When It Comes to Pharmacy, a Refrigerator is a Refrigerator Right?…Wrong.

Figure 1 – HABCO SE18RxG

Almost a decade ago, several U.S. states began to legislate around the use of refrigeration equipment in retail and commercial pharmacy operations. Since then we have witnessed a steady progression of state legislation that we expect, given the current pandemic, will find its way to most jurisdictions across the U.S. and Canada within a short few years.

Until recently, pharmacies for the most part, were using residential grade refrigerators to store vaccines and other medicines.

In many cases, these units were the “Dorm Style” mini fridges that you can pick up at Home Depot for a few hundred dollars.

But as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and their Canadian counterpart, Health Canada began to shed light on the importance of temperature range, monitoring and data logging, these U.S. states realized that these residential models were largely inadequate for the task at hand.

Both CDC and Health Canada recommend the use of purpose built pharmaceutical grade refrigeration whenever possible.

What temperature range do I need to maintain?

Your refrigerator must be designed to hold the recommended temperature range of 2C – 8C (36F – 46F) and keep the temperature consistent throughout the cabinet by use of a forced air distribution system.

By contrast, mini fridges are “Static” designs that rely on an evaporator coil embedded in the walls of the cabinet for cooling. Without a robust forced air system, they suffer from “Stratification” where a “layering” of different temperatures occurs from top to bottom, varying wildly by many degrees.

What is the recommended type of temperature sampling and control?

Most refrigeration designs, both commercial fridge and residential utilize Ambient Air Temperature Probes to sample air temp in the cabinet and manage the cooling system.

By contrast, a purpose built pharmacy refrigerator should be equipped with a Glycol Bottle Temperature Probe.  In this design the temperature probe resides in a solution of propylene glycol that serves as a buffer. This method of temperature sampling more closely replicates the core product temperature of the products they are designed to store rather than just the air temperature in the cabinet.

What Happens if I Don’t Use the Right Type of Refrigerator?

The CDC has indicated that temperature excursions outside the stipulated range, even for periods less than 24 hours can affect product integrity, and in most cases reducing the potency of vaccines and other medicines.

The consequence of such an occurrence could result in a loss of product costing tens of thousands of dollars or more but worse, this could affect the health and well-being of clients.

In the current climate of the COVID-19 Pandemic, with vaccines in such short supply, unnecessary losses represent significant delays in achieving a state of normalcy.

Will My Commercial Beverage or Food Service Fridge Suffice?

It might…if its capable of holding a tight temperature range and utilizes a glycol bottle temperature probe. However, the guidelines for refrigerated foods and bottled or canned beverages are considerably more lax. Moreover, these designs may lack the robust refrigeration system necessary to allow for rapid temperature recovery after door openings, unlike with a merchandiser refrigerator.

In short, do you want to take the chance to save a few dollars up front?

Do I Need to Use a Digital Data Logger (DDL) to Monitor Temperature?

Data Logger Device
Figure 2 – HABCOLog Digital Data Logger

Again, several U.S. states have begun to legislate around DDL’s as a minimum requirement. But even if your jurisdiction does not yet require one, we recommend their use regardless.

A well designed DDL will not only log temperatures at set intervals, they can also send alerts via email, cell phone or text to the operator in the event of a temperature excursion. Think of them as an insurance policy, both to protect the integrity of your medicines and vaccines, and to protect your organization from liability that may arise as a result of administering ineffective vaccines.

OK, So I Need a Pharmacy Fridge and a DDL, What Should I Do Next?

Good news! HABCO Manufacturing has DDL’s in stock along with a range of pharmacy refrigerators and freezers. Get in touch with us now for a quote. But don’t wait too long! The COVID-19 Pandemic and impending vaccines has dramatically increased demand!