Back to Basics: ISTA Standards 20 and 7E

The ISTA Pharma Committee recently held a virtual Technical Exchange to help shape the future of ISTA Standard 20 and 7E. Plus, a preview of the 2022 ISTA Forum's TempPack and training sessions taking place April 11-13 in San Diego, CA.

There are numerous standards to help life science companies manufacture and ship products safely. Today, we’re talking two common ISTA standards which may be updated soon—Standard 20 and 7E. For background:

  • Standard 20 (STD-0020) is a design and qualification process that provides the structure and path to design, test, and verify a specific Insulated Shipping Container (ISC) for use. “It's really intended to set a minimum requirement for qualifying insulated shippers in a standardized way,” explained AJ Gruber, ISTA president and CEO, at the recent Pharma Committee Technical Exchange in February.
  • Standard 7E (STD-7E) is a testing standard for thermal transport packaging used in parcel delivery system shipments. It includes hot and cold profiles developed from data gathered in real-world transport in North America through a parcel carrier. It’s intended to address the issue of gauging ISC performance for designs across manufacturers by offering a standard profile for performance testing. “I think nuance that gets lost in the discussion sometimes is that it was really intended to be a standardized profile that companies can use to get an apples-to-apples comparison of ISC performance when you compare them head-to-head,” noted Gruber.

At the Exchange, Gruber also provided context behind different types of certified labs. “We have two different kinds of lab certifications: one for a transport lab and one for a thermal lab. A transport testing laboratory certification assures that the laboratory is properly equipped to conduct our pre-transit package performance testing for parameters like shock and vibration that a package incurs when it's being shipped through your distribution environment,” he explained. “The thermal testing lab certification is ensuring that the lab is capable and compliant with ISTA Standard 20.”

A certified lab that utilizes that process, in conjunction with the ISTA 7E profiles, can qualify packaging solutions as certified to ISTA Standard 20.

There are a few additional requirements for a lab to become certified as a thermal lab—there's a requirement for training and certification of the lab personnel themselves, and there's an in-person audit requirement for the initial certification and for re-certification. These two aspects are unique to the thermal lab certification process and aren't required for the transport lab certification.

Scroll below for a preview of the 2022 ISTA Forum TempPack and pre-Forum training sessions, taking place in San Diego, CA, April 11-13.

The future of standard 20 and 7E

ISTA is looking into ways of ensuring that these standards are up to date and providing as much value to the industry as possible.  

“One of the things we've identified is that it might need a bit of a reorganization and the key areas that we've identified for future improvement and wider adoption is the accessibility, flexibility, and relevance and intent,” said Bill Mayer, director of research and development, Peli BioThermal. Mayer shared some of the topics that came up in feedback from pharma end users:

  • The availability for review for packaging end users came up as an area for improvement. Also on the accessibility front, the documentation package is time-consuming and quite large, which makes it tough to share easily.
  • The large and ongoing investment for the packaging solution providers and independent labs can be a hurdle.
  • Regarding flexibility, some respondents wished for flexible levels of participation in the standard based on their particular organization's maturity level and cost-benefit analysis. The second issue around flexibility was being able to choose the amount of value that an organization wants and allow those levels to change, based on individual company growth and industry need as they change over time.
  • Relevance and intent: The intent is to provide a document and standard that is relevant to the industry. “We can drive that and increase the relevance by driving the flexibility and the accessibility and encouraging a technical standards review committee that reviews the technical data of the standard, where all stakeholders are allowed a voice,” said Mayer.

Voices of the industry

Attendees at the Exchange offered varying perspectives on Standard 20 as it currently stands.

Packaging suppliers noted that the standard is valuable to the industry as a whole, offering best practices and procedures they use and providing standardization on running packaging qualifications so that the end users understand what is being put in front of them. They also noted that it could benefit from a refresh in how it’s applied and structured.

From the auditor perspective, Carolyn Williamson, president at Parenteral Supply Chain, said, “I really like the structure that it provides. Also, for some of the test labs using this, it really helps them if they're just starting off because some of them are small. It’s a good foundation for what they need from all the perspectives like quality systems, training, etc. There are places we can work on, I think. Working with these test labs, they sometimes find the training a little cumbersome and we can probably work on that… I'd be very open to helping to improve the system, but I find tons of value in it. If the lab goes to this trouble, there’s a lot of value to that, and I think it’s important for end users to understand that if they don't know.”

Bryan Cardis, sr. consultant engineer, Eli Lilly and Company, noted that when you have the ability to use a certified lab, it strengthens the position of the company to know that you're getting validated results. “Then compound with that, you have a strong position when you're going to an auditor that (1) you have validated results and (2) you have a certified lab and it generally appeases auditor concerns about what kind of data you have and what kind of facilities you're using,” he added.

From a supplier perspective, demand among pharma manufacturers is a key issue. One president of an independent test lab noted that while they are already ISTA-accredited, they’re not Standard 20 accredited and they haven’t yet seen the value in incurring the extra costs associated. Another independent lab president echoed those concerns, explaining that it’s a “chicken and egg” issue for them to invest the time and work to get accredited. “We need to have our customers ask for it. That hasn't hit a critical mass yet for the investment, but that's also why I'm on these calls to feel out if we're at a tipping point and if we should start the process,” she explained.

Reorganizing standards

ISTA is looking at reorganizing the standards to offer a tiered approach. At this point, a direction is not set in stone, but the group is focused on improving the accessibility, investment level, and flexibility based on how companies want to apply it and the maturity level of the organization.

While a direction is not set in stone, the group is considering a tiered approach to improve the accessibility, investment level, and flexibility of standards for the industry. (Credit: ISTA)While a direction is not set in stone, the group is considering a tiered approach to improve the accessibility, investment level, and flexibility of standards for the industry. (Credit: ISTA)At base of the pyramid are Standard 20 and 7E. “What's being proposed is to be able to give broader access in making that available to all ISTA members with their annual dues and for minimal purchase cost for non-members. Very much like buying any other standards, like 3A for example. Maybe there's an abstract that can be available to everyone. But the bottom line was making the base standard widely available and reviewable by all those that might have interest in it,” Mayer said.

Then stepping up the pyramid, access to the templates and the appendices may be added, which would be the minimum level that a company would need to execute the standard and document it properly. Mayer explained, “That would assume that you already have an existing quality system. So, something like ISO 17025 and a training program in place that is adequate for developing it and conducting these tests.”

For the next level on the pyramid, there is discussion of adding access for Standard 20 to the recently developed ISTA digital platform, PackSight, to help with the documentation process. “Since some of the issues around Standard 20 had to do with the documentation level, this could certainly help fill some of those documents out,” Mayer said. “We could have some of those pre-filled, we could have it as a sharing site, for documentation sharing benefits.”

The next layer would feature levels that add value to the companies that might not have a certification for their lab or a certification for personnel. “If you already have an existing lab accreditation and you want to add additional lab certification value, then that can be added, or if you don't have any lab certification value, you're new to the industry, then that can certainly be added as well. And then a lot those lines can be done with the personnel certification, too,” Mayer noted.

At the very top of the pyramid is package certification, allowing for the ISTA certification mark to be used on the package after ISTA review.

The idea is to allow for broad access to the standard base for minimal cost, and then create a technical review committee that's allowed to review this on a normal basis like any other standard and offer input.

One audience member noted that personnel certification might be beneficial before the lab certification part of the pyramid. Another attendee asked if they wanted to purchase the lab certification, would they also need to purchase the digital platform access, or would the pyramid levels be a la carte?

Gruber explained, “This is just a concept at this point, and we're looking for feedback on the approach. The concept, though, is that it’s an a la carte type of pyramid. But in order to get to the top of the pyramid, you would need the pieces to fill in underneath as well.”

This approach could allow companies to step up based upon the value proposition and the maturity level of their organization, being able to switch between those levels as they progress over time.

Looking to learn more?

Make plans to attend 2022 ISTA Forum, including TempPack and TransPack in-person events, April 11-13 at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina in beautiful San Diego, California. Gather with your peers for networking, conference sessions, and optional training sessions!

There will be a closed ISTA Pharma Committee Meeting on Monday, April 11 from 3:00 PM-5:00 PM, and an open meeting on Wednesday, April 13 at 4:00 PM. 

TempPack sessions include the following. For the full agenda, click here.

Tues, April 12

Keynote: The Outlook for E-Commerce and Smart Packaging

9:00 AM-9:45 AM

This presentation will provide insights on the marketplace and factors impacting demand for these growing, multi-billion-dollar markets, and a high-level overview of topics including COVID19 effects, opportunities and threats to consider, and more.

The Transition of Packaging to a Digital World Through Data

9:45 AM-10:15 AM

In this talk you'll learn how to digitize and operationalize your packaging data and work with other functions to drive results, positively impact your bottom line, and increase supply chain visibility.

Panel Discussion: Sustainability

10:30 AM-11:30 AM

Don't miss your chance to hear what packaging industry leaders have to share about the critically important topic of sustainability.

An Investigation into the Use of Simplified Approaches to the Modeling & Simulation of Cold Chain Parcel Shippers

1:30 PM-2:00 PM

The modeling and simulation of parcel shippers is now quite a common activity within the Cold Chain space—typically 3D using either specialized (SmartCAE) or multi-physics (Simcenter 3D) software packages. These can be used in all phases of the qualification process—DQ, OQ, and PQ, as well as being useful to help diagnose failures that might have occurred in actual shipments.

Ambient Temperature Profile Best Practice Paper

2:00 PM-3:00 PM

Transforming Ambient Lane Data Collected from Insulated Shipping Containers during Lane Transit

3:00 PM-3:30 PM

An algorithm can be developed that will normalize the ambient data collected from a temperature logging device to ensure any temperature data used in the development of an Ambient Temperature Profile will not have a bias towards colder temperatures than are actually experienced in the shipping lane. 

Performance Qualification (PQ) and Performance Verification (PV) Best Practice Guideline

3:30 PM-4:00 PM

This session will provide information and discussion on this best practice guideline which has been prepared by the ISTA Pharma Committee and thermal packaging/monitoring suppliers. 

Discussion on Industry Sharing with Lane Data

4:00 PM-5:00 PM

Exhibitor Reception

5:30 PM-7:30 PM

Relax and enjoy hors d'oeuvres and drinks as you network and learn about the exhibitor’s products, services, and innovative solutions. 


Wed, April 13

 So You Measured the Wrong Temperature! Don't Panic, All is Not Lost!

8:30 AM-9:00 AM

A Kitepharma engineer and Cold Chain Technologies expert discuss a First Principles based model that was developed to relate the inside TMD and ambient temperatures. Both step chamber testing and a test ambient profile were used to successfully calibrate the model.  

Dry Ice for Cold Chain Shipping: A Closer Look at Sublimation

9:00 AM-9:30 AM

This session will explore the following observations from experiments conducted to better understand factors affecting sublimation: binder in dry ice manufacturing, dry ice geometry, age, critical heat flux, and observed temperature and density variations in dry ice blocks.

Design Considerations for High Volume Frozen Applications

9:30 AM-10:00 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic marked a significant change requiring vaccines to be distributed in high volume and at deep frozen temperatures—key insights will be shared. 

Highlighted Sessions

Panel Discussion: Covid Challenges and Key Learning

10:30 AM-11:15 AM

Panel Discussion: Sustainability 

11:15 AM-12:00 PM

Can cold chain excursion be prevented by predictive intelligence utilizing real-time monitoring solutions?

1:30 PM-2:00 PM

Real-time Monitoring: New Supply Chain Visibility Practices, What We Have Learned and Future Predictive Analytics

2:00 PM-2:30 PM

Panel Discussion: Monitor Qualification

3:00 PM-4:00 PM

Open ISTA Pharma Committee Meeting

4:00 PM-4:45 PM

Forum Closing Celebration

6:30 PM-8:30 PM

Celebrate the closing of the 2022 ISTA Forum by joining us for dinner and fun on the Marriott Grand Ballroom outdoor terrace. Great food, drinks, and music await.

FourPre-Forum Training Sessions

Pre-Forum Training: BioPharma Cold Chain 101

Mon, April 11, 8:00 AM-12:00 PM

The Who, What, Why, Where of Cold Chain

  • Basics of a cold chain program
  • Attributes of a gold standard cold chain program
  • Guiding standards for the industry
  • Introduction to the Shipping Qualification Process Flow
  • Lessons learned on selecting test labs and suppliers (labs, packaging, recording devices, etc.)

Pre-Forum Training: Principles of Distribution Packaging

Trainer: ISTA's Education Council Chair, Patrick McDavid

Mon, April 11, 8:00 AM-12:00 PM,

This course is an introduction to various topics that affect distribution package design. These topics include the understanding the various levels of packaging, corrugated fundamentals, sustainability, and the implications of packaging decisions. The hazards of supply chains, transportation modes, and different commerce channels will also be discussed. 

Pre-Forum Training: Responsible Packaging by Design (RPbD) Training

Trainer: ISTA's Lead Instructor, Larry Dull

Mon, April 11, 8:00 AM-3:00 PM

ISTA is offering an in-person training on the implementation of ISTA's Responsible Packaging by Design (RPbD) recommended guideline. Whether seeking to test the waters, training to implement the program, or obtain a professional certificate, the RPbD training program can help you gain the skills and knowledge you need to build your company’s reputation as an environmentally and socially conscious corporate citizen – and drive profitability. Training will be followed by an exam which, if successfully passed, will lead to a professional certificate of training in the use of the guideline.


Pre-Forum Training: URS to Operational Qualification

Trainer: ISTA Pharma Committee Members and industry leaders Carolyn Williamson and Eric Silberstein

Mon, April 11, 1:00 PM-5:00 PM

The How of Cold Chain – Taking the fundamentals of the first class and putting it into practice

  • How to create a robust URS
    • Highlight both major and minor attributes of a URS
  • How to design and implement your OQ process
    • Highlight the design qualification tests
    • Execution of an OQ protocol
    • Documentation
      • Test Protocols and Reports
      • Temperature Recording Device Settings
      • Operational SOP/WIs
      • Staff training
      • How to select and implement a pre-qualified shipper
    • Navigating Change Control to Implement your Qualified System
    • Lessons Learned on Implementing a Qualified Shipping System
    • Case Studies









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