Clinical & Regulatory

Clinical & Regulatory

Inside medical refrigeration: safety, stability, quality and reliability


Medical refrigeration is a topic that any hospital, pharmacy or medical facility must take seriously. The correct storage of medicines and vaccines is essential to ensure drugs maintain their integrity, and failure to store them properly can lead to serious problems. Deborah Lea from CoolMed explains just how important correct storage is

medical refrigerators

Not only can storing certain medicines at the wrong temperature shorten their shelf life by affecting the composition of the drugs and changing their potencies, but it can even be dangerous to the end user. In addition, the improper storage of medicines is costing hospitals and medical institutions money. According to a recent report by Public Health England, vaccine wastage cost the NHS more than £5 million in 2017 alone.

A specialist medical refrigerator is therefore essential. Here is what you need to know about storing medicines and vaccinations properly.

Why correct storage is essential

If drugs are not stored correctly, they can quickly become ineffective. This wastes considerable amounts of money when batches are ruined and have to be disposed of. Vaccines are expensive, and the loss of even small amounts can be extremely serious. In addition, the drugs can become dangerous when they are not stored properly, risking the health of patients.

If medicines are not stored securely, they could also get into the wrong hands. Expensive drugs can attract thieves, and not only does this have financial consequences for the facility, but it can also be dangerous should the medicines get into the wrong hands and be used incorrectly.

The only way to store certain medications and vaccinations is in a medical refrigeration unit. Even slight temperature deviations can ruin medications, and only the very best medical refrigeration should therefore be used.

This means standard domestic fridges designed for storing food and drink are never suitable. They simply cannot provide the same strict temperature control that specialist medical fridges provide, making them unreliable.

What to look for in a medical fridge

There are many factors that make refrigerators suitable for storing medicines and vaccinations. Firstly, a medical fridge will have very strict temperature controls. The temperature controls need to be highly accurate to ensure the temperature is kept at the exact level it needs to be for the correct storage of the drugs. A suitable fridge keeps the temperature stable and prevents it from fluctuating too much, which is a common problem with standard fridges.

A medical fridge will not only measure the temperature of the air inside the fridge; it will also measure the temperature of the medication. This is the temperature that really matters, and it has to be kept accurate, so measuring the air temperature alone is not sufficient.

Even with the strict temperature controls, problems can arise. People can leave the door open, or a power cut could prevent the fridge from cooling the medicines adequately. This is why a medical refrigerator should come with an alarm system to alert users to the problem before the medicines are ruined.

As mentioned, security is also an issue when it comes to storing any kind of medication. Medicines can be tempting for thieves, and a good medical fridge will come with a strong security lock to reduce the risk of theft.

Mitigating the risk of fire is also important, and the best way of doing this is to ensure the back of the fridge is made out of metal and not plastic. Those made out of plastic are to be considered unsafe, and pose a serious risk of fire.

Finally, it is also a good idea to look for a medical fridge that is eco-friendly. You want to use the least amount of energy as possible when cooling medicines while still ensuring the medicines and vaccines are kept at the right temperature consistently, so always try to find a fridge that uses the lowest amount of energy necessary.

When you purchase your fridge, remember that the most expensive fridges are not always the best. Many manufacturers charge a premium for their products, but always closely inspect the fridge itself and make sure it has all of these essential features before making your choice.

How to store medicines correctly

As you may well know, storing medicines is not the same as storing food and drink in a normal household fridge. There are a few rules to follow to ensure your medicines and vaccinations are stored properly for long periods of time.

Firstly, always keep medicines in their original packaging to protect them from the light and make them easy to spot alongside all the other medicines. This can prevent them from being mixed up, and it is a simple step to take for more efficient storage and usage.

Never overfill the fridge. The maximum capacity should remain at 75 per cent, and storing the fridge with more medicines than this could lead to a build-up of ice that can affect the temperature control.

Pay close attention to the position of medicines and vaccines. They should be carefully placed so they are not touching the back wall, which can affect their temperature. There should also be a 1cm gap between them; again this helps to keep the temperature correct. While it should go without saying, it’s worth mentioning that you should never store food and drink in a medical fridge along with the medicines.

Finally, audit your stock on a monthly basis at the very least to make sure that everything is in place. That way, if something is missing or you discover another problem, you will find out quickly and you can take the appropriate measures. Never go longer than a month without checking the medicines, even if you always lock the fridge.

Correct fridge maintenance guidance

Deborah Lea

While all medical fridges are different, there are a few guidelines to follow with any fridge that you use to make sure you look after it and ensure the integrity of the medicines kept within.

The lock is one of the most important things to check on a regular basis. As mentioned, theft is always a risk when storing medicines, no matter how secure your establishment or how trustworthy your employees and co-workers are. So check the lock regularly to ensure it is in good working order. This combined with your monthly audit will greatly help to reduce the risk of theft.

Also, make sure your fridge is in good working order. Electrical safety is always essential, and while a high-quality fridge from a reputable manufacturer will, in general, be very safe to use, you should always check the wires regularly and carry out an annual servicing or calibration using an expert service.

Check for the build-up of ice as well. As mentioned, this can become a problem, especially if the fridge is filled to over 75 per cent capacity. Ice can affect the temperature control of the medicines, so defrost the fridge if you need to. It is also worth considering taking out a maintenance contract to ensure that your fridge is serviced regularly and works as it should.

Advantages of choosing the right fridge

Choosing the right fridge for your medical establishment is essential. In the first place, doing so will help to prevent vaccines from being ruined. Losing vaccines and medicines can be expensive as well as dangerous, and a good fridge will greatly reduce the risk as long as you use it properly and follow good maintenance practices.

Having the right fridge in your medical facility will also help to reduce the risk of theft. Medicines left in an unsecured fridge present a genuine risk, and you could lose a lot of money if they get stolen. It can also pose a risk to health because the medicines may be used incorrectly.

By keeping your medicines fresh, safe and ready to use, as well as reducing the risk of theft, your establishment can save money. In addition, an eco-friendly fridge can also help you to reduce your electricity bills, saving yet more money.

Using suitable medical refrigeration in your facility should be considered essential to prevent problems with your medicines and make financial savings.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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