In 2009, after receiving reports of a musty odor, Johnson & Johnson issued multiple recalls on the over-the-counter pain reliever, Tylenol. The odor was traced back to a shipment delivered on a wood pallet covered in fungicide. The fungicide decayed and contaminated the Tylenol, resulting in a strong odor and gastrointestinal distress to consumers. The recall cost Johnson & Johnson to lose over $900 million.


This unfortunate incident highlights how one small issue, can lead to a multi-million dollar problem. In the pharma industry, contamination is only one challenge facing supply chain. Product damage, temperature control, and compliance accompany contamination on the list of challenges that supply chain faces.


Product Damage


Compared to other consumer products, pharmaceuticals require a great deal of attention when it comes to sanitation and safety. Logistics and warehouse employees have to be extra cautious when dealing with pharmaceuticals. Even a damaged box with its content still intact is grounds for discarding. The damaged packaging of some pharmaceuticals, like cytotoxics, can become a hazardous materials risk.


During transport, pharmaceuticals are the most vulnerable to damage, especially when being transported by wood pallets. From loose boards to inconsistently sized pallets, packaged product can easily become punctured or torn.


Temperature Control


Keeping temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, like vaccines, at the right temperature is a persistent challenge. As the pharmaceuticals move through the pharma supply chain, they can be exposed to a wide range of temperatures. Maintaining a constant temperature is essential to ensure that the drug remains effective. The changing temperatures also cause the wood platforms to degrade faster as the fibers expand and contract. The additional moisture present in the wood also leads to an increase in bacterial growth, making it difficult for conditions to remain sanitary.




As highlighted earlier with Johnson & Johnson, contamination can impact and harm a company quickly. Maintaining an environment that is free from pests and bacteria is essential in the success of supply chain management. To avoid contamination, more pharma companies are transitioning to plastic pallets. Plastic pallets are unable to absorb any detergents and don’t harbor fungi like wood pallets.




Maintaining standards and regulations is necessary within the pharmaceutical supply chain. New compliance developments can affect how you operate your business. With new EU regulations coming into effect shortly and the United States implementing a new Drug Supply Chain Security Act, it is of the utmost importance that you are aware of any new regulations.


Becoming aware of the challenges that pharma and logistics companies face, help better prepare companies with strategies to make their supply chain as efficient, cost-effective and reliable as possible.