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How To Choose the Right Medical Freezer

When you work in a field where consistency and accuracy are the foundation for meaningful results, it’s crucial to have the right tools for every task. Your equipment needs to do precisely what you need it to do the first time, every time, so that you and your staff are free to focus on your work with confidence.

So when it comes to buying a new freezer for your lab, finding a model that both meets your needs and provides consistent performance is crucial. And no matter how meticulously you have shopped for a household appliance in the past, finding the best commercial grade medical freezer is far more complicated. Specific requirements of commercial laboratory freezers include the abilities to:

  • Maintain a specific temperature consistently.
  • Reach an especially cold temperature in order to keep specific types of medical and laboratory samples fresh.
  • Tell users when the freezer temperature falls out of acceptable range.
  • Provide reliable durability to avoid the costs and consequences of ruined samples or medications.

Because an industrial freezer in a research laboratory or medical practice must meet more stringent requirements, expect the cost to reflect that. The cost is high but what’s at stake— including the accuracy of your results and potential damage to your lab’s good reputation— is far higher. So before you start shopping, review our Guide to get a solid idea of the options that should factor in to your decision about which industrial freezer to buy for your lab, pharmacy, or research facility.

Common Uses for Medical Freezers

A finely calibrated, high quality freezer for your healthcare facility, medical practice, pharmacy, or research laboratory will have specialized features that ensure that sensitive items remain viable including:

  • Vaccines, which must be stored according to CDC guidelines
  • Medications that require a consistent temperature for storage.
  • Chemicals that may be either ruined or compromised if not stored within a specific temperature range.
  • Medical laboratory samples and donations, such as blood, plasma, and bone marrow.
  • Sensitive research samples and material, such as biological research samples of tissue or cells.

Types of Medical & Lab Freezers

There are four main types of medical freezers for your consideration:

  1. Upright Medical Freezer. One of the common types of medical freezers, upright models come in a variety of sizes. From countertop for the smallest operations with very limited storage, to full sized units equipped to handle the storage needs of the largest research facilities and hospitals, upright medical freezers can be configured internally using movable shelves to suit the types of storage you need.
  2. Undercounter Medical Freezer. Typically on the smaller side, undercounter or “built-in” freezers can be made to fit seamlessly into the space available without taking up valuable floor space. To allow for proper ventilation, these undercounter units utilize forward-facing vents. This feature may result in a higher upfront cost for installation, but certain models are available that do not require professional installation.
  3. Chest Medical Freezer. Similar to the large, top-opening “deep freezers” found in residential settings, a commercial chest freezer offers a lot of storage space. Despite its significant volume, keep in mind that a commercial chest freezer will not have the shelving upright models have that allow for orderly organization and easier access. Some have alarm systems to alert users if the temperature changes, as well as digital temperature displays and doors that lock.
  4. Ultra-Low Temperature Medical Freezers. If the materials you are storing require especially low temperatures, you will likely need an ultra-low temperature freezer. Designed to reach temperatures as low as -85°, an ultra-low temperature freezer is ideal for storing sensitive materials that require extremely low temperatures that must be reliably, certifiably, and consistently maintained. These models fit the bill for power and consistency, but they also use a lot of energy to maintain those ultra-low temperatures– you will likely see this reflected in your energy bill.

Purchasing Considerations

Chances are you’re coming to this purchasing process with at least a basic idea of what options your lab freezer should have to meet your needs. To make sure you choose the best freezer for your facility, we’ve listed out a few important factors that should be considered while browsing your options.

  1. Size.  One of your most important decisions involves balancing the amount and type of storage you need with the amount of space you have to dedicate to the freezer. Upright units take up moderate floor space, and often can be custom-configured using the flexible shelving included— providing easier, more organized access to smaller items. If floor space isn’t an issue, and you typically store larger items that are readily visible and accessible without the use of shelves, a chest medical freezer may be the right option for you. You will also want to keep in mind your potential storage needs when your business grows. Purchasing a small freezer now that barely meets your storage needs may save you money today, but will ultimately prove falsely economical if you need to buy a second unit in the near future when your storage needs expand. Selecting a larger model initially with “room to grow” will likely cost a bit more initially, but that extra cost will be worth it if the larger freezer is better suited for your lab long-term.
  2. Temperature. With the exception of “ultra-low” freezers designed to maintain a consistent temperature down to as low as -86°, most medical freezers offer temperature ranges between -18° and -25°— which is comparable to residential appliances. But don’t be misled. Compared to home freezer units, medical freezers provide temperatures that are far more precise, consistent, and sustainable. In addition, most medical freezers are equipped with important safety features— like digital thermostat displays on the outside of the freezer, and alarms that alert users when there’s been an unexpected change in temperature— to help ensure your materials are being stored at the correct temperature at all times.
  3. Cost. The amount of money you have to spend can place some restrictions on the type of medical freezer you can afford. Start by analyzing precisely what your needs are for storage, the space you have to dedicate to the freezer, and the budget you have to work with.
  4. Energy Efficiency. To conserve energy and manage costs involved, look for a lab freezer that is Energy Star-rated. You may need to consult the most recent EPA guidelines for Energy Star ratings for laboratory-grade refrigeration and freezers, but the extra research will be well worth it.

Features to Look For:

  1. External Digital Thermometer. Having a way to monitor your medical freezer’s internal temperature without opening the door and releasing cold air is important. A digital thermometer on the outside of the unit will allow you to easily view the temperature within the unit without opening the door.
  2. Lock. A lock will help keep out people who don’t have authorization to access the contents inside and minimize the frequency in which the freezer is opened. This is especially important in the case of some medications and chemicals.
  3. Glass Doors. See-through doors allow users to assess the contents without having to open the door.
  4. Combo Refrigerator/Freezer. Think about what your storage needs are. Does it make sense to invest in a tandem unit? You may find a refrigerator/freezer combo costs less and uses space more efficiently than buying the units separately.
  5. Temperature Alarm. Selecting a model that has an alarm that will alert you should the unit’s internal temperature change due to an electrical outage, malfunction, or user error will do more than any other feature to preserve the integrity your stored items.

Brands to Watch

  • American BioTech. A major player in the lab equipment and medical supplies arena with a good reputation for quality and service, American BioTech offers a wide selection of freezers in various sizes and designs. In addition to being reliable and solidly built, American BioTech’s line of medical freezers typically feature door locks and temperature alarms. They most often come with a warranty for parts and labor, which further backs up their reputation for reliability.
  • Like many brands included on this list, EdgeStar also deals in residential appliances as well as products for the medical and commercial space. Currently, the selection of medical equipment and supplies from EdgeStar is more limited than its counterparts, but its products have a good reputation for quality and reliability, and are receiving excellent user reviews.
  • Nor-Lake. Looking for a wide selection of medical freezers, including ultra-low temperature models specifically designed to store plasma? Nor-Lake is a great place to start. Their lab freezers are often energy-efficient, including special features like audio and visual temperature alarms and digital LED temperature displays. This is a growing company with a solid reputation for quality and reliability with an increasing number of satisfied users.
  • So-Low. Also a familiar name in lab and medical equipment, So-Low offers a wide range of lab freezers that can be used for various specialized purposes. Their freezers go through extensive testing to ensure they meet the exacting requirements of a medical environment, and most come with warranties to back that up.
  • Much like EdgeStar, this brand is better known for residential appliances, including a wide selection of refrigerators and freezers. On the commercial side, Summit has a moderate selection of medical freezers in various sizes that offer reliable and consistent temperature control and an array of special features such as temperature displays and locks.

When it comes to the performance of your new or used lab equipment— especially your freezer— the stakes are high. If your freezer malfunctions or breaks down, you may be facing the loss of important medical samples, blood or tissue that others have donated, or the credibility of the research you and your team have been working on. Choose carefully! Make sure you know precisely what your storage needs will be. Balance these needs against the space you have available for the freezer unit. Consider your growth needs, and by all means, go with a brand that has a solid reputation.