Choosing the Right Medical Refrigerator

Published by Emeli Zuno on

medical frozen storage

Choosing the right medical refrigerator. What factors should be considered when selecting a refrigerator for vaccine storage. Selecting the right refrigeration unit for a medical or research facility can be quite intricate.  It is always advised to buy a reliable and efficient medical refrigerator that has enough space to keep medical supplies and specimens within a specific temperature range.

Moreover, each medical refrigerator has its own distinct features and styles – making it difficult to identify which one works best for certain facilities.  There are several factors that should be considered when picking out a unit including size, type, and more.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Medical Refrigerator

Deciding on which medical refrigerator to purchase depends primarily on the underlying proposed purpose of the unit. It is also important to understand that choosing a model is not based solely based on the workplace’s needs but also on potential future needs.  There is no harm in anticipating future situations. To make the right choice now, take into account how all these factors may come into play over the years the medical refrigerator will be put to use.

medical refrigerator

Refrigerator Use

This is top priority. A medical refrigerator that is generally used in storing vaccines will look different, and have different styles, than ones used exclusively for storing laboratory samples. Simply put, it is necessary to choose a unit with specialized features that meet the facility’s requirements. For example, hospitals can use refrigerators designed to house plasma or blood donations within a specific temperature range. Pharmacies can choose units with features customized for storing medications, while research institutions can opt for refrigerators that can keep samples in tightly specified conditions.

Most purpose-built units fall into five categories:

  • Vaccine Storage
  • Pharmaceutical Supplies
  • Blood Bank
  • Laboratory
  • Chromatography

Basically, specialized medical refrigeration units can be used for different purposes, as long as their uses are suited for the facility’s needs. No matter what plans have been made for the refrigerator, it is imperative to choose a durable unit that can withstand daily use at the workplace while properly keeping its biological supplies safe from potential risk or damage.

Refrigerator Size

Finding the right size is a vital component in the selection process. If the medical refrigeration unit is too big, it will be difficult to keep the internal temperature within its specified range. Therefore, it is better to look for something that will fit the storage needs, without going too extreme. On the other hand, units that are too small for the storage requirements can cause overcrowding and poor internal airflow – which can push some contents towards the back end of the unit, and weaken the effectiveness of the vaccines or other samples inside.

Always be practical with the number of items that will be stored in each medical refrigerator. If possible, try to consider potential changes in storage needs, in order to be prepared.     

Refrigerator Placement

It might sound questionable but placement is also a factor to consider, because placement will decide whether the unit is going to be built-in, or free-standing.

For a facility with a small space, it is recommended to use compact units, as they can easily fit in or under most countertops; while a big and upright refrigerator is better suited for a workstation that does not need to conserve floor space. Aside from this, it is also critical to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of space surrounding the unit for proper air circulation – about two to four inches on all sides. The unit may also need to be placed in a separate room where it can be kept safe from exposure to varying temperatures during the day.

Temperature Consistency

Another important point that sets a medical refrigerator apart from a home refrigerator is its ability to regulate accurate temperatures. Medical refrigeration units are built to ensure that medical samples and supplies are stored within a certain temperature range to maintain viability. For example, vaccines are usually stored between +2°C to +8°C (+35.6°F to +46.4°F).  A change in temperature could affect their potency or ruin research that consumed significant effort and money. Unstable temperature control could also mean loss of blood donations in blood banks and shortages in needed medications for hospitals and medical clinics.

Automated Temperature Data Logging

In addition to temperature consistency, temperature logging is another key component in keeping medical samples and vaccines well-preserved at all times.

Wireless glycol thermometer on jar

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests buying medical refrigeration units with Temperature Monitoring Devices (TMD) and Digital Data Loggers (DDL) which will allow users to track and gather internal temperature data without opening the door. It is recommended to record the temperatures at least twice a day – once in the morning and once at the end of the day. Below are some other features a TMD should have:

  • A digital monitor on the outside the unit
  • An alarm in case the temperature shifts out of the prescribed range
  • Temperature accuracy within +/-1°C to +/-.5°C (+/-33.8°F to +/-.32.9°F)
  • A “low-battery” indicator
  • Memory storage of up to 4,000 readings


All medical-grade units require shelving systems that promote efficient airflow. It is advisable to choose medical refrigerators with built-in or easily adjustable shelves to make sure that the unit can hold an ample amount of supply without overcrowding. There should be adequate space between each vaccine vial and biological samples in order for the air to circulate properly.

Most domestic models use glass shelving for easy cleaning purposes, but this feature can disrupt the airflow within the unit. Normally, a medical-grade unit with wire, plastic, or perforated shelves is preferred.

Custom-built shelves complement biological sample storage since they protect the contents from temperature inconsistencies.  Moreover, these shelves support systematic organization, which is essential for every facility in every sector.

Some units are equipped with door storages but it is better to fill the door storage areas with water bottles or freezer packs. This is because opening refrigerator doors risks exposing the contents to the outside air, which could then affect the contents.

Additional features to look for:

  • Security: In most facilities, valuable items are likely to be kept inside a medical refrigerator. This is why it is important to have a unit that comes with a secured lock – a keypad or combination lock. This will provide both security and assurance that the unit will not be easily accessed by other staff, and will not be unnecessarily opened to let out the cooled air.
  • Defrost System: A medical refrigeration unit’s defrost system is not something to be ignored.  Manually defrosting a refrigerator will certainly cost time, but it is important for particular applications and requirements. Alternatively, auto-defrosting units require low maintenance and less time, but will consume more power than manual units. The type chosen will depend on the contents that will be stored in the medical refrigerator.
  • Glass Doors and Solid Doors: This will be a matter of priority between security and visibility. Medical refrigerators with glass doors will be helpful, especially in circumstances where the user needs to take a quick look inside without letting any of the cold air out; while solid doors offer extra security. Most of the decisions here will depend on the type of healthcare facility in which the unit will be used. 
  • Self-Closing Doors:  Self-closing door devices help medical refrigeration units prevent temperatures from being constantly disrupted. The likelihood is that staff members will be occupied with plenty of tasks, so self-closing doors can also decrease the possibility that staff members will become inattentive and consequently leave the refrigerator door open.
  • Refrigerator-Freezer Combo: This is more suitable for facilities that have needs for freezers as well. Getting a medical refrigerator and freezer in one unit could save these facilities money and floor space.
  • Hospital-Grade Cords: These cords are heavier and much more durable, than standard ones. They also have less probability of becoming accidentally unplugged from the socket, which makes them efficiently useful for medical or research facilities.


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