Choosing the Correct Cold Storage for your Vaccines and Specimens

Choosing the Correct Cold Storage for your Vaccines and Specimens

Keeping a safe and reliable operation while working to eradicate vaccine-preventable illnesses, likely requires your lab to be fitted with a specifically intended refrigerator/freezer. If you are unsure of the appropriate freezer/refrigeration storage that is right for your needs, we’ve gathered some technical information and conducted some research that we hope can guide you in your decision-making journey.

First and foremost, we believe it is critical to be knowledgeable of all your tools and instruments. Storage and handling errors happen frequently and can be minimized with the use of properly purchased equipment. Secondly, your equipment should be assembled, maintained, and repaired appropriately and timely. Failure to store samples at an incorrect temperature can result in damaged or contaminated work, causing setbacks such as delays, loss of trust and even unintended financial losses.

When choosing cold storage for labs, know your minimum and maximum cooling needs and try to match those to the features of the unit, keeping in mind any regulatory requirements and the size of unit that makes the most economical sense for your workspace. An over-sized unit may look attractive but can be a waste of both necessary space and dollars. Alternatively, buying something too small means not having enough room to preserve your work. And small units often use more energy than larger units. Finally, be thoughtful in considering new features. Things like key card security, auto defrost, and positive airflow are pleasant yet costly, and there is no need to overpay for features you likely won’t ever use.

One early challenge young labs have is whether to purchase a Common Household unit or a more commercial grade Purpose Built unit. Let’s compare and contrast the two.

Common Household Units

The household, dormitory, or bar-style units may seem acceptable for your vaccine and specimen needs, but will not pass all guidelines for cold storage. These units may not be equipped with the correct features to keep lab samples and specimens accurately monitored and safe.

According to the CDC, typical household units have a single exterior door and an evaporator plate/cooling coil, usually located in an ice maker/freezer compartment. These units pose a significant risk of freezing vaccines, even when used for temporary storage.

It is also important to have correctly sealed doors on all units. A door that is not sealed properly or left open unnecessarily not only affects the temperature in a unit, it also exposes vaccines to light, which can reduce potency.

Most household units are not equipped with temperature alarms. These alarms are crucial to keeping your samples, specimens, or vaccines regulated and secure.

Household-grade units could be acceptable to pharmaceutical-grade, purpose-built cold storage. As the name alludes, most of the common units are strictly home use and designed for that purpose.

Purpose-Built Units

If your laboratory is required to comply with regulatory standards, such as the CDC's, then it is time to upgrade to a purpose-built or pharmaceutical-grade unit. While these units may be built for commercial and industrial use, they are designed in a variety of shapes and sizes. These units may be compact (over/under-the-counter) style, or they may be large and freestanding, equipped with all the latest technology. Let's take a look at the performance features that may be included in your Purpose-Built Refrigerator/Freezer:

Microprocessor Controller with Digital Temperature Display to provide your lab with precise temperature control to meet all standards and regulate all samples with live sample-simulated temperature.

Superior Insulation to regulate all temperatures. Typically, up to 50% more insulation than domestic units.

Forced Draft Circulation to provide required temperature uniformity and recovery after door openings.

Temperature Alarms and Door Locks for visual and audible for lab safety.

Probe Access Ports for digital data loggers or central building monitoring system.

Automatic Cycle-Defrost design to prevent temperature spikes.

Shelving Systems to keep different items stored in the unit organized, easy to locate, and proper placement for air circulation.

Making the Right Choice for your Lab

It is essential to store vaccines, specimens, and samples under proper conditions and implement the best practices and recommendations. Your research, testing, and cold storage is critical for the well being of others and prevention of many illnesses. It is key to choose a refrigerator/freezer model that meets all external cold storage guidelines, including VFC and CDC, as well as your internal requirements for the intended use of the product. The Lab Depot offers a variety of Cold Storage Units, from brands you know and trust.


For any questions and recommendations on appropriate freezer or refrigerator storage, talk to our team.

Call us at 1.800.733.2522 or email us

For all CDC recommendations, visit cdc.gov

For more information on vaccine storage, reference the CDC Toolkit.

References also include: American Biotech Supply