10 Pitfalls to Avoid to Maintain an Efficient Cold Chain

Published by Marvin Espino on

vaccine cold chain

A large percentage of cold chain products go to waste every year. It’s true that the cold chain is a difficult process, and refrigeration of products throughout the supply chain requires significant effort and expense. Sometimes wastages are caused by inconsistencies in the system – some aspects of the cold chain that, if given careful consideration, could prevent product waste and financial loss.

Some of these common pitfalls are listed below. Suggested solutions for your companies and your service providers are included. Whether company owned transportation systems or outsources 3PLs, it’s important to know how to avoid these traps.

  1. Forgetting Controlled-Room Temperature (CRT) products

The cold chain is a very broad type of supply chain. It not only includes cold-specific products, but also specific controlled-temperature ones. These are products that can be withdrawn from the cold chain for a short amount of time before use. Nevertheless, CRT products are required to undergo the same cold chain temperature between 2°C to 8°C (35°F to 46°F).

Turns out, many cold chain logistics providers tend to neglect, or, much worse, forget, these types of products and their inherent sensitivities. Like cold chain products, CRT products are temperature-specific too. Although not as sensitive as their cold chain counterparts, CRT products, when left in the ambient temperature for a very long time, will also spoil and lose stability.

That’s why at all times and through all levels of the supply chain, logistics providers must check the product requirements: temperature range, handling protocols, etc. Checking requirements will show how best to handle the products, and how can potential losses of efficacy can be prevented.

  • Not Considering Better Distribution and Transportation Options.

Distribution and transportation options must always be weighed. Whenever temperature-sensitive products must be transported, ask these questions: What are the needs of the temperature-sensitive products? How fast should the products be delivered to the customers? What transportation mode will best help transport the products considering both speed and costs?

Logistics distribution models vary and choosing one should depend on the goals of the business and the needs of the products. For instance, it may be helpful for a provider to have central distribution centers near the consumers. The products are then transported the next day. Without local centers, the company may consider regional distribution centers that reduce transportation costs, but may incur more expenses for vaults, coolers, and freezers

Some logistics providers and 3PL’s have their own distribution centers located near airports and ocean ports. Those can reduce fixed costs and add supply chain flexibility.

Whatever the model – whether it is with the use of central distribution or regional distribution – the options must be weighed so the company can reduce costs and deliver fast and effective products.

  • Investing less on the best packaging options.

There are no more temperature-sensitive products in all of the supply chains than in the cold chain products. Normally comprised of fresh products and life-saving pharmaceuticals, cold chain products require the most advanced and the best packaging to prevent heat loss and maintain cold temperatures for a long time

To achieve this, companies must always be on the lookout for logistics providers that can guarantee product protections. The last thing desired is to deliver spoiled products because the packaging didn’t do its job.

Another concern regarding packaging is the lack of knowledge about global and regional compliance requirements. The best solution for this is to look for in-house packaging specialists, to consult a trusted 3PL, or other logistics providers for the best options tailored to the products’ specific needs.

One more thing to consider is the transportation environment. Why does it concern the packaging? Some providers can give a detailed temperature map of their network. By this, it is possible to know the packaging solutions best able to sustain those temperatures. If the transport environment has a very hot ambient temperature, then it calls for containers that can provide cooling throughout the transport.

  • Being Too Complacent During Transportation Legs Such as Layovers

Layovers are prone to temperature excursions. Temp excursions – whereby the temperature deviates from the required range as set forth by the manufacturers – can be damaging to temperature-specific products.

Because of the damage it can do to the products, it only makes sense to put more effort and focus on maintaining temperatures during layovers – to avoid any deviations.

Neglecting this process is a common pitfall in the cold chain. For instance, products sitting on the runway for too long between flights are in danger of being damaged by high heat. To prevent this, it is critical to always ask the logistics provider to map out the product journey. As a result, the number of layovers and stopovers during transport will be known. Additional checking can be done to ensure temperature maintenance during those periods.

  • Lacking Transportation-Specific Quality Agreement.

Supplier quality agreements normally involve inventory stage providers, but no transportation-specific agreements. These agreements are important, especially when shipping temperature-sensitive products.

Apart from the typical standardized or generic language in the agreements, including transportation temperature agreements ensures and achieves a high level of accountability for any logistics or transport providers.

A quality agreement must include other details affecting factors such as safety, potency, and purity of the products being transported. The agreement should also include compliance status and capabilities.

  • Having inadequate visibility and reporting capabilities.

Visibility of data is important in the cold chain because the lack of any temperature information or any information about the transport may have financial repercussions. Visibility is all the more important when it involves life-saving temperature-sensitive products such as vaccines and other biologics.

Logistics providers should know the situation and location of the products all the time. This data should reveal whether there have been temperature excursions. Through that, all cold chain partners can act on the problem immediately, preventing product loss.

For this to happen, visibility solutions should provide real-time data on temperature, light exposure, humidity, and vibration in all forms of containers and packaging.

Knowing that temperature excursions have happened after the fact means it’s already too late to protect the products.

  • Having too many Cold Chain hand-offs

Handoffs are when the supply chain changes carriers and transportation providers. The more often the handoffs occur, the higher the possibility of having problems with the products. This is especially important during the cold chain. Since the cold chain deals with sensitive products, changing hands frequently may lead to spoilage and wastage.

When possible, pharma manufacturers must reduce the number of carriers and logistics providers that they work with, to reduce the changing of responsibility expertise too often in the supply chain.

When collaborating with a 3PL provider, make sure to establish a plan that limits hand-offs. If not possible, ask how the hand-offs will be handled. Will they be handled by someone who understands the products? Otherwise, look for better providers.

  • Limiting Cold Chain regulation expertise

Regulations on temperature-sensitive products is a complex process. It involves the global supply chain. Plus, the requirements and regulations depend on the region and the country.

That’s why it pays to have in-house or outsourced regulation experts, someone who can guarantee that products are not only transported quickly, but also safely and within the rules.

For instance, vaccine transport must operate within the rules set by the World Health Organization (WHO), a regulatory body for temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products. Vaccine packaging must follow WHO guidelines when it comes to size, volume, etc. That same goes for any cold chain products such as tropical fruits and various kinds of seafood. The regulations from this body must at all times be followed and its guidelines considered.

When looking for a regulation expert, know the background and the industry that they work on. Ensure that experts follow the regulations specific to the industry.

  • Not Providing a Risk-Management Plan for Temperature-Sensitive Pharmaceuticals.

The ability to intervene during temperature excursion is one of the most important elements in the cold chain. If temperatures go off-course during shipment, it should still be possible to manage the reduction of product wastes because all the data is visible in real-time. 

To prevent the loss of hundreds and thousands of dollars over spoiled products, having a plan on how to manage risk is a vital aspect of the transport process.

A good risk management plan will make use of historical temperature data of the specific products. It will help determine potential scenarios. This also allows planning for potential solutions ahead of time.

Pharma companies should always work with their logistics providers to create scenario-specific action plans, as well as multiple back-up options and supply chain redundancies.

  1. Not Asking the Help of Industry-Expert Logistics Providers

Asking for help is never a bad thing. Having a provider that has a strong global network is important. Tapping their network and resources can provide efficiency and minimize costs.

Choose a 3PL or logistics provider that has the proven ability to execute and stand behind their good service and programs. Many 3PL providers expert in handling temperature-sensitive products are available in the market.

Choosing a partner that is expert on cold chain logistics can help pharma manufacturers deliver quality products on time.

Don’t fall victim to these common pitfalls. This information can help companies identify logistics providers, by knowing what to ask, and what answers to expect. Keep on searching for the perfect partner to provide the quality of service that customers and products deserve.

If already partnering with a 3PL, or developing an internal logistics system, it pays to re-assess other options. Using the information above, specific requirements of the logistics that need improvement can be identified. Problem-free cold chains are difficult to achieve, but careful analysis can reduce costs, while the brand value is uplifted as better-quality products are delivered.


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