Cold Storage Monitoring
Are the refrigerators and freezers in your lab running? Good! No need to chase them. You only have to track them. Or at least their temperatures, that is. In all seriousness, the importance of cold storage cannot be overstated, a fact that many lab managers and directors know. Any facility that uses biological samples, stores vaccines, or holds perishable items need cold storage to preserve these items. Sometimes, though, that cold storage fails due to power outages, temperature fluctuations within the room, or temperature changes within the cold storage units themselves. For those instances, and to meet regulations, labs need cold storage monitoring.
Cold storage monitoring helps those working in labs to track the temperature within refrigerators and freezers so that they can maintain the integrity of samples. Not every cold storage monitoring system is up for the task, though. Lab managers and directors have to make sure that how temperature is monitored by their cold storage system is effective and consistent. We’ve created this guide to help with that.
What is the purpose of cold storage in labs?
Labs need cold storage to maintain the integrity of biological samples, vaccines, and medications. If these materials get too cold, too warm, or experience too many temperature fluctuations, they may degrade and either won’t be effective or will cause skewed findings in research. This means that all that time and money you spent planning, testing, and analyzing your experiment are wasted. Gone. Poof. Time to start from scratch. What’s more, you may fall out of compliance with regulations and may even face some legal repercussions if you don’t properly store and manage your materials (but more on that later). Let’s take a closer look at why cold storage is so important.
First, think of the shelf life of reagents and samples stored in refrigerators and freezers. Once these samples expire, they must be disposed of. That can cost labs and healthcare systems a lot of money, though. One study, though, found that properly maintaining samples—i.e., keeping them in their original container at the appropriate temperature, and making sure they’re free of mold, turbidity, and drying—could extend their shelf life anywhere from 12-26 years. Using cold storage in combination with sensors that continuously monitor temperature and send alerts when temperatures fall out of range can assist lab workers in taking corrective action quickly and preserving their samples for longer periods of time. This will protect their research and save them money over time. Let’s take a look at another example.
A lab based in a remote area or an area with limited resources may not have the constant supply of electricity that can be found in areas with lots of infrastructure. Without a cool, steady ambient temperature in rural labs, freezers and refrigerators have to work harder to keep samples and reagents at the appropriate temperature. When that happens, the lifespan and effectiveness of these freezers and refrigerators rapidly diminishes, causing severe deterioration of reagents. With cold storage monitoring, some of the risks that come with unstable conditions can be mitigated. Cold storage monitoring helps lab workers track the temperature of reagents so that they go through fewer freeze and thaw cycles and maintain maximum consistency and performance.
According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), reagent stability is important for maintaining method performance over time. The EMA and other regulatory agencies want all information that could indicate the stability of reagents, such as reagent storage conditions, recorded. Cold storage monitoring allows for automated temperature tracking so that labs can properly prove the conditions in which they kept their reagents and the stability of those reagents.
Having a cold storage monitoring system with alerts diminishes the devastating effects that accompany power outages or uncontrolled ambient temperatures, which have affected 71% of respondents in an Elemental Machines survey.
What is a temperature monitoring system for cold storage?
A cold storage temperature monitoring system, also called a freezer or refrigeration monitoring system, is a system used in several industries, such as pharmaceuticals, food processing, and manufacturing. It helps to preserve biological samples and perishable items through the regular tracking of refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Depending on the tools used for tracking, it may also alert lab personnel should temperatures fall outside the specified ranges they set. These alerts allow them to more quickly respond, fix the issue, and report it—if necessary.
There are two types of alerts that a freezer monitoring system uses:
- Threshold alerts: This type notifies employees if the temperature of a freezer or refrigerator falls outside an acceptable range. They allow lab managers and other personnel both onsite and away from the lab when there is a problem so that they can more quickly take action to fix it.
- Contextual alerts: This type tracks context and behavior to provide insights on unusual behavior. For example, they can send alerts if a refrigerator or freezer is opened more than usual or hasn’t been opened in a long time. These alerts provide personnel with a signal to proactively double-check freezers over time. The alerts also allow team leaders to make data-driven decisions on how best to optimize the lab, such as moving old freezers or buying new ones.
Refrigeration and freezer monitoring systems do more than merely track and record temperatures, however. They also assist labs in remaining compliant with federal and industry regulations. The regulations that labs have to follow will vary depending on what type they are. An example of one such set of rules that might apply is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). For labs that have to follow these rules, using a cold storage monitoring system helps them remain compliant with the requirements set in 21 CFR Part 11. Essentially, these rules describe electronically collecting and storing accurate and reliable data. Other rules outlined in this section of the CFR are listed below:
- Systems should easily indicate whether data has been falsified or changed in any way. Time stamps and non-editable fields help with this tracking.
- The records should offer a clear audit trail.
- Records should be easily retrievable during their retention period.
- Only a certain number of authorized personnel should have access to the data stored.
- The system must track user logins and changes to key specifications or to the system itself.
A cold storage monitoring system, particularly one that monitors continuously like what Elemental Machines offers, allows lab managers to track the information to meet the above requirements.
What tool is used to measure the cold storage temperature?
Typically, one of the following tools are used to measure temperatures in cold storage units:
- Chart recorders
- Data loggers
- Wireless Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring and alarming
Let’s take a closer look at what each does.
This method of the days of old can provide a sense of comfort. After all, thermometers have been used for hundreds of years. However, that comfort tends to diminish when you realize how tedious checking thermometers manually for cold storage truly is.
It requires that an employee go to each refrigerator and freezer at least twice a day to check temperatures and record them in a log. While this method may work in smaller labs with few cold storage items to monitor, it isn’t feasible for larger labs unless several employees log temperatures. Plus, while thermometers cost less money upfront, paying an employee to do the monitoring adds up.
Monitoring using thermometers also leaves more room for human error. Human recording means the potential for numbers being written down wrong, the misreading of numbers, etc. What’s more, when labs rely on manual recording, they run the risk of missing an issue, such as a freezer losing power, until the samples in that freezer have degraded. No wonder bigger labs tend to give this method the cold shoulder!
- Used for hundreds of years
- Easy to use
- Tedious record keeping
- Human error
- No alerting system and requires personnel to be on-site
Chart recorders do what monitoring with thermometers can’t—they record temperatures continuously. Once a lab hooks these inexpensive electromechanical devices, the recorders document temperatures on paper. They pick up the temperature, send an electrical signal to the pen hanging over the paper, and the pen moves to chart those findings. They look similar to seismographs. Their continuous tracking and ease of use have made them a popular method for cold storage monitoring for decades.
While chart recorders reduce the amount of manual labor required for employees, these tools don't eradicate it completely. Workers still have to change out the chart paper on a weekly, sometimes even daily, basis. Imagine how much paper you’d need for all those chart recorders, not to mention all the time it requires to change out the paper and to file away all the charts. As with thermometers, that’s time and staff that some bigger labs just don’t have enough of. And, like their primitive counterparts, they don’t have alerting systems should a freezer lose power or experience severe temperature fluctuations.
Chart recorders also tend to cost some big bucks to maintain. They are inexpensive upfront, but to buy the pens and paper for it adds up quickly. Plus, the extra parts and charts that need filed require storage space. Over a three year period—the amount of time the FDA requires that vaccine manufacturers keep records of freezer temperatures—each freezer would have over 1,000 charts to go with it (read more about it in our e-guide). That’s a lot of space for more lab equipment instead of storage.
- Continuous monitoring
- Less manual labor needed for recording
- Inexpensive upfront
- Lots of storage space necessary
- Supply refills needed
- Tedious to change out supplies and file documents
- No alert system
- Expensive to maintain
Data loggers are a type of temperature sensor for cold storage, meaning they measure and record temperature electronically. That data can then be downloaded and stored on a USB drive or on a local network. These devices cost more than thermometers and chart recorders, but they offer continuous monitoring and alarms should a refrigerator or freezer become cooler or warmer than they are supposed to.
Data loggers have one major downfall—unless employees are on site, they can’t easily access the data the loggers collect. Alerts only come through on premises, which means team members could miss out on some important information should they be working at a different location that day. Because all data stored is typically on the local network, too, it can’t be easily accessed unless it’s saved on a flash drive.
- Continuous monitoring
- On-site alarm system
- Expensive up-front
- No remote alert system
- No cloud storage
Wireless IoT monitoring and alarming
If you’ve wondered, What is the best type of sensor used in freezers and chillers, you’ve found your answer. When it comes to a freezer or refrigeration monitoring system, wireless IoT monitoring and alarming is the best of the best. It continuously monitors temperatures in refrigerators and freezers and also has an alarm system should temperatures fluctuate unexpectedly. What sets it apart from data loggers, though, is that it can send a freezer alarm that connects to any phone. That means employees don’t have to be on-site to find out that one of their cold storage units went out. Quicker alerting leads to quicker fixes so that lab workers can preserve more of their samples and materials. Team members will also receive alerts should one of the devices have a low battery or issues connecting so that no important data is lost.
This tool is also a cloud-based temperature monitoring system. All the data that this system records goes to the cloud so that lab employees can access it no matter where they work from on a particular day. The higher price for these devices may scare some off, but knowing that labs have a reliable system that will do a better job at preserving samples should make the cost worth it. After all, think of how much more money and time labs would waste if they were to lose some of their materials in a power outage or because temperatures within one of their units fluctuated too much. In addition to these benefits, using a cloud-based system frees up time for employees to focus on other, more important and high-level tasks.
Elemental Machines offers wireless IoT monitoring and alarming through our Element T. Labs around the world use it to compile all their data in one place for easy access. Elemental Machines connects its data and insights with the science and manufacturing data from ELN, LIMS, and MES systems through integrations with these systems. Integrations with other systems like electronic lab notebooks, laboratory information systems, manufacturing execution systems, or quality management systems give users a way to put their data in the context of science. Through these integrations, scientists and manufacturers alike can confirm that all materials and samples stored in cold storage have remained at appropriate temperatures. Plus, when these systems work together, they eliminate manual transcription errors and reduce the number of data silos in their organization.
The technology Elemental Machines provides is easy to set up, too. Simple enough, in fact, that anyone can do it themselves while on the phone with us! It takes just 60 seconds to connect lab equipment to our devices, no matter the brand or age of the equipment.
- Continuous monitoring
- Cloud storage
- Remote alerting system
- No manual labor required
- Integration of data with other systems like LIMS and QMS
- More costly
Now that we’ve given you a taste of what wireless IoT monitoring and alarming can do, it’s time to take a deeper dive into how it works.
How can I monitor my refrigerator temperature remotely?
With Elemental Machines’ Element T (ET), labs can easily take advantage of remote fridge temperature monitoring via the cloud. This device is wireless and portable, and it only requires 2 AAA lithium batteries to work. It simply mounts to equipment using the magnets on the back of it. Once attached, the ET uses a thermocouple, or fridge temperature sensor, to track the temperature and send it to the cloud. Team members can then view the data with any WiFi or cellular-enabled device that can connect to the cloud. The ET will record temperature every 15 seconds and send that information to the cloud every 60 seconds.
The ET also allows team members to set up customized alerts sent through SMS and/or email. These alerts will inform the appropriate personnel when temperatures fall outside their set specifications. They will not only notify team members so that they can try to fix the issue, but they will also prompt them to report the incident and double-check research protocol to make sure they remain compliant. Lab personnel can even set up alerts to notify them how often each refrigerator and freezer door opens, as that frequency can also affect the internal temperature.
How often should fridge and freezer temperatures be monitored and recorded?
Regulations concerning how often to monitor and record fridge and freezer temperatures vary based on the type of lab, the materials worked with, and the governing bodies those labs report to. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that labs check units holding vaccines at least twice a day, at the beginning and end of each workday. With that said, they recommend continuous monitoring that records temperatures at least every 30 minutes. Some blood centers, on the other hand, require that refrigerator temperatures are checked at least once every four hours.
No matter what material a lab works with or what regulations require of it, team members shouldn’t do the bare minimum when it comes to keeping track of cold storage temperatures. After all, they have lots of time and money invested into their research. Why would they risk samples going to waste just because extra cold storage monitoring seems like a hassle (especially when Elemental Machines can make it so simple!)?
Continuous temperature monitoring of a refrigerator and freezer does not add any extra work to lab employees’ plates if they have the right tools. In fact, it can take work off their plates. Plus, they’ll have more and more accurate data with one of these systems. No more stress about tracking temperatures. No more mad dash to gather information for an audit. And definitely more immediate responses when refrigerator and freezer temperatures fluctuate.
How do you maintain your cold storage?
In addition to having a cold storage monitoring system, there are a few steps lab employees can take to maintain their cold storage:
- Check their cold storage monitoring system for any issues. Making sure that their freezer monitoring system continues to function at its peak ability will lessen the chances of their missing an unexpected temperature fluctuation. How do you maintain your cold storage system? Start by performing routine maintenance. When labs build time for it into their schedule, they ensure that they can move samples if needed. If they notice that they need to replace any parts—whether they are batteries, paper, pens, or thermometers—they should do it right away to minimize downtime.
- Avoid overstuffing refrigerators and freezers. You know how the temperature in a room changes depending on the number of people in it? The same is true for refrigerators and freezers. Keeping storage units full can help regulate the internal temperature, but overstuffing can disturb this balance, especially if the air vent is blocked.
- Minimize how often they open refrigerator and freezer doors. The more the doors open, the more the internal temperature will fluctuate.
- Adjust settings based on the room temperature. For example, if a refrigerator is placed close to an air conditioning unit, team members might set the temperature slightly higher on the refrigerator to account for the extra cold air cooling it.
- Check refrigerator and freezer seals. If doors aren’t sealing properly, air will get into the storage containers and change the internal temperature.
What is the best wireless temperature monitoring system? Element T from Elemental Machines
When you purchase temperature monitoring from Elemental Machines, you are buying a complete platform solution. Each freezer has a dedicated temperature sensor where continuous data is securely uploaded and stored to the EM Cloud Dashboard. Software monitors the real-time and historic temperature data providing lab teams with insights when they want and alerts via email and SMS text when appropriate. The cloud will be set up on your network, so any authorized personnel on your network can access it. How exactly does your data appear in the cloud?
It can look one of two ways. You can either send all your information to our software’s dashboard, or you can have your data sent to the data systems you already use to store it. If you choose the former option, our software will automatically create reports for you. These reports may show you information such as temperatures within the freezer or refrigerator that the Element T is monitoring or how often that storage unit’s door has been opened. Alerts will also notify you of these events.
Elemental Machines’ platform is also AI-powered, so it will learn about the health of your storage units over time. This technology allows our platform to better gauge when your fleet’s behavior becomes abnormal and when you may need to perform maintenance. With all the data our platform provides, we eliminate data silos so that you can optimize operations and make informed financial decisions.
To learn more about what we can do for you, request a demo.
"We’re able to view data for equipment that wasn’t previously connected. Now we have real-time monitoring of temperature that provides us insights into equipment functionality, analysis of shared equipment usage, and the ability to detect problems.
We had a refrigerator that was slowly increasing in temperature over a period of time. The average temperature was still inside the desired range, but the equipment clearly wasn’t functioning properly. We sent the temperature graphs to our service provider and they were able to make the diagnosis remotely and then order the replacement parts needed to fix it. This saved time and money for everyone involved”
Senior Manager, Lab Operations,
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