The Basics of Temperature-Controlled Packaging Solutions

In the cold supply chain, risk is all around us. Learn about some of those risks an why temperature-controlled packaging helps manage risk.

Since you don’t really know who is handling your product and how well it is handled, protective packaging is designed to shield products from physical harm and damage caused by external factors such as temperature, vibration, humidity, and more.

Your packaging may pass through as many as five different hands before reaching its destination, leaving ample opportunities for perishable items to be subjected to out-of-spec temperatures, rough handling or dropping of the package, or compression and pressure, making them prone to damage. The challenge is how to protect your product cost-effectively.

This article will highlight the risks and explore some basic protective packaging materials that provide temperature control and impact/shock resistance.

Risks Associated With Shipping Temperature-Sensitive Products

temperature controlled packaging solutionsThere are significant risks associated with shipping perishables that each industry must be well aware of to keep patients and customers safe. Meat, medications, cheese, flowers, and more are all susceptible to temperature fluctuations that can affect drug efficacy, reduce product shelf life, or even enable the growth of bacteria, all of which can even be dangerous.

Most over-the-counter and prescription medications are stored at what’s known as “controlled room temperature (CRT).” That’s about 77 degrees Faranheight, on average. For example, insulin and many anti-coagulants are specifically subject to damage from temperature exposure.

The melting point of chocolate is somewhere between 86°F and 90°F, which is significantly lower than the average temperature of the human body (98.6°F). Chocolate blooming is also a factor with temperature exposure. Check our blog on shipping chocolate for more information.

While chocolate blooming and melting may be more obvious signs of an undesirable temperature event, some drugs and foods may show no apparent signs of temperature damage but may lose their effectiveness and can cause danger before their expected expiration date.

The reality is that unless you know your product will be shipped and stored at all times in a temperature-controlled environment, insulation and refrigerants are required for shipments of any perishable items.

Insulation helps protect the contents from temperature swings during shipment and protects the product from physical damage. Refrigerants, typically in the form of gel packs or phase change materials (PCMs), help maintain the temperature of a product during shipment. Product defects or spoilage risks decrease significantly if both insulation and refrigerants are used correctly. Often, lab and real-world testing are required to make the best use of material and assure temperature consistency from origin to destination.

Types of Protective Packaging for Temperature-Sensitive Products

temperature controlled packaging solutionsTemperature-controlled protective packing solutions comes in many forms, each with its purpose and qualities. Determining the type of packaging is based on the sensitivity of the product you are shipping and the qualities of the packaging itself.

There are many different types of protective packaging solutions for shipping temperature-sensitive products, including gel packs, water blankets, PCMs, and insulated coolers to help regulate the temperature of products.

Additionally, some products require protection from rough handling, shock, vibration, compression, and even aircraft pressure. Below are some general types of protective packaging solutions:

Impact/Vibration/Shock Temperature Control Temperature Control
  • Packaging peanuts
  • Padded dividers
  • Packaging foam
  • Bubble wrap
  • Gel packs
  • EPS/EPP insulated coolers
  • PCMs
  • Water blankets

Selecting the packaging, you need for your shipment may not be easy without the help of an expert. You don’t want to over-spec packaging, or you could spend more on materials and increase the cost to ship the item due to weight. You also don’t want to under spec the materials needed as this can cause damage in other ways.

The Importance of Insulated Packaging

Temperature-sensitive products require an insulator that helps prevent or reduce heat transfer during transit to keep the product’s temperature at an acceptable level.

At its molecular scale, heat is a type of energy whereby molecules of a substance vibrate at either a fixed or not fixed rate when energy is supplied. The vibration of those molecules transfers their energy to surrounding molecules, allowing them to vibrate as well. The study of the methods and techniques needed to transfer heat energy is called ‘Heat Transfer.’

This could include keeping products refrigerated, frozen, warm or reducing the effects of extreme temperature changes. One of the leading methods of providing insulated packaging is with a lightweight foam.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is one of the most common protective packaging insulations used by the healthcare and food industry.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Explained

EPS is a white, plastic material produced from solid beads of polystyrene, manufactured with air bubbles that allow gas to be trapped within the material. This makes it lightweight and provides low thermal conductivity, low moisture absorption, and acts as a protective factor cushion for the product.

The unit of measure for insulation properties is called “thermal conductivity” or K-factor. Thermal conductivity is the amount of heat transferred through a square area of material of a given thickness (in meters) due to a temperature difference. The lower the thermal conductivity of the material (K factor), the greater its ability to resist heat transfer, and therefore the more significant the insulation’s effectiveness. Typical thermal conductivity values for polyurethane foams are between 0.022 and 0.035W/m∙K.

The properties of EPS make it an ideal insulator for the construction and industrial sectors to insulate floors, walls, and roofs. EPS provides an innovative way for construction companies to provide structural integrity while allowing design flexibility for construction projects.

Additionally, EPS provides a way for a green building design that offers energy efficiencies and improved indoor air quality.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Benefits

over 25 cooler sizesWhile EPS has many benefits and uses in several industries, its effectiveness for shipping products worldwide is undeniable. Here are some of the benefits EPS can offer:

  • Custom Fabrication – EPS can be customized and molded around any product, creating a precise fit for shipping items, minimizing vibration and impact, and potentially eliminating bubble wrap or other solutions for padding.
  • Reduction of Bacteria – EPS prevents fungus and bacteria from collecting on surfaces compared to other shipping materials. In the food industry, this is particularly important as EPS allows for food-safe contact, meeting FDA 21 CFR standards.
  • Strong & Lightweight – EPS has exceptional shock absorbing capability and compression resistance, ideal for stackable packaging goods.
  • High Thermal Resistance – EPS is highly resistant to heat flow. Its uniform, closed cellular structure limits radiant, convective, and conductive heat transfer, making it ideal for shipping situations when external temperature changes are about without compromising the temperature of the product.
  • Moisture Resistant – The cellular structure of molded polystyrene is essentially impervious to water and provides zero capillaries.
  • Biodegradable – the most crucial benefit of EPS is that it is an environmentally conscious product that is recyclable and now biodegradable. Make sure to work closely with an EPS expert that offers a biodegradable option.
  • Low Thermal Conductivity – EPS prevents heat transmission in and out of the container protecting the product inside. When used with a refrigerant like PCM or gel packs, EPS can provide temperature protection for eight days. This is important for products shipped to rural countries where refrigeration may be a challenge or remote countries like Africa.

Start Using EPS Packaging For Your Temperature-Controlled Packaging

Working with a company specializing in cold chain packaging is important. At TempAid, we have provided solutions for hundreds of products for over 45 years in manufacturing in both North America and Asia.

We provide over 25 standard sizes and densities of biodegradable EPS packaging and can customize it to fit any of your needs. We also specialize in performance testing to determine the correct type of protective packaging solution you will need giving you the peace of mind your product is shipped safely.

Contact us today to see how temperature-controlled packaging can transform how you ship your products, or visit our website for more information.

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