What is the difference between a “clean container” and a “food quality” container?

  • A “clean container” is an international shipping container in good repair with a clean and dry floor, without any infestation from such things as live insects, eggs or mould. There should not be any residue from previous cargoes. Read our factsheet for details on container cleanliness.
  • A “food quality” container must also be clean, dry, without infestation and without residue. And it must also be without any obnoxious odours from such things as solvent. The paint must be in good condition i.e. no flaking, the container must be without rust or transferable stains, such as oil or hydraulic fluid from forklifts or other machinery. There are other requirements to bring a container to “food quality” standard.  Read our guide for comprehensive details on standards for food quality shipping containers.
  • Remember : a “clean container” is NOT the same thing as a “food quality” container.
  • Shippers should exactly and precisely specify their requirements when requesting clean and / or food quality containers. For extra reassurance, shippers can also choose to buy a food-grade container liner that is commercially available for a further $300 from specialist providers.

Why can’t shipping companies just make food quality containers available to shippers at no cost?

  • Shipping lines incur a cost of about $150 to $250 to upgrade a general container to food quality.
  • Shipping lines have to re-position containers from other ports and that costs real money in terms of stevedoring and land transport charges. Each carrier must take these costs into consideration when deciding on their freight rates and whether to charge an upgrade fee.
  • Ultimately, upgrading containers to food quality standard comes at a cost that will have to be covered by shippers. Just as it is any other area of commercial life, if a person wants a product or service then he or she must pay for it.

Why aren’t food quality shipping containers always immediately available?

  • The potential volume of grain crops for any given season is best estimated and forecast by shippers or exporters. Shipping lines recognise that there is often a high demand for food quality containers, especially during harvest season. And even more so when there are bumper crop harvests. There are more than 20 shipping lines providing services to and from Australia. Equipment levels are tight but there is enough equipment if you shop around.
  • Unfortunately, some shippers book food quality containers for the same cargo consignment with multiple lines but then only honour one of the bookings. They cancel the other bookings at the last minute. Booking more boxes and slots than are needed creates an artificial shortage of food-quality boxes and slots to handle demand when there would, in fact, be enough for everyone. Don’t make multiple bookings with different lines for the same cargo.
  • Shippers can also help themselves by ordering food quality containers in good time. Just like any other complex and valuable product or service that you have to book, if you call or email at the very last minute then you might be disappointed. See below for more details about notice requirements.

Why do shipping lines charge a no-show fee?

  • Unfortunately, as described above, some shippers have got into the very bad habit of booking the same cargo on multiple carriers. That leaves ships with empty slots and unwanted, expensively-upgraded, containers.
  • Shipping lines simply cannot afford to bear the financial costs of upgrading and re-locating containers and then having to sail with empty boxes. So they must have “no-show” charges to cover any losses caused by shippers not honouring their bookings. Of course, if shippers book an appropriate number of food quality containers and honour their bookings then the issue of “no-show” fees does not arise at all.

I’m not willing to book at the rates my carrier has quoted!

  • Carriers are in business to make a profit. They have legal obligations to their shareholders to do the best they can to make that profit.
  • If shippers and exporters are not willing to make firm bookings for food quality containers at rates that the carrier finds acceptable then the carrier will market their containers and ship-slots to other shippers who do not require a costly upgrade to food quality.

Why do shippers have to provide advance notice for food quality boxes? And how much notice is necessary?

  • Upgrading boxes to the food quality standard requires a bit of time, cost, and effort, plus the boxes need to be shipped to the right location. That takes time to organise and carry out.
  • Shipping companies cannot afford to keep boxes sitting idle. Excess containers that have no near- or short-term bookings are likely to be exported empty from Australia to wherever there is demand. Shipping lines will keep boxes here if they have a secure booking.
  • Each line will have its own rules on how much notice it needs. Check with your chosen carrier to find out how much notice you need to give.

Where can I find more information?


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