

Although disasters are things we don’t like thinking about, a quick response is necessary when they happen in order to save lives. Refrigerated shipping containers provide an ideal solution for getting food to the affected people. The container in addition to being a transportation vessel also keeps the items inside preserved even after delivery keeping the food safe for consumption by the people who require it.

Additional Factory Storage

If you are running out of cold storage space to store products or raw materials at your factory, refrigerated containers can provide a cheap and fast solution. Just hire a few to complement your existing infrastructure and give them back to the owner once the need is over.

With reefers, you can expand storage to store products for anticipated demand spikes as well as store raw materials bought cheaply when the market is flooded.

Refrigerated Transport

Reefers are ideal for transporting perishable cargo such as fresh produce from one location to another. It’s like having a big rugged refrigerator that you can move easily to whatever location you want.

And because reefers are essentially containers with additional modifications, they are compatible with all the handling equipment used for general purpose containers, making them that much more useful.


View our range of refrigerated containers here >

what are the uses of refrigerated shipping containers


When used for storage needs shipping containers are beneficial in the following ways:

  1. Flexibility – A reefer can be kitted out in whatever way you require to make them more suitable for your storage needs. Racks and partitions can be installed if you require to store smaller items or removed when you want to store larger items. Furthermore, refrigerated containers can also be used to store goods that don’t need refrigeration making them useful even when not being used for refrigeration.
  2. Easy transportation – Reefers are compatible with all container handling equipment, which means that you can utilise the available infrastructure to move them around.
  3. Easy setup – A refrigerated shipping container is easy to set up at the site where it is required, just find flat ground, set it down, and it’s ready.
  4. Varied power options – The container can either be powered from the mains or using fuel depending on what is more convenient for you.
  5. Durability – All shipping containers, reefers included, are built to withstand the harsh conditions of the sea and rough treatment during transportation which makes them very durable.

When used to transport perishable goods, refrigerated cargo containers are beneficial in the following ways:

  1. Reduced handling costs – With standardised container handling equipment all over the world, your shipment will ride on existing infrastructure to keep transportation costs at a minimum.
  2. Easy transhipment – Just like regular containers, reefers can be moved seamlessly from one mode of transport to another without the need to offload the cargo.
  3. Reduced packaging expenses – Because the refrigerated container already provides adequate protection from damage, goods being transported don’t require elaborate packaging.
  4. Minimised risk of pilferage and damage – Shipping containers are well known for their robust and secure build. Reefers will keep your goods safe from theft, physical damage, the elements, and vermin.

benefits of using refrigerated shipping containers


If you are looking for a refrigerated sea container either to hire or buy, there are a couple of things you need to keep an eye out for to ensure you get a good deal as well as a container that matches your requirements.

  1. Suitability for your needs – Think about the amount of space you require and what the refrigerated container will be used for. Three sizes are available 20ft, 40ft and 40ft high cube. Also, consider where the shipping container will be used in order to select the one with the appropriate power option.
  2. The descriptive terms used – Containers are described using labels such as “one trip” – which as the name suggests have only been used on a single trip. This is the newest kind of second-hand container you can acquire with terms such as “as-is” being used to describe old (usually much worn) containers.
  3. Transportation certifications – If you will be using your reefer for shipping, ensure the container you acquire has been inspected and declared seaworthy and/or cargo worthy.
  4. Construction materials – Ensure the container is constructed using quality materials as this will affect its durability.
  5. The quality of the paint job – Containers that still have their factory paint coating are the best, but repainted ones can also be as good if the paint job is done professionally. Containers described having “no shipping label” will have no company logo (or markings) and have one uniform colour.
  6. Weatherproofing – Inspect the container to ensure that it is completely water and windproof with proper sealing.
  7. The condition of the refrigeration mechanism – If the container will be used for refrigeration purposes, ensure that the refrigeration mechanism is in good condition as this is expensive to replace and failure during use would mean damage to your goods.
  8. Interior condition – Make sure the interior walls, floor, and roof are still in good shape and that the proper lining material is used depending on what you will be using the container for.
  9. Aesthetics – If the container looks quite worn and damaged from observation, it probably is, so make sure to personally inspect the container before acquiring it.
  10. Is there a “no shipping label”? – This generally means that there is not a company logo on the container. This means that the container will be painted one colour and will not have a lot of other markings.
  11. How long are you going to need and use the container for? – If the container is for storage of perishable products but you only need it for a specific time frame, renting shipping containers with refrigeration might be a great option. This is a good option because once your use of the container is at an end you can simply have the container removed. You won’t have to worry about selling it or otherwise disposing of it.

Many people buy shipping containers “sight unseen”. With many companies they might have something to be concerned about, but Tiger Containers has been in this business for more than thirty years.

what should you look for in a reefer container


Tiger containers provide both new and used reefers for sale and hire in Australia. Our reefers are:

  1. High quality – We ensure that our containers meet international standards by implementing very stringent quality control measures for both our new and used reefers.
  2. Compliant with Australian standards – All our refrigerated containers are compliant with Australian standards.
  3. Warranty protected – We give our customers a three-month warranty for all container purchases.
  4. Competitively priced – Whether you are buying or renting a shipping container from us, you can count on us to provide the best prices in the country.

reefers from tiger containers

View our range of refrigerated containers here >


Here are some examples of refrigerated container orders we have fulfilled recently.

20ft to 10ft Resized Reefer

20ft to 10ft Resized Reefer

For this customer, we converted a 20ft refrigerated container into a 10ft chiller. We also fitted it with a quick release door with a release valve to make it easy to operate.

The chiller is designed to draw power from a 240 volt – 15 amp power source and can maintain a temperature range of between -5 and 4 degrees.

Similar chillers are available for hire or purchase and would make a perfect addition for events and businesses looking for extra chiller space.

Custom Painted Reefer

Custom Painted Reefer

For this order, the customer wanted us to fit a centralised door and finish off the modification with a black coat of paint for the entire reefer. We were able to do the modifications with great success adding another satisfied customer to our books.

Fully Customised Cold Room

Fully Customised Cold Room from shipping container

Recently, a customer who had space restrictions came to us looking for a viable outdoor cool room alternative. After discussing the options, we decided to reduce the length of standard reefer to 4.8 metres so that it could fit in his allocated space.

Because the reefer would be a tight fit in the available space, opening the doors would be an issue, so we had to come up with a solution for that. We designed and installed butcher doors that open from the LHS and slide to the right allowing users access despite the confined space.

Since the container was to be used as a freezer, constantly running at -20 degrees, we needed to install a heat strip to keep the doors from freezing up; which we did.

We also installed 2 freezer lights inside to enable the customer to work inside the reefer with the door closed and finished off the job with a light grey paint job for a beautiful finish.


All the space and durability of a regular shipping container, plus the temperature control of a regular refrigeration unit. With all that temperature-controlled space, what could you possibly put inside a refrigerated shipping container beside frozen food?

Those unfamiliar with refrigerated shipping containers or ‘reefers’ will often ask this question. But these cold, insulated shipping containers aren’t just one hit wonders. They can be extremely useful, and not just for keeping frozen food.

Food, Glorious Food

Of course, reefers were primarily invented to transport large quantities of food. This includes seafood, meat and poultry, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. Reefers are able not only to keep their internal temperature cool but also ensure proper air circulation necessary to prevent food spoilage. Without these cool containers, people all over the world would not be able to get fresh produce any time of the year or a greater variety of food in their locality.

But as we’ve stated before, reefers are for more than just food. Basically, all perishable goods can be stored and transported in them.

Beautiful Bouquets

One perishable item commonly transported via reefers are flowers. Flowers can be transported from South America, Europe and Asia and arrive fresh and fragrant in your bouquet thanks to refrigerated containers.

Speaking of bouquets, another item also transported regularly through refrigerated containers are wines. Wines, as any connoisseur will tell you, live and breathe according to the atmosphere around them. A sudden change in temperature could cause them to go bad, which is why it’s important that they’re transported in specialised, temperature controlled reefer containers.

Because of their ability to keep food, flowers and wine fresh and at their best, reefers are used more and more for large catering services and events that require those exact elements. Catering companies and events organisers often have their own units or get a refrigerated container for hire.

Movie Magic

Another, less well-known item that can be found in reefers? Movie set props. That’s right, movie props and equipment are also transported via reefers especially when filming in harsh environments or extreme outdoor locations. While this may seem unnecessary, it’s a step that can save a production company millions in damaged props and equipment. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.

Moving Medicines

Transporting medicines is perhaps one of the most important roles that reefers have. There was once a time when these life-saving medicines could not be transported as efficiently due to the lack of refrigeration and ventilation technologies during transport. With increasing numbers of medicines now being transported on reefers, the cost of many medicines also decreased, giving more people access to these much-needed medicines.

Because of this ability to store and transport large quantities of medicines as well as food, reefers have become very useful in military operations and disaster management. No other container quite has the same capabilities as the refrigerated container.

what can you store inside a refrigerated shipping container


Externally, the dimensions of reefer containers are identical to those of a general purpose container. This ensures that reefers are compatible with regular ISO standards and hence don’t require any special handling equipment. But since they are insulated and could have an additional refrigeration unit, internal dimensions are smaller, and hence reefers are less roomy inside.

There’re two common reefer sizes based on their lengths: 20ft and 40ft. A high cube variant is also available for the 40ft reefer to provide extra volume to users who need more of it. The general specifications of a reefer are as follows:

Spec/Reefer Size
20ft Container
40ft Container
40ft High Cube
Internal Volume 32.85m3 67.5m3 75.0m3
Tare Weight (Approx.) 2,130kg 3,660kg 3,660kg
Gross Weight (Max) 30,500kg 30,500kg 30,500kg
Length 6.1m (20ft) 12.19m (40ft) 12.19m (40ft)
Width 2.44m 2.44m 2.44m
Height 2.39m 2.39m 2.65m
Internal Length 5.90m 12.03m 12.03m
Internal Width 2.35m 2.35m 2.35m
Internal Height 2.39m 2.39m 2.65m



Reefers are great investments, not just for those who want to transport perishable goods, but also for businesses that require reliable storage of perishable goods in different locations.

Thinking of buying refrigerated containers for sale?

Make sure you get the best, only from Tiger Containers. We offer high quality refrigerated and insulated shipping containers for sale and can customise these container to your exact needs.

Contact us on 1800 072 039 to discuss your specific needs.


View our range of refrigerated containers here >

Last Modified:
19th March 2019

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