The term “refrigerated van” can refer to a van outfitted with refrigeration equipment or to a special kind of rail car. Both keep perishable items at a controlled temperature for the duration of a journey to make sure they stay fresh. This can include foods, flowers, medications, and other goods that cannot be transported at room temperature or in hot conditions like those found in many regions of the world during the summer months. Numerous companies make refrigerated vans and also offer modifications to existing vehicles or rail cars to convert them into refrigerated units.
In the case of a rail car, the concept is almost as old as railways themselves. Shippers originally packed blocks of ice with perishable goods in a chilled car to make sure those goods would survive transport. The development of refrigeration systems led to the creation of refrigerated vans for moving perishable goods. Their numbers are dwindling as a result of an increasing reliance on planes and trucks to move goods around, but it is still possible to ship goods in a refrigerated rail car.
Insignia on the side of the train car will indicate that it is refrigerated, and it is often possible to see vents from the cooling equipment. Some companies paint their refrigerated vans white to reflect heat and reduce the load on the cooling system. The cooling system runs independently, even when the train is not in motion, to make sure the temperature in the refrigerated van remains consistent. If it fails, it will trigger an alarm to alert the engineers on the train to the problem.
A refrigerated van driven on the road can be useful for catering companies, florists, and other businesses that need to transport goods in a chilled environment. Food, including catered meals and grocery deliveries, needs to be maintained at a consistently cool temperature for safety. Especially in warm climates where a van may be making multiple stops, driving in traffic, or traveling a long distance, cooling is critical to keep the goods in good condition. Flowers are also transported this way to prevent wilting; they can be stored in the refrigerated van on site and brought out at the last minute to keep them looking fresh.
Modified refrigerated vans are often available secondhand for companies that cannot afford a brand new unit. It is also possible to rent vans in the event a company only periodically needs them. Other companies may pool resources to share a refrigerated van with partner businesses.