Equipment in your pharmacy may be at risk if you fail to perform regular maintenance. Not following best practices could result in inferior refrigeration and freezer performance, causing irreversible damage to the medications or materials you're storing. When it comes to pharmacy medications, many products need to be stored at specific temperatures to maintain their efficacy and safety: liquid antibiotics, insulin, eye creams, ear drops, and vaccines often require such an environment. K2 Scientific recommends three simple best practices that can streamline your cold storage procedures, and ensure that medications maintain their efficacy and safety.
Pro Tip One - Commit to Regular Cleaning
Routinely Clean Your Cold Storage Equipment
Your pharmacy's pharmaceutical-grade refrigerators and freezers should be regularly cleaned, maintained, and sanitized to optimize the performance and mitigate bacterial contamination. Bacterial growth and inefficient performance can cause harm to employees and patients, as well as ruin expensive medications and vaccines.
Interior and Exterior Cleaning
When your new unit first arrives, be sure to sanitize the interior of the appliance. Employees should always unplug the refrigerator or freezer before conducting any regular cleaning procedure. Another critical safety measure is donning PPE, such as gloves and safety glasses to protect the individual from injury while performing the task.
Using a soft cloth along with warm water and a neutral cleaning agent is best. Avoid using harsh solvents or bleach as this could damage the equipment. Wipe down the inside and outside of the unit, and clean any bins and shelves. Containers and shelving should be completely dry before returning them to the unit. Doing so will both prevent the growth of bacteria and help deter frost build-up.
Each unit has a condenser, otherwise known as a heat exchanger. If it becomes clogged or dirty, air cannot freely circulate, resulting in suboptimal performance. Further, the lifespan of the unit can diminish, and energy costs may rise. An air jet or vacuum with a soft dry brush can be great for removing any dust or lint from the heat exchanger fins. It is best to clean the condenser coils monthly to avoid compromising the contents of the unit.
Pro Tip 2 – Have a Defrosting Plan
Regularly Remove Frost Buildup
Frequent or excessive door openings can result in a build-up of ice or frost may occur on the refrigerator or freezer door. Each time the door opens, refrigerated air flows out the equipment, and warm air enters. Humidity in the warm air may cause frost and ice to accumulate. As a result, the door may not close properly and contribute to an incomplete seal. Inspect the gaskets and door seals regularly for an accumulation of frost or ice.
Scrape the accumulated build-up from the inner doors and door seals as soon as it appears. Please do not use an icepick, as it can severely damage your equipment. A plastic ice scraper works best. Several vital steps can prevent build-up. First, be sure to remove and return materials to and from the unit as quickly as possible. As mentioned above, a door propped open for too long or too frequently can contribute to frost build-up. Secondly, make sure all medications and materials are clearly labeled and facing outward, so employees do not spend extra time searching with the door open.
Schedule Manual Defrosts
While defrosting can be inconvenient, it can extend the life, improve efficiency, and decrease energy consumption for cold-storage devices. It is essential to know if your unit has auto or manual defrost. Your owner's manual will typically indicate which type of system you have. You can also contact the manufacturers representative for guidance and clarity.
Auto-defrost units, while more convenient, can disrupt temperature stability and uniformity because the defrost cycle warms the interior of the cabinet causing temperature spikes. While manual defrost units require periodic maintenance, the temperature is more stable and uniform inside the cabinet. The exception to this rule is a new defrosting technology called hot gas defrosting system. This method of defrosting does not warm the inside cabinet walls like a traditional auto-defrosting system. Currently, K2 Scientific, offers the only product on the market with this new technology. However, it is only available in units larger than 10 cu. ft.
Defrosting is not just for freezers. Refrigerators may periodically need defrosting too. It is good preventive maintenance to defrost and clean your cold storage devices at least once per year. Further, the CDC recommends additional defrosting when ice accumulation reaches 1 centimeter. Drug manufacturers expect the product is alternately stored at the correct temperature while you are performing routine maintenance. Consider scheduling an annual defrost when your product load is traditionally low to help reduce the need for large amounts of alternative storage space during the defrosting cycle.
Before you purchase a new unit, inquire about the best option for your particular practice to select the best defrosting method for your unique environment.
Create a Checklist
Reinforce maintenance routines by posting a visible checklist near each unit with dates for routine cleaning. Creating a schedule and tasks for employees to complete will ensure that vital maintenance does not fall through the cracks.
Pro Tip 3 - Manage Interior Cabinet Space
Keep Refrigerator Properly Stocked
Placing medications in the interior cabinet, and keeping a detailed inventory log is key to optimizing equipment performance. It is essential to avoid over or under stocking your medical refrigerator or freezer. Improper stocking can obstruct airflow and create uneven temperatures within the cabinet.
Each refrigerator or freezer has an established shelf perimeter. Refer to the manufacturer's manual to view the shelf perimeter of your unit. All contents should be kept within the given boundary to ensure efficient airflow inside the unit. In addition to obstructing airflow, over-filling can create a challenge for personnel to find materials quickly, and prolonging the content's exposure to surrounding warm air.
Use Fillers in Nearly Empty Units
A nearly empty freezer is prone to more significant temperature drops as the doors open. Try keeping your unit 30 percent full at all times to help prevent these temperature drops. For pharmacies that only store a few items in their unit at a time, adding sealed, unused water bottles or gel packs can help maintain the temperature. For freezers, place ice packs in the unit to fill the remaining space.
Place Temperature Sensitive Materials in the Middle
Even medical-grade refrigerators and freezers with circulating fans have slight temperature variants through the interior. Generally speaking, it is best to place the most temperature-sensitive medications in the center of the unit. Make sure to comply with any manufacturer recommended cold storage medication placement. For example, the CDC recommends that vaccines remain 2-3 inches away from the walls, ceiling, floor, and door to maintain optimal temperatures.
Whether you're looking to purchase a new cold storage unit or already have one, it is critical to follow best practices to extend the unit's life, boost efficiency, keep patients and personnel safe, and maintain the integrity of temperature-sensitive medications. Keeping your refrigerator or freezer clean, promptly removing ice, and appropriately organizing and stocking materials in the unit are best practices that are easy to apply.