Cold Chain Shipping: There Must Be a Better Way

Right now — I’m obsessed with — cold chain shipping, for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: Our family is experimenting with ready-made meals, since all of us have different needs and tastes and we eat at different times of the day. Right now, Factor_ is in the lead for my personal choice. Precooked, pre-compiled meals come refrigerated that you can literally pop into the microwave, zap for 2 minutes, and you’re done. And, these are not the frozen 1970s TV dinners I was raised on…they are DELICIOUS. (And no, this is not a commercial and I’ve not been paid by Factor_ for this article. I really just love their food.)

However, while the food is healthy and yummy (a fan in particular of their low-carb options) what I don’t like their packaging and shipping. One box we received was very late and smashed, and they don’t ring the doorbell when dropping the boxes off, so the refrigerated food (not frozen) sits on the porch with the ice packs melting this summer. Furthermore, it comes with a TON of packaging — a box, an insulated liner, and 2 ice packs. While cold packaging probably does have a lot of pieces, I don’t like that all of this is not easily recyclable.

I’ll pause there and move on to the 2nd reason for my current obsession.

Reason 2: Drugs — or prescription drugs. Some of them need to be kept refrigerated. In fact, most of the expensive specialty drugs that are injected need to be refrigerated. Note how I said they were already expensive to begin with — they’re even more expensive when you have to ship them via cold chain. With gas prices surging now (above $5/gallon as I write this here in the Midwest), any package, let alone cold chain drugs have exorbitantly high cold chain shipping and packaging costs — to the point where the cold chain shipping and packaging literally costs more than the drugs themselves. Not exactly a great thing when trying to keep costs down. (There are some drugs, however, that should come with their own refrigerator, based upon how expensive they are — if you want to know more about these, I’ll see you at HR Indiana 8/30/22 at 10 am in Indianapolis for more on that.)

My good people — there has to be a better way.

Ideas on How To Improve Cold Chain Shipping

  • Recyclable cold chain container: Can someone invent a consumer-facing cold chain recyclable shipping container? I see in this article that there are large shipping containers that are refrigerated, but what about at the consumer level? We all have shopping carts when we GO to the store, Ikea has their blue bags, but what if we can’t get to the store? Could retailers come up with a virtual cold chain shopping cart that could be returned and reused?
  • Cold chain lockers — Amazon already has their lockers — but are they cold chain?
  • Recyclable totes: When I worked for the large chains, drugs came in totes, like this. I’m wondering if there’s a way to modify them to use them for cold chain, then just keep re-using them? (And if you were a child of the 70s or 80s, you probably remember the container deposit refunds when your family took the bottles back to the stores.) WHY can’t we do that anymore?
  • Home builders: is it time to have a holding or storage mail build out on new homes that is temperature-controlled, with all the shipping we’re doing these days and post-pandemic?
  • Packaging of the drug — approved by FDA?: I hate the idea of more regulation; however, if new drugs are coming to market that require cold chain, I’m starting to wonder if cold chain thought on packaging and distribution should also be a part of the dossier for drug approvals. That’s everything from the packaging, to temperature control read-outs on “excursions” and getting the drug safely to the end patient.
  • Cold chain map and storage rental — Think of the hundreds if not thousands of refrigerators and cold chain areas at retailers these days — what if there could be a shipping and delivery network of them, like uber for delivery, but set up specifically for cold chain products?

All I know is that there has to be a better way. With DSCSA “track and trace” fully rolling out on the drug side of supply chain as well, it’s going to become even more important as more cold chain products come to the marketplace. If we can put a man on the moon and split atoms, I think we can figure this out….

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Erin L. Albert is a pharmacist at Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company. The opinions above are her own and not necessarily those of MCCPDC. She is by no means a cold chain shipping or supply chain expert.

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Erin L. Albert

Erin L. Albert

Pharmacist, author, lawyer, intrapreneur. Opining is my own. www.erinalbert.com