Choosing the right laboratory/medical refrigerator

Refrigerators used in the medical and scientific fields are mostly intended for the conservation and storage of reagents, biological samples and medication. In this guide, we will see how they differ from household refrigerators used in everyday life.

From one manufacturer to another, refrigerators have a number of different features and options available. Depending on the model, the temperature ranges may be different. Combination refrigerator-freezers usually have at least two independent compartments: one operating as a freezer (with a temperature below 0 degrees celsius) and the other as a refrigerator (with a temperature above 0 degrees celsius).

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  • What are refrigerators used for in the health sector?

    Liebherr laboratory refrigerator

    In the health sector, there are two main types of refrigerators: laboratory and pharmacy refrigerators. They must be completely hygienic and fully reliable, especially with regard to temperature control. Some models also offer automatic defrosting or forced air refrigeration.

    • Laboratory refrigerators are mainly used for the conservation of samples and/or reagents. Laboratory refrigerators must maintain a constant temperature to minimize the risk of cross-contamination or explosion of volatile materials. In order to achieve this, they often have a fan that circulates air inside the unit to keep the temperature at the same level. This fan stops when the door is opened to prevent cold air from escaping. These refrigerators also have separate compartments to prevent cross-contamination. They can also store blood or vaccines. Refrigerators used specifically for blood storage are referred to as “blood bank refrigerators“. They are used in laboratories or blood banks.
    • Pharmacy refrigerators are used to store medicines and vaccines in optimal conditions. They provide reliable cooling and temperature stability. An alarm signal is essential in the event of a power outage or if the refrigerator door is left open to prevent the temperature inside the refrigerator from rising (especially in the summer). There is also a safety system against temperatures below 0°C. Many refrigerators for medication are equipped with a locking system to prevent access to sensitive medicines.
  • What features are important when choosing a refrigerator?

    Dulas chest refrigerator

    We recommend taking into account (in addition to its application) a refrigerator’s capacity, the temperature range it offers and its configuration as well as the type of doors and how many there are.

    • Capacity: the storage volume of the device is decisive and your choice will depend on your activity.
    • Temperature range: this is a very important factor. Most refrigerators have a temperature range between 2°C and 8°C in accordance with the DIN 58345 standard.
    • Configuration: this should be taken into consideration according to the space available in the laboratory or pharmacy. Refrigerators are generally of the “cabinet” type (vertical) and more rarely of the “chest” type (horizontal). Some are also known as “built-in“, i.e. they can be positioned directly under the counter in a laboratory. Theses generally have a lower capacity.
    • The type of doors and how many there are: a refrigerator can have between one and four doors. Some models offer solid or glass doors.
  • How to ensure user safety when choosing a scientific refrigerator?

    It is important to think about user safety when choosing a laboratory or pharmacy refrigerator. Stored products can represent a danger for staff. However, there are features to limit the risks involved. For example:

    • Explosion-proof / antispark refrigerators: these models are designed to store products presenting an explosion risk (flammable, chemical, etc.).
    • Shielded/lead-lined refrigerators: they are suitable for the storage of radioactive sources or materials. This feature is particularly suitable for nuclear medicine.
    • Lockable refrigerators: the lockable door of the appliance makes it possible to limit the access of unauthorized persons to dangerous or very expensive substances (narcotics, vaccines, etc.).
  • How can you ensure that products are kept at the right temperature?

    As we saw earlier (see the first question), most refrigerators have a temperature monitoring system. Alarms can be set to sound if required temperature levels are exceeded.

    Some models are equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which allows the cold chain of samples that are stored to be traced. For example, a refrigerator using RFID technology will be able to record the storage temperature of a blood bag as well as the time it enters and exits the refrigerator. If blood is needed for surgery or transfusion, a computer search is performed. An LED indicator on the label of selected blood bags flashes to indicate to staff which blood bags are intended for use. The user with access rights to the refrigerator then takes out the selected bags. Unused blood is then returned to the refrigerator which will automatically record the length of time the blood bag in question has been out of the refrigerator.

  • What are the latest options available for a laboratory or pharmacy refrigerator?

    Recent technological developments aim to improve the monitoring and conservation of samples: it must be possible to guarantee and prove that the cold chain is maintained (see the fourth question).

    Manufacturers are developing more and more models that respect the environment. In particular, they are offering solar-powered refrigerators without batteries, which are particularly useful in rural areas or developing countries.

    Some regions have limited or no access to electricity or experience frequent or long power outages. Solar-powered refrigerators thus offer an efficient option for dispensing with expensive and environmentally problematic batteries. These devices use solar energy (solar panels) to freeze water. This stock of ice is then used to keep the refrigerator cold overnight or when the weather is cloudy.

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