There are lots of temperature-sensitive drugs that require refrigeration to stay active and effective, including insulin, Ozempic, vaccines, antibiotics, Humira, Enbrel, growth hormones, EpiPen, and even eye drops, to name but a few.
But what does refrigeration mean? In what temperature range should refrigerated medicines be kept at exactly? How to ensure they're correctly stored at the pharmacy or in your domestic fridge?
A real portable mini-fridge to travel with refrigerated medications
What’s the Ideal Medication Refrigerator Temperature Range?
Most medicines that require refrigeration are biologics. They contain living cells from plants, animals, or even humans. That specificity makes these drugs unique and exceptionally efficient but very fragile.
Biologics quickly deteriorate if overexposed to high temperatures or too much light. That's why most of them must be kept in the fridge and can only be left out of the refrigerator for a few days (or even a few hours only for some). You must avoid any cold chain breach and ensure they're constantly kept at fridge temperature.
If you’ve been prescribed such a temperature-sensitive drug, usually injectable ones, you should make sure your domestic fridge is at the right temperature range and offers the best storage conditions.
The best fridge temperature for medications
The rule of thumb is that drugs that require refrigeration must be kept between 36°F and 46°F (2°C and 8°C). Depending on the medicine you're using, selling, or storing, there may be different requirements. Always read the instructions for each specific medication and double-check the adequate fridge temperatures for storage.
How to store medicines in the fridge?
The temperature inside your fridge should be as stable as possible to guarantee your medication’s quality and effectiveness. Here are a few tips to help keep a medication fridge’s temperatures stable:
- Do not jam-pack your fridge. It could prevent the air from circulating properly inside.
- Avoid holding the fridge door open for too long.
- Do not place your medicine near the freezer department. Temperatures could get too cold there, and your drugs could freeze.
- Store your medication at the center of the fridge. This is where the temperatures are the more stable. Avoid bottoms and sides, as well as door shelves.
- When stored in a domestic fridge, ensure your refrigerated medicine is not in direct contact with foods.
- Check your refrigerator’s temperatures often.
Related article: What happens if insulin freezes?
How often should you check your fridge temperature?
Most pharmacies use high-tech medical fridges that feature built-in temperature monitoring systems.
At home, patients using refrigerated drugs are usually recommended to check their fridge temperature regularly. The most important thing is making sure your fridge is functioning correctly every day.
Some patients using refrigerated medicines, or even pharmacists who store temperature-sensitive drugs, use connected thermometers for fridges. You simply place one inside the refrigerator and connect it to your phone via an app. An alarm notifies you whenever the fridge temperature is going outside of the normal range.
How Long Can Refrigerated Medications Be Left Out?
Fortunately, most medications that need to be refrigerated are stable for a certain period of time at room temperature. Therefore, it makes living with refrigerated drugs much easier!
How long your meds can be left out of the fridge depends on the specific medication you’ve been prescribed. It can vary from a few hours only to several weeks. Here are a few examples:
- Insulin used for diabetes management is usually good for up to 30 days at room temperature.
- Humira injections used for rheumatoid arthritis can be out of the fridge for up to 14 days.
- Aimovig, a preventive treatment for chronic migraine sufferers, is stable at room temperature for 7 days.
- Latanoprost glaucoma eye drops are good for up to 6 weeks at room temperature.
- Dupixent, used for severe asthma, can stay out of the fridge for 14 days.
- Vaccines can generally be left out of the fridge for a few hours maximum. They’re very sensitive and spoil rapidly at room temperature.
These are just a few illustrative examples. There may be some variations. Always check the drug manufacturer’s instructions to know how long your specific medicine can be left unrefrigerated.
What does room temperature mean for medications?
Whether temperature-sensitive or not, every medication must be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct light. The same goes for refrigerated medicines that can be left out for a limited period of time.
During that time, your drugs must be kept in a cool place at room temperature. Room temperature usually means anything that’s between 46°F and 77°F (8°C and 25°C).
Temperature-sensitive medicines should never put exposed to higher temperatures, even temporarily. Avoid direct sunlight, and don't place them near a heat source like a stove or a fireplace. Never leave them in your car on a sunny day. Leave your meds at home if it's hot outside, or use a portable medical fridge.
How to keep drugs refrigerated while traveling or shipping?
Traveling with refrigerated medications may seem nerve-wracking, but it doesn't have to be. Thousands of people living with chronic diseases and using refrigerated injectable drugs travel annually. That being said, making sure your life-saving medicine stays cold and doesn’t spoil while you’re on the go implies extra planning and organization! So here are a few tips to keep your drugs refrigerated and cool while traveling:
- Use a medical-grade portable travel fridge
- Always keep your medical supplies in the shade
- Stay away from direct sunlight as much as possible
- Use a connected thermometer to keep track of your temperature inside your bag
- Pack your medicine properly and securely