Those cattle pharmaceuticals you stick in the ice box, just like the label says, may still be compromised or rendered useless if you're not monitoring the temperature.

That's the bottom line of an innovative study concluded recently by Tom Troxel and Brett Barham at the University of Arkansas (UA).

“More than 76% of the refrigerators tested were unacceptable for storing animal-health products,” Troxel says. He explains the recommended temperature for storing animal-health products requiring refrigeration is 35° F. to 45° F. Only 26.7% of the refrigerators examined in the study maintained the recommended temperature 95% of the time during a 48-hour period. Worse, 23.6% of the refrigerators achieved the acceptable temperature range less than 5% of the time.

The study, funded by the Arkansas Beef Council, included 191 refrigerators, mostly those used at producer operations, but also those at retail and in veterinary clinics.

“The data established that no refrigerator type or age is critical for storing animal-health products,” Troxel says. “Any refrigerator can be set too cold or too warm.” Any refrigerator can fail fully or partially if standard maintenance is neglected.

UA researchers explain standard refrigerator maintenance should include keeping the coils clean, as well as the drip pan and the drain tube connected to it. Likewise, door gaskets should pass the “paper test.” “Place a piece of paper between the rubber seal and the wall of the refrigerator,” say the researchers. “If the piece of paper slips between the seal and the wall, the seal is not tight enough and the gasket requires replacement.”

Reading your ice box

Monitoring the temperature of the refrigerator you use for storing animal-health products is as simple as installing a thermometer and checking it on a routine basis. Starting out, Troxel recommends checking the temperature at various times of the day. After you know the temperature range is correct, he suggests checking it at least every week, especially if you're storing lots of product.

You may be surprised.

In one extreme example, UA researchers encountered an ice box that a producer kept closed with a strap; the temperature never fell below 50° F.

Troxel notes that temperatures too cold can be more devastating. “Storing animal-health products at temperatures colder than 35° can be more damaging than storing them at temperatures higher than 45° because the antigen can separate from the adjuvant, ” he says.

If you find that products have been stored at temperatures outside of the recommended range, Troxel says, “When in doubt, it's probably wise to replace the product.” He emphasizes that mixed modified-live vaccines must be used within an hour of mixing; killed vaccines should be disposed of within 10 days of being opened.

And, no product can be expected to work if it's expired. At one operation, UA researchers found 28 of 31 animal-health products in a producer's refrigerator to be expired.

“This study illustrates the importance of monitoring the temperature of refrigerators where animal-health products are stored,” Troxel says. “It's very important for livestock producers to store all animal-health products according to labeled instructions.

“In Beef Quality Assurance we focus on handling and administering animal-health products. Ensuring the quality of how those products are stored is the next step.”