Best Practices for Pharmaceutical Transport: A Guide For Shippers

July 3, 2023
Pharmaceutical Transport

Shipping temperature-sensitive items is a tricky but important business. Vaccines, biological samples, insulin, eye drops, and much more need to reach consumers safely and within their temperature range to be considered viable. 

Though every part of the cold chain needs to work together to successfully transport pharmaceuticals, shippers are the connective roleplayers who make it happen. In this article, we will zoom in on the role of shippers in pharmaceutical transportation. 

Pharmaceutical transportation 

One way to ensure the safety of cold products is to consider the modes of pharmaceutical transportation that can support the cold chain. While cold packaging and storage have a big role to play in keeping products at the correct temperature, refrigerated transport gives you even greater control of the cold chain process. Each form of refrigerated transport comes with pros and cons so you will need to consider what is best based on the requirements of your products.  

  • Refrigerated trucks (reefers)

Reefers are the best option for transporting pharmaceuticals over land because they are built to maintain refrigerated or even freezing temperatures. Trucks provide you with more route options and can transport more directly than air, ship, or train. 

  • Air cargo

Air freight transportation that is specially made for temperature-sensitive commodities is optimal for delivering over longer distances or internationally. Given that air travel is frequently quicker than other modes of delivery, this choice is especially advantageous for time-sensitive items.

  • Ocean freight

Climate-controlled ocean freight might be a good option if you're sending large quantities of temperature-sensitive products across international borders. Keep in mind that transportation over the ocean is generally a slower option, but it can be more affordable and allows for bigger shipments. 

  • Courier services

A courier service can be a practical choice for smaller packages or door-to-door deliveries. Courier services are an ideal option in emergency situations because they are a lot faster and more direct. Some couriers offer overnight transportation options and specialize in cold product transportation. 

  • Rail transportation

Rail transport is a well-established and environmentally friendly option. Using rail is a good idea for large shipments or long-distance transportation, with railcars that are climate controlled. Keep in mind that you will likely need another form of transport to take the products from the rail terminals to their next destination. 

Best practices for pharmaceutical transport 

Whichever mode of transportation you choose, there are a few best practices to consider to inform your pharmaceutical transportation. Using these best practices will help you avoid unnecessary risks and ensure that the pharmaceutical products are fit for consumers. 

  1. Temperature control

First and foremost you need to ensure that you are transporting pharmaceuticals within the correct temperature range. This information can be found in the product documentation or provided by the pharmaceutical manufacturer. You need to understand your product's specific needs and set temperatures accordingly: 

  • Ambient (Controlled room temperature): 68°F to 77°F 
  • Refrigerated: 35°F to 46°F 
  • Cryogenic: Below 32°F to -238°F

Incorporating smart technologies like those offered by Varcode will help you to track and monitor the temperature of your products across the entire cold chain. 

  1. Packing and packaging

Use specialized packaging solutions designed for temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals. These containers should be validated and qualified to maintain the required temperature range for the duration of the shipment. Insulated packaging, gel packs, phase-change materials, and temperature monitoring technologies should be employed to create a controlled environment within the shipping container.

When packing, make sure you keep similar items together, limit uncontrolled space around the product, and limit the time that products spend between cold areas as they go through the cold chain. 

  1. Monitor and Validate

Continuous temperature monitoring throughout the transportation process is essential. Use quality temperature monitoring devices that record and provide real-time data. These devices should be placed close to the product, ensuring accurate temperature measurements. 

You must also be prepared for unforeseen circumstances that arise from your data. You need to have contingency plans in place if products go out of their temperature range. These plans should include steps to address extreme temperature changes, delays, and equipment failures. Shippers should have a system in place to notify all relevant parties in case of deviations from the desired temperature range.

  1. Effective personnel:

Those who work with temperature-sensitive products and their modes of transport need to be trained to execute their tasks correctly. Training includes handling, packing, tracking, how to follow standard operating procedures and follow escalation protocols. Personnel need to be aware of the importance of maintaining the cold chain, recognize the signs of temperature excursions, and understand the steps to take in case of an emergency.

Personnel also have the important task of creating and maintaining accurate and comprehensive documentation. Documentation is not just helpful for traceability, but is also an important regulatory requirement. Staff need to maintain records of temperature monitoring data, including departure and arrival times, temperature excursions, and any corrective actions taken. Proper documentation will help in investigations, audits, and quality assurance processes.

  1. Optimize routing and transit times

When planning pharmaceutical transport, ensure that your routes are as efficient as possible to minimize the risk of products spending time outside of their recommended temperature range. Consider factors such as distance, transit time, weather conditions, and potential delays. Opt for the fastest route even if it means a longer route or a change in transportation.

  1. Collaboration and Communication

Maintain open lines of communication with all stakeholders involved in the cold chain, including manufacturers, suppliers, carriers, and end-users. Regularly share temperature monitoring data, update on transportation progress, and address any concerns as quickly as you can. Collaboration ensures that everyone is aligned and can respond to any issues that arise.

Continuously Improve

Regularly review and assess your transportation process to identify areas for improvement. Analyze temperature data, track deviations, and take corrective actions when necessary. Learn from past experiences and implement changes to enhance the efficiency and reliability of your operations. 

For pharmaceutical transport to be successful, there needs to be oversight of the entire process; from warehouse to final destination. Check out Varcode’s solutions today and start getting the temperature data you need to take control of your cold chain logistics. Make sure that you have invested in the technology that will help you go beyond best practice and into industry leadership.

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