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Cold Chain 101

What does "Cold Chain" mean?

Cold Chain can be used to describe the process or products involved in shipping temperature-sensitive products from origin to destination while maintaining a stable environment within the cooler. This keeps the designated product payload from spoiling when shipping food or to maintain product stability & efficacy when shipping life altering medications.

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What are the most common temperature ranges products are shipped at in the cold chain?

There are four conventional temperature ranges used depending on the stability of the product being shipped:

  • frozen/dry ice (<-20°C)
  • refrigerated (2-8°C)
  • ambient/room temp (15-25°C)
  • cryogenic/liquid nitrogen frozen (>-80°C)

What is a temperature excursion?

An excursion occurs when a product that is required to maintain a specific temperature range, falls below or exceeds higher than required range. For example, a product that is required to maintain between 2°C – 8°C is breached either by falling below 2°C or higher than 8°C, resulting in an temperature excursion. 

Is dry ice the best option over frozen gel packs when a product must arrive frozen?

Many factors are used to determine when dry ice should be used over frozen gel packs. Dry ice is one of the more costly options but offers the best duration. Dry ice sublimates up to 10 pounds per day depending on the ambient outdoor temperature & turns into carbon dioxide. When opening the cooler, always be mindful of those gases – especially if they are trapped in a plastic bag.

What is the recommended temperature for proper conditioning of these refrigerants?

A refrigerant is like a mobile phone battery. To get the longest possible life and duration out of your refrigerants, the recommended conditioning temperature is -20°C. Some companies freeze their refrigerants at -5 to -10°C, but this is similar to charging your mobile phone battery to 80%. Depending on the validated solution, the refrigerants may need to be benched in a room temperature environment for a predetermined period of time before being packed out to avoid flash freezing.

What is a validated shipper & when should one be used?

Validated shippers are designed & tested to meet the temperature & duration requirements of a custom payload. They are meticulously tested in triplicate against strict seasonal temperature profiles for repeatable results in environmental chambers. These are most often used for life science, healthcare, & pharma applications that require consistent results to protect product efficacy.

What does product stability mean?

Some products can withstand excursions & have stability when the product exceeds the stated temperature threshold, but only for a specific time duration. The temperature stability is determined by the manufacturer of the product. 

For example, vaccine XYZ must maintain a 2-8°C temperature range. The vaccine has stability up to 15°C for less than 8 hours. If the temperature falls below 2°C or rises above 8°C, the product is no longer safe to use.

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