Blood Bank Best Practices: Refrigeration, Storage, & Management

There’s a very specific thing that makes blood banks different from other healthcare and life science businesses – and it’s right there in the name. It’s the blood, plasma, and platelets these organizations collect and process, and the highly specific storage and handling they require.

  • How long should blood be stored before it’s used?
  • What about the storage needs of plasma and platelets?
  • What’s the correct temperature and how do you ensure it’s maintained?
  • How do you ensure the stability of your blood banking system and storage equipment?
  • How do you ensure–and demonstrate–compliance throughout all of the above?

In this white paper, we’ll answer these questions and more. Most importantly, we’ll introduce a support and service methodology that can ensure a blood bank is following best practices in the storage and handling of its precious resources, and in the overall operation of its facilities.

Blood Banks and Traditional Cold Storage Equipment

The modern clinical lab, biotech, or research facility often requires a vast array of storage units.

Ultra-low freezers, liquid nitrogen freezers, incubators, water baths, and more. Resources and samples can be stored in such units for weeks, months, years, or – in the case of cryostorage – decades.

The blood bank, however, with what is typically a 42-day timeframe to utilize what it collects, doesn’t have as many choices.

While there are rare cases in which a blood bank will freeze its samples (technically, cryopreservation), for the most part, blood banks require a cold storage system that keeps its resources cold-but-not-frozen constantly, and for no more than six weeks. Blood bank donations typically result in blood bank “withdrawals” within a matter of days or weeks: so if you donated blood last month, it’s likely already been put to use.

The actual storage units themselves should have specific temperature controls, and also have air circulation systems to inhibit the formation of ice crystals (which can happen more easily with samples stored toward the rear of the unit). Ideally, these units also have door sensors connected to a larger blood bank monitoring system that alerts staff if a unit is accidentally left open. This critical alarm will give the staff precious time to rectify the situation, much sooner than waiting for a standard temperature alarm.

These storage units typically require additional monitoring tools to detect changes in humidity or other environmental factors that could impact the stability of the internal environment.

Additionally, blood bank refrigeration systems require “turnover,” focused on the oldest resources being used first (“last-in, first-out”). The unit should make it easy for staff to see and understand – and track, record, and report – which resources are near expiry.

In short, these units are very different from the fridge in the kitchen with the ice maker.


Blood, Plasma, and Platelets: Same “Ballpark,” Different “Game”

Whole blood can only be stored for a short period of time and should be refrigerated at around 2°C, while plasma should be freeze-blasted to at least -25°C. Platelets may be stored at room temperature but must be kept in motion constantly via an agitator.Scientist opening a refrigerator in a blood bank

Clearly, the blood bank’s storage needs simply cannot be met by traditional storage units. And the storage units it does use must be kept under constant supervision. Because…

  • If the temperature dips in your whole blood storage unit, ice crystals can form and that can be fatal.
  • If the platelet agitator fails in any way, the platelets may become unviable, and the costs are ruinous (a single platelet unit costs thousands of dollars).
  • Blast freezers for storing plasma typically operate in cycles, and if that cycle slows in any way, or if there is freezer failure, plasma samples quickly become corrupted.

Adding to the challenge of ensuring the proper temperature and function of these units is that they are often stored in the same facility or even the same room, which means there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for monitoring them.

In such cases, blood banks may lean on temperature mapping, in which a storage area or facility is regularly audited for any deviance in temperature according to the specific location of specific units. With an overarching temperature mapping solution, a blood bank administrator can quickly and easily identify literal (and figurative) hot spots and take immediate corrective action when required.

The highly specific and finely calibrated storage and handling units required by a blood bank require near-constant oversight, both when they’re in active use – technicians coming and going, opening doors, depositing and collecting samples – and when in stasis.

Additionally, while the hands-on work in a blood bank may be on pause overnight and through the weekend, the equipment’s work is never over.


Enter the Patient, and a New Set of Challenges

Perhaps one of the most daunting challenges faced by blood banking organizations after storage is transfer, when it’s time to remove materials from storage and get them into the patients. Here again, the threat is temperature, but also stasis.

If the blood has not been brought to at least room temperature, it can cause complications (and if, for some reason, there are ice crystals within it, can even cause death). If the blood sits too long during transfer, it can degrade. If it’s platelets rather than blood being transferred, they must continue to be in motion. And while a healthcare professional is focused on the patient (as they should be), these setbacks and worse can occur simply because no one is constantly watching.

Real-time data from these samples and workstations is critical at this juncture. With the proper monitoring system in place, a healthcare professional can freely devote 100% of their attention to the patient and rest assured that the blood, plasma, or platelets that they’re about to provide are stable and safe.


One Source of Truth, One Source of Proof

Different kinds of bio-materials require different types of storage needs and result in different types of patient challenges. Not to mention governmental regulations…

Like most healthcare, life science, and pharma businesses, blood banks draw intense scrutiny from government agencies, and with good cause: people’s lives are at stake.

Unlike most businesses on the planet that can cut corners to save costs and focus on profits first, blood banks and similar organizations are (or should be) dedicated to safety first, heeding to the principles outlined in the Hippocratic Oath.

However, things can and do go wrong, which makes constant monitoring of your facilities, equipment, and resources a cornerstone in putting safety first.

With the right system in place – one that monitors everything from the time a unit door was open, to the humidity in a workspace, to the air quality in a clean room, to the temperature of a building, department, lab, and single piece of equipment – you’ll be alerted to issues before they become disasters.

Additionally, the right monitoring system will allow you to create a paper trail that you can use to demonstrate compliance in the event of an audit by any one of the many government agencies involved in ensuring safe practices in healthcare.

As with just about everything else in the healthcare space, there is no one solution that solves all of these issues. But there is a service: XiltriX.

We provide custom monitoring services for blood banks, clinical labs, R&D facilities, and more. From the smallest door sensor to the largest annual report on lab/facility safety, we provide all a blood bank needs to ensure its resources are safe, its facilities are up-to-code, and its business is flourishing.

To learn more about how XiltriX can ensure your lab’s critical assets and equipment are protected 24/7/365, schedule a free lab consultation with one of our experts

Schedule Call