Important Safety Measures for Pharmaceutical Shipping and Storage

Many prescription medications and pharmaceutical components need to be kept at a specific temperature in order to ensure their safety and efficacy. (Image:  pixabay /  CC0 1.0)
Many prescription medications and pharmaceutical components need to be kept at a specific temperature in order to ensure their safety and efficacy. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Transporting pharmaceuticals isn’t as simple as placing them in a box and loading that box onto a truck. Many prescription medications and pharmaceutical components need to be kept at a specific temperature in order to ensure their safety and efficacy. Here are some important safety measures that need to be considered when shipping and storing finished pharmaceuticals and their component parts.

Cold chain shipping challenges

Traditionally, many medications were made of shelf-stable, small molecule chemicals that could be stored in nearly any environment, but remain effective. As medical technology has advanced, we’ve moved away from these small molecule pharmaceuticals to large molecule ones. While these large molecule medications are arguably more effective than their older counterparts, they’re only effective within a strict temperature range.

What challenges face pharmaceutical companies when it comes to cold chain shipping? Incorrect handling, problems with packaging, and shipping delays can all leave these medications exposed to the elements for long periods of time. Days that are too hot or too cold, or a truck that’s allowed to sit in the sun for long periods of time, can all make it difficult to keep these drugs at the appropriate temperature.

There is such as thing as too cold when it comes to cold chain shipping as well. Some drugs — like insulin, which has to be kept refrigerated — lose their potency when frozen. Other medications — such as radium, which is used in a variety of different treatments — have to be manufactured, transported, and administered within a very short period of time because they’re radioactive and decay quickly.

Transporting pharmaceuticals isn't as simple as placing them in a box and loading that box onto a truck. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)

Transporting pharmaceuticals isn’t as simple as placing them in a box and loading that box onto a truck. (Image: YouTube / Screenshot)

Transportation and storage

Certain pharmaceuticals need to be both transported and stored at the correct temperature, which creates the need for refrigerated storage facilities and transport trucks.

Refrigerated trucks have a lower capacity than those that are not designed to be temperature-controlled. In addition to the cooling hardware, the trailer itself needs to be insulated to ensure that the interior temperature can be maintained regardless of the exterior conditions. Any trailer can be equipped with a portable chiller, but if it isn’t insulated, it requires dramatically more power to maintain a cool temperature, and there’s no guarantee that a hot day won’t throw off the interior temperature enough to make it dangerous.

Warehouses also tend to be problematic due to the fact that the more open space there is, the harder it becomes to maintain a temperature equilibrium.

Certain pharmaceuticals need to be both transported and stored at the correct temperature, which creates the need for refrigerated storage facilities and transport trucks. (Image: FedEx)

Certain pharmaceuticals need to be both transported and stored at the correct temperature, which creates the need for refrigerated storage facilities and transport trucks. (Image: FedEx)

Choosing the right equipment

Choosing the right equipment for the job is just as important as floor space and insulation because it will directly impact the operational efficiency. A chiller that’s too small won’t be able to maintain the temperature that it has been set to and might burn itself out trying.

For facilities that don’t require climate control all the time, a portable chiller might be a good option. They often have more customization options when it comes to choosing the interior temperature and humidity, and they can be moved out of the way or stored when they’re not in use.

For facilities that require round the clock temperature control, central chillers become the better option. They don’t provide as much in terms of customization, but they excel at “brute force” climate control, very effectively cooling the entire area around them.

For facilities that don't require climate control all the time, a portable chiller might be a good option. (Image: FedEx)

For facilities that don’t require climate control all the time, a portable chiller might be a good option. (Image: FedEx)

New technologies are also emerging that may change cold chain shipping for the better. The use of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices allows the shipper to actively monitor the temperature, humidity, and other criteria in a shipping container in real time. If one of these criteria dips out of the ideal range, an alert can be sent to let the shipper know that there’s a problem. While these devices aren’t as widespread as they could be, they’re slowly being adopted into the cold chain shipping industry.

Problems with temperature control are just one of the challenges being faced by pharmaceutical manufacturers and shippers, but they’re one of the largest. New technologies and upgraded equipment are both useful tools to ensure that pharmaceuticals are being delivered at the proper temperature so that they’re both safe and effective for the patients using them.

Megan-Ray-Nichols

This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her website Schooled by Science.

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