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Ask the Expert - Allergy Extract Refrigeration (May 2011)

Question 

If my practice unexpectedly loses power, how long will my allergy extracts "keep" in the refrigerator?  What kind of back-up system is recommended?

Answer

Allergy extracts represent a large investment in an allergist’s office, both from a monetary and time standpoint (shipping and mixing).  We also have other temperature sensitive materials in our offices: vaccines and anti-IgE therapy - to name but a few -which are actually more sensitive to temperature fluctuations.  If any of these items are lost due to an extended power outage, it becomes devastating to a practice. 

Unfortunately, power outages are not uncommon but generally last for only short periods of time. Your refrigerator is an insulated “icebox” and if left closed will maintain an adequate temperature for your allergy extracts for at least a couple days. There are digital thermometers that allow you to monitor the temperature from the outside of the refrigerator.  During an outage you may need to remove the more sensitive materials to a more stable environment with electricity. Remember, you should be monitoring your refrigerators’ temperatures on a daily basis for safety, even when the power is on.

In the event of a catastrophic power failure you may be without power for several weeks. Create and implementing a disaster plan not just for power needs, but all immediate catastrophic events that could possibly occur.  Be sure your staff has good knowledge of these procedures.  If you have a small office, you may be able to take the extracts to your generator-powered home.  Another option is a small battery powered constant temperature back-up portable refrigeration unit or a dual fuel refrigerator (camping refrigerator).  Offices should consider becoming “generator ready.” In this scenario, the whole clinic could be wired to a generator switch box, so that business can proceed as normal by simply plugging in the generator and flipping the switch. Or, a more cost effective switch can be routed to just the circuits for the refrigerators and freezers. However, you must ask the electrician to do this specifically. 

If you practice in a large clinical setting associated with a hospital, assess the emergency policy for your clinic. You might be surprised to find that the hospital’s backup generator does not extend to your refrigerator. In that case you will need to work out a policy for moving the extract and vaccines to refrigerators that do have power. Never assume that someone else has taken care of this issue!  During Hurricane Ike, Dayton, Ohio University Clinics lost $150,000 worth of vaccines from just such an oversight. Since then, they have implemented a plan to cover this type of power outage.

The recent flooding and tornados in the Southeastern United States should bring everyone to some awareness of their potential power losses, hopefully before the loss strikes.

 

 

 
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