It’s defrost day in the lab, and you think to yourself, “This might be the best day to organize my fridge.” Then you open the door, your jaw drops and you change your mind, choosing to simply deal with the defrost project rather than the organization. However, when it comes to your upright fridges and freezers that store delicate samples, enzymes and other reagents, organization is crucial to its efficiency. Loitering with the door open, attempting an impossible search for a product is not only a waste of energy and time, it’s also bad for the products stored within.
But guess what? You’re not alone with this problem. The household fridge is the original box of disorder. And it might not have ever occurred to you that the organizational tips of domestics might also be considerably useful in a scientific lab.
So here is your ultimate guide to keeping your laboratory fridges and freezers organized. It combines known lab suggestions with household suggestions. But it’s not foolproof. Maintenance and consistency is still going to be a personal challenge. And check out our follow up article which expands more on laboratory organization.
1. Inventory Management:
- Software Based: This is definitely your first step to organization, and it extends beyond the fridge. Thankfully, we live in the digital age and there is plenty of software available. Of course, if you’re on a budget we recommend trying Quartzy* for this. The reviews attest to its ability and it is provided at no cost to the user.
- Spreadsheet/Cloud Based: If you’re a little partial to using spreadsheets, it might be useful to manage the spreadsheet on a Google Sheet because of its cloud based platform. That means anyone within your lab can access it at any time and log information – if you so choose that is. Of course, your institution may require an Excel submission of inventory for safety reasons. Thankfully, text in Google Docs can be easily copied and pasted. I still recommend keeping your inventory with Google due to its accessibility and ease of collaboration.
- App Based: Primarily, the moral of this blog is that what can be used for home can sometimes be used for the lab. If you want to keep it simple or strictly for the fridge, browse your mobile device’s app store. There are several fridge/freezer management apps. While they’re dedicated to the household appliance, some can work equally well in the lab. For instance, the Freshbox app allows you to snap pictures of the product, set the shelf life, expiration date, add notes and set reminders for expiration. It’s simple, personal, easy to use, and has the perfect criteria needed for the management of your reagents. There are some drawbacks to the app, so find what works for you.
2. Labels Labels Labels Labels:
Most of you are already doing this. The question is to what degree and how disciplined are you at updating and obeying the labels? If you share a fridge, it’s important to establish a categorical place for everything, and to have it labeled clearly. Underlings in your lab might be better about putting things back where they found them as long as the place plainly exists. Make sure you set up a place that can house multiple working tube racks or freezer boxes for those working under you in the lab. Have it labeled – perhaps even by name. On that note, if you’re not sure how to label the grated shelves of a fridge or freezer, consider using a suitcase tag. Even after the shelves frost over, the tag is hooked in place. And if you place labeled lab tape over the vinyl sleeve, your writing will remain visible.
3. Storage Safety:
While I trust you all are masters of lab safety, it is always worth the reminder. Make sure you store dangerous goods appropriately, being careful not to place products that might react with each other near each other.
4. Keep Like with Like:
This is one of the golden rules of domestic organization. In some labs it might already be applied. In others, a fridge or freezer may have gotten so out of hand that anything is placed anywhere. Keep your enzymes with your enzymes, your samples near samples – however you want to categorize it, always keep like with like.
5. One Shelf at a Time:
The big tip from domestic experts is to take organization one shelf at a time. This is just as valuable in the home as it is in the lab. You might only have a small designated space in a reserve fridge to hold temperature sensitive products while you organize the freezer. So going one shelf at a time lets you make the best use of what little room you have. The other benefit is that you are not overly committed to the process. It’s a grueling task, and it’s easy to get in over your head. By taking it one shelf at a time, starting from the top and going down, you can easily free yourself from the job when necessary. If you’re doing this on defrost day, then I suggest you organize before you defrost.
6. Cleaning As You Go:
As you work from one shelf to the next, inventorying and trashing useless items, keep a cleaning cloth handy to wipe each shelf down. Don’t forget the walls and racks.
7. Square vs. Circular Containers:
An interesting piece of domestic advice that is useful to your lab is storing items in square containers vs. circular containers. This is because circular containers do not make good use of corners and therefore waste more space than necessary. That isn’t to say you should avoid round containers, but consider squares as much as possible when reorganizing your fridge. For existing circular containers, find ways to stack them on top of a pre-existing stack of square containers. *For storing petri dishes, consider the tips provided in number 8.
8. Everything Visible – Everything Accessible:
Here’s the next golden rule for household fridge organization. And it can be extremely useful to apply in the lab. Not only do you hate pulling everything out of the freezer in order to find an old freezer box in the back, but you risk the warming and cooling of reagents or samples that might face some degradation. Instead, consider using Fridge BinzTM. These are great containers that are not only clear, but also allow you to pull out what is stored. With this tool, the back of the fridge search is no longer scary. I get it though, not everything is small enough to fit in these types of bins, so think inside a bigger box. Get some clear Rubbermaid tubs instead. They’ll give you the same benefit of visibility and accessibility. Coolers and freezer boxes could be better stored in clear bins as well. As for sleeves of petri dishes, it wouldn't hurt to keep them in a larger, clear container such as these examples so that they can be neatly taken out and put back as needed.
9. Turn Tables:
Going back to accessibility, the revolutionary concept of the Lazy Susan doesn’t have to be limited to cabinets and tables at home. They’re useful in the fridges and freezers within households and laboratories. When Fridge Binz TM won’t work, a turn table might be your next best solution. You can find them anywhere and in a variety of sizes.
10. Knowing the Anatomy of Your Fridge:
Within a laboratory, you do have the advantage of having appliances designed specifically for your needs. High-end scientific fridges and freezers might be better suited for even distribution of temperature; however, not all of them are like this. If you aren’t aware of temperature zones in the fridge, our image below is a great illustration, detailing fridge temperature distribution.
Here’s a big thing to consider, if your reagents or stock is sensitive to freeze-thaws, it may not be the best idea to store them in the arm! The arm is considered the warmest part of the fridge, and since the door is constantly opened with people often lingering, your samples, enzymes and stock solutions of ampicillin, for example, might be at more risk than you realized. Ultimately, you want to keep your items visible, accessible and protected.
You might now be thinking, “Well those tips are great, but I have 20 years of research in my fridge. Tell me how to fix that.” I have highlighted some additional tips to help with that in our follow up article. Until then, recall the tips from number 7 and 8: Keep square containers and consider visible storage bins for old freezer boxes. It won’t be to the level of organization you desire, but it might be presentable and easily maneuvered around.
*It should be noted that GoldBio has its products listed on Quartzy; however, this mention was unsolicited.
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"To understand the universe is to understand math." My 8th grade
math teacher's quote meant nothing to me at the time. Then came
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