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99% Invisible: Reefer Madness


On the December 18, 2015 edition of 99% Invisible.

There are around 6,000 cargo vessels out on the ocean right now, carrying 20,000,000 shipping containers, which are delivering most of the products you see around you. And among all the containers are a special subset of temperature-controlled units known in the global cargo industry, in all seriousness, as reefers.

70% of what we eat passes through the global cold chain, a series of artificially-cooled spaces, which is where the reefer comes into play.

Prior to the rise of mass containerization, cooled goods on a bulk cargo ship were stored together in a single space. That zone could be kept at just one temperature, so it could only carry one product at a time.

When goods arrived in port, the local economy would be flooded with that single commodity, be it fresh produce or frozen meat. Prices dropped, food was wasted, and consumers got fed up with eating too much of one product at a time[...]