Vaccines, blood samples, and various medical items are extremely sensitive to temperature and demand meticulous storage to preserve their effectiveness. Pharmacies, hospitals, and laboratories depend on specialized cold storage devices to safeguard pharmaceuticals and vaccines. These machines create the ideal environment, significantly prolonging the lifespan of these crucial medications. Unfortunately, some medical facilities attempt to cut costs by opting for household freezers or refrigerators, a decision that can result in substantial expenses due to compromised doses and medications.
There’s a big difference between domestic refrigerators and medical ones. Manufacturers have engineered medical-grade freezers and refrigerators with the sole purpose of safeguarding biopharmaceuticals. While these units may come with a higher initial price tag, they prove to be a superior long-term investment.
What Is a Medical-Grade Fridge and Freezer?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines biomedical refrigerators and freezers as devices crafted for specifically medical and laboratory purposes. These refrigerators do not store food items, reducing the frequency of door openings by staff members throughout the day.
In contrast to household refrigerators, medical-grade appliances are equipped with a microprocessor-based system that precisely monitors temperatures. They employ digital sensors like thermocouples, resistance temperature detectors (RTD), and thermistors to continuously assess the internal temperature. Additionally, these units feature rapid temperature recovery mechanisms that respond swiftly to deviations from the desired temperature range.
Facilities can choose from under-the-counter compact units or larger ones with double doors. In situations where space is limited, there are small medical refrigerators available. Dual pharmacy-grade units with separate refrigerators and freezer compressors are a suitable option. The CDC explicitly prohibits the use of dormitory-style refrigerators for vaccine storage due to their unreliable temperature control, which can lead to vaccine freezing.
Some medical-grade refrigerators with glass doors offer an additional advantage. They allow healthcare workers to locate items inside without opening the door, minimizing temperature fluctuations and maintaining the unit's temperature more effectively.
What Is the Importance of Refrigerators and Freezers in a Medical Facility?
- Ensuring a Reliable Cold Chain for Biologics
The use of medical-grade appliances is crucial for maintaining a reliable cold chain in healthcare settings. This cold chain is essential for preserving the effectiveness of vaccines, blood transfusions, and biological materials by ensuring they are stored and distributed at controlled temperatures.
Inadequate storage conditions, such as exposure to extreme heat, cold, or light, can lead to the loss of potency in these critical medical products. Liquid vaccines are particularly vulnerable, losing their effectiveness when exposed to temperatures below freezing. Administering compromised vaccine doses unintentionally erodes trust in vaccines, requires additional vaccinations, and poses a public health risk as patients may refuse revaccination, leaving them susceptible to preventable diseases.
To safeguard the cold chain, healthcare facilities should invest in medical refrigerators and freezers equipped with temperature monitoring systems. These specialized appliances maintain precise and consistent temperature ranges, ensuring vaccines and biologics are stored correctly. Additionally, healthcare facilities can enhance cold chain protection through accurate inventory management and staff training in the proper handling of biologics.
- Accurate Temperature Monitoring and Alarm Systems
Medical-grade laboratory refrigerators and freezers have precise temperature monitoring capabilities. Unlike household units, these pharmaceutical-grade appliances come equipped with external Temperature Monitoring Devices (TMDs). These devices allow healthcare facilities to monitor internal temperatures without the need to open the refrigerator door, ensuring the integrity of stored vaccines and biological supplies.
Government health agencies advise the use of TMDs, particularly in conjunction with digital data loggers (DDLs), which offer precise information regarding storage unit temperatures, including any instances when the unit operated outside of permissible temperature ranges. This degree of accuracy is greater than that of simple minimum/maximum thermometers, which merely report the highest and lowest temperatures that a unit has experienced. Built-in DDLs that record temperature data at predetermined intervals are also included in medical refrigerators and freezers, improving temperature management.
Many TMDs feature alarm systems to promptly alert healthcare providers to temperature deviations from the recommended range. Providers should employ backup monitors to validate internal temperatures and make gradual adjustments to temperature settings when necessary. Maintaining stable readings for 30 minutes before rechecking is advised. Proper thermostat settings and storage conditions are essential to minimize the risk of temperature excursions and ensure the effectiveness of medical refrigeration systems.
- Enhanced Air Flow Promotion
Household refrigerators often have glass shelves that restrict proper air circulation, resulting in uneven internal temperatures. This can potentially compromise the integrity of vaccines and biological materials. In contrast, medical-grade appliances are specifically designed to enhance airflow, surpassing their domestic counterparts. These pharmaceutical units employ powerful fan-driven air circulation systems with air-cooling vents and utilize wire shelves with perforated ventilation holes to efficiently distribute air, maintaining uniform temperatures.
Additionally, some purpose-built medical refrigerator for vaccines includes features like drawers with solid fronts (and wire interiors) that not only shield vaccines and samples from external temperatures but also facilitate effective air circulation. Many of these specialized appliances are equipped with alarm systems to promptly alert providers to situations like unsealed airlocks or open doors.
The CDC recommends key features for medical-grade refrigerators and freezers, such as wire shelves to ensure proper internal circulation and minimize temperature fluctuations within +/-2° C. Audible alarms are also advised to notify staff when doors are left ajar, or temperature excursions occur. To optimize air circulation, healthcare workers should avoid overfilling refrigeration units, maintaining at least 30 percent capacity without overcrowding. Furthermore, providers should ensure adequate external circulation for medical freezers by placing them in well-ventilated areas with sufficient space between the unit, floor, ceiling, and walls, while avoiding any obstructions to the compartment covers.
- Preventing Unauthorized Access to Biologics
Medical refrigerators offer an additional benefit for pharmacies and hospitals by discouraging staff members from using them for personal purposes. The presence of household refrigerators in a hospital setting may tempt employees to use them for personal storage. Frequent opening of the unit throughout the day by healthcare workers can lead to temperature fluctuations. These appliances typically lack robust temperature recovery systems, potentially causing vaccines and other biologics to lose their effectiveness.
Some purpose-built units are equipped with digital locks that restrict access to authorized staff members only. These appliances may also include labels to clearly indicate their intended use and prevent mixed storage.
- Protection Against Temperature Excursions Due to Power Failures
Power failures represent a significant threat to vaccine supplies, even when facilities employ appropriate equipment and maintain diligent temperature monitoring. These interruptions can result in the loss of an entire vaccine inventory. Fortunately, many healthcare facilities are equipped with on-site generators, eliminating the need to relocate vaccines to alternative storage facilities during power outages. To ensure uninterrupted operation, providers must ensure an adequate fuel supply to run the generator for 72 hours.
For healthcare facilities without access to generators, medical refrigerators and freezers offer a safeguard for vaccine products. These appliances often include built-in battery backups to prevent temperature fluctuations in the event of power failures. Furthermore, medical-grade refrigeration units feature backup battery power sources that can seamlessly take over instead of generators during power outages. In such situations, it is imperative to keep the refrigerator or freezer doors closed to maintain the internal temperature. Facilities should also maintain a secondary battery backup system in case the primary one fails. To adhere to best practices, the CDC recommends quarterly testing of backup battery power sources and annual servicing, following the manufacturer's guidelines for maintenance and testing procedures.
360 Degree Medical is the respected distributor of high-quality medical freezers in Canada. Shop our various selection of medical supplies or contact us at +1-800-209-2082 for any concerns.