A Comprehensive Guide on How to Ship Insulin Safely

June 19, 2023
Pharmaceutical Transport

Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels in patients. It helps to control glucose metabolism by allowing cells in the body to take up sugar from the bloodstream and use it for energy or storage. Insulin is manufactured to treat people with diabetes to control their blood sugar. 

415 million people live with diabetes across the globe, which is why getting them the insulin they need is so important. Insulin is a temperature sensitive product that needs to be shipped within a robust cold chain. This article will outline everything you need to know about how to ship insulin to ensure that it is fit for its purpose. 

Key considerations when shipping insulin

Like many other temperature sensitive products, insulin can lose its effectiveness, or become unusable if it is not transported timeously and within the correct temperature range. Knowing how to ship insulin the right way is crucial for minimizing the risk of spoilage and at the same time, reducing unnecessary costs associated with replacing spoiled medication. Here are key considerations when transporting insulin: 

  • Synthetic insulins are typically injected via a needle or pen. Therefore, packaging needs to account for either form. 
  • Some insulins must be used in as little as 10 days. Different forms of manufactured insulin can work from a few hours (rapid-acting insulin) to a whole day (long-acting insulin). Transporters need to be aware of the expiry dates of their shipments. 
  • Insulin loses effectiveness when exposed to extreme temperatures. The longer the exposure to extreme temperatures, the less effective the insulin becomes. This can result in loss of blood glucose control over time.
  • Insulin needs to be kept as cool as possible, without freezing. Transporters need to make sure that their shipments are at the right temperature and that insulin products do not come into direct contact with ice. 
  • Changes in the color or clarity of insulin products can be an indication of viability. Look for clumps, solid white particles, or crystals in the bottle or pen. Viable insulin should be clear and never look cloudy.

How to ship insulin: Guidelines to follow

International agencies like the WHO (World Health Organization) put out guidelines to support transporters and temperature sensitive pharmaceutical manufacturers in their cold chain management practices. These guidelines cover general temperature sensitive drugs and medicines, but many of them apply directly to the transportation of insulin. 

  1. Temperature log

There should be a temperature tracker like the Smart Tag™ in place for the duration of the cold chain. At the receiving end, the temperature tracker should be inspected by the recipient of the insulin to confirm that it was received in good ‘cold’ condition. The change logging procedure includes sending the temperature log back to the manufacturer to confirm receipt of the insulin at the correct temperature. 

  1. Cold chain breach

Keep a complete record of every aspect of shipment, including temperature logs, handling techniques, and any issues that may have occurred. This documentation is a useful tool for assessing the efficiency of the cold chain and pinpointing potential improvement areas. Medication must be thrown out if the cold chain is compromised.

  1. Refrigeration

When insulin is not in use it should be refrigerated. Refrigerators for insulin should be defrosted every 6–8 weeks if they are not self-defrosting. The refrigerator should also have an integral thermometer which should be calibrated at least annually to ensure the readings are accurate. 

  1. Storage

Unopened insulin should be kept between 36°F to 46°F. After opening, insulin can be stored at room temperature (between 59°F and 77°F) for up to 1 month, so long as it is kept in its packaging, away from heat and light. However, even if it has not been fully used, the insulin must be thrown away 1 month after opening.

  1. Temperature control

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends that insulin be stored at approximately 36°F to 46°F. Unopened and stored in this manner, these products maintain potency until the expiration date on the package. However, an insulin product that has been altered for dilution or by removal from the manufacturer’s original vial should be discarded within two weeks.

Packaging insulin

Insulin must be well packed to ensure that its correct temperature is maintained during transportation. Commonly used packaging materials include: 

  • Insulated boxes, 
  • Barriers/loose-fill; and 
  • Cooling elements such as ice or gel packs. 

To give even more temperature control, ice or gel packs are frequently used in conjunction with insulated packaging. These packs can be pre-chilled in a refrigerator or freezer before use. Always ensure that the Insulin does not come into direct contact with the ice or gel packs.

It is crucial to clearly mark insulin containers with the terms "Perishable" and "Keep Refrigerated" while shipping. This will inform both the recipient and the shipping company that the box contains a drug that must be refrigerated due to its temperature sensitivity. 

Cold chain solutions to be aware of

New technologies and practices are constantly being developed to improve and support the cold chain. Examples include: 

  • Refrigerated transportation (reefers) provide improved control when shipping temperature sensitive products like insulin,
  • Energy-efficient cold storage warehouses can maintain a range of temperatures for various products at the same time. 
  • Robotics have been introduced into the cold chain process to help manage inventory with improved speed and reliability. 

The most important solutions are those that give you the ability to track and monitor the temperature of insulin products throughout the cold chain. Gone are the days of using temperature sensitive stickers that leave too much room for error.  

The Varcode Data Solution gives you the tools you need to make informed decisions about your temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals. The solution includes Smart Tag™ and scanning technology that notifies you when a product goes outside of its ideal temperature range. It also gives you all the temperature control data in a single dashboard for easy management. 

Track your insulin shipments

You now know how to ship insulin and what it takes to deliver it safely. If you’re in the business of shipping temperature sensitive products, you’ll want to have access to the best technology available. Contact Varcode today to find out how their Smart Data Solution can support your cold chain. You’ll have access to all the key temperature data you need to make decisions, displayed on an easy-to-use management dashboard.

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