October 7, 2021

Part Two: Criteria to consider when selecting new shipping partners

Pharma IQ Hero.png

Understand the key criteria for selecting a pharmaceutical shipping partner.

Maintaining and selecting new, temperature-controlled transportation fleets is a continuous effort by many pharmaceutical manufacturers and third-party logistics companies, to meet the growing demand for transportation of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals. Patient safety is of the utmost priority and finding shipping partners that meet rigorous standards, like those outlined below, is key to supporting the mission.


While the fleet may be purchasing quality equipment to move pharmaceutical products, maintenance is a huge potential downfall to any mechanical system. If not properly maintained, a truck or refrigeration system can break down leading to a delay in delivery, or worse a temperature excursion, investigation and potential loss of a patient’s treatment. As the pharmaceutical industry has higher value loads than other refrigerated segments such as grocery, it is important to understand if and how they enhance their maintenance schedules to reduce the risk of breakdown compared to any equipment used for lower value shipments.

To understand maintenance procedures be sure to ask:

  • What maintenance do they perform on their equipment?
  • Do they follow set maintenance schedules? Is this based on their preference or the recommendation of the manufacturer?
  • Do they conduct any preventative maintenance on their equipment before it is required, to reduce breakdown risks?
  • How do they validate their equipment over time to ensure it is still able to meet the needs of your product temperature requirements?

Record practices

As audits are part of the nature of the pharmaceutical industry, and likely you will have a more in-depth audit done of your potential shipper before you officially sign off, you do need to understand their records practices. You do not want a patient to lose access to their medicines because of a paperwork issue. Make sure your vendors are keeping your records for the desired period your business needs, and that they are secure and backups are available should anything happen to their primary records.

Key questions relating to record-keeping procedures could include:

  • How long do they keep maintenance records?
  • Where are they stored?
  • Who has access?
  • Do they have backup records in case something happens to the primary system?

Standard operating procedures

Often it comes back to processes, especially since processes help overcome risks such as human error. More rigor to standard operating procedures (SOPs) should safely reduce risks introduced by human behaviors. Where experience will come into play is if your fleets have enhanced their procedures over time having conducted corrective and preventative actions and identified challenges. It is a good sign if the fleets have continued to improve their processes based on past temperature excursion experiences to reduce risk in the future.

Sample questions to gauge the typical procedures could include:

  • What are their typical SOPs during shipments?
  • Have they made changes to their set SOPs over time? What was an example of a recent change they made?


Ensuring that knowledgeable individuals are handling your highly valuable medicines is vital. Make sure to understand how they train their employees and if they do anything special for drivers or personnel that interact with pharmaceutical materials. It may be a warning sign if they train a driver that is delivering apples the same way they train the driver that will deliver blood plasma. Special care is required for such a market with such an impact on patient care.

In the areas of training make sure to ask:

  • How do they train their drivers and other personnel?
  • Do they have examples of required materials for the training of personnel?
  • Do they have any special or additional training for drivers and personnel that handle pharmaceutical products compared to other segments like grocery or dry cargo?

To continue to meet the growing demand for temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical transportation, manufacturers, and third-party logistics, companies need to expand their temperature-controlled fleet networks. Due to the intense equipment and SOPs required, it can be difficult to find quality fleets that meet your needs. At Thermo King, we work closely with our pharmaceutical fleet customers to understand industry needs, so we can help our customers grow and enable the industry to receive the cold chain network it requires to deliver treatments safely to patients. If you need support in growing your active cold chain network, consider Thermo King a partner in aiding your search and enhancing fleets’ capabilities.

At Thermo King, we understand that if the quality of pharmaceutical product shipments is compromised, the risk is more than loss of cargo – it can compromise the health and well-being of patients. Our refrigeration and temperature-controlled storage solutions enhance the quality of life by keeping products at their optimal temperature throughout the pharma cold chain. Learn more at thermoking.com/pharma