If you’re in the business of shipping perishables, you’ll probably be aware of the term “cold chain packaging”. But what is the cold chain exactly, and what are its implications for your business.
What is the cold chain?
The cold chain is a supply chain network for perishable products that must be kept at low temperatures throughout the entire shipping duration to avoid spoilage and maintain safety and quality standards.
An uninterrupted cold chain ensures such products remain at the desired temperature from the point of origin until delivery at the final destination.
What is cold chain packaging?
As the first line of defense for perishable products, cold chain packaging is a crucial component of temperature-controlled shipping. Without appropriate cold chain packaging solutions, products are vulnerable to extreme ambient temperatures, especially if refrigerated storage or transport units fail.
In many instances, the most effective cold chain packaging products can even negate the need for costly refrigerated systems.
Types of cold chain packaging
There are three main types of cold chain packaging systems: active, passive, and hybrid.
Active cold chain packaging
Active cold chain packaging uses electrical systems, typically powered by fossil fuels, to maintain low temperatures with the aid of thermostatic control.
While reliable, active cold chain packaging is expensive to maintain and fix if there is a technical issue.
Passive cold chain packaging
Passive cold chain packaging uses insulating materials to protect products from ambient temperatures. Examples of cold chain packaging materials include expanded polystyrene (EPS), polyurethane (PUR), paper and paperboard, as well as jute, fiberglass, textile, polyethylene, and silica. On top of using insulating materials, cold chain packaging manufacturers incorporate the use of phase change materials (PCMs) to maintain consistent low temperatures.
Lab testing demonstrates that passive cold chain packaging is as effective as active methods at maintaining low temperatures for shipping durations up to 96 hours, or even longer. As well as this, passive cold chain systems can maintain tighter temperature control over a wider temperature range than active methods.
While significantly less expensive than refrigerated units, there is a risk of spoilage if a shipment is delayed and the transit time exceeds the packaging’s temperature-control capacities.
Hybrid cold chain packaging
The final cold chain packaging system is the hybrid method. Many cold chain packaging companies make use of both active and passive cold chain technologies as this approach is particularly effective for extremely temperature-sensitive materials, such as vaccines, where the margin for error is very small.
Examples of cold chain products
The food, pharmaceutical, biotech and chemical industries rely on cold chain shipping to transport their goods and services where they are needed.
Cold chain packaging technology enables the food industry to safely transport meats, seafood, and poultry at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to inhibit bacterial growth and contamination. Dairy products, meanwhile, must be kept below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to preserve freshness. Fruits and vegetables also have specific temperature requirements to minimize spoilage, maintain flavor, and prevent skin damage and bruising.
As mentioned, the pharmaceutical industry depends on cold chain packaging to supply sorely needed medications, such as vaccines, which are highly prone to spoiling if they are exposed to temperatures even a few degrees higher than what’s required to be effective. Other medical products, such as blood, biologics and medical devices, as well as chemicals used in industry, must also be stored at consistently low temperatures to be safe and useful.
How IPC helps to maintain the cold chain
IPC’s range of proprietary insulating packaging materials helps these industries manage the cold chain needs of their products.
From insulated box liners, pouches, and pallet covers to gel packs and other PCMs, we design, test, and manufacture all of our insulating packaging products in-house to ensure the most effective temperature-control solution. Whatever the size or shape of your cold chain product, IPC offers custom-sized insulated packaging that meets your requirements.
Unlike many other cold chain packaging companies, IPC doesn’t use traditional molded designs like EPS containers, which are bulky, difficult to customize and harmful to the environment. Instead, the space-saving, flatpack design of our box liners helps you save on storage costs and they can also be easily altered to fit boxes of various sizes.
Another benefit of IPC’s selection of reusable cold chain packaging products is that they’re sourced from sustainable materials with high recycling value. As governments and companies continue to phase out polluting EPS materials, IPC offers a cost-effective, reliable and sustainable alternative.
Get in touch with us to discuss your temperature-control shipping requirements and we’ll find a cold chain packaging solution that works for you.