Gear Test: Medcooler Rating: Highly Recommended Medcooler by Polar Bear Coolers far better (and safer) than your all-purpose cooler Updated January 10, 2014
Upsides + Dynamite cooling, especially with ActiveMSers’ tweak + Lightweight, leak proof, sweat proof, super durable + Exterior zippered pocket ideal for holding prescription
Downsides - Small cooler holds a maximum of 10 syringes (at least for Copaxone) - Comes only in primary colors: Navy, Red, Black, Green, and Camouflage - Okay, we’re starting to stretch, here. And Camo isn’t a primary color.
! IMPORTANT ! After a series of tests of both cooling techniques and coolers, ActiveMSers discovered that it is very easy to accidentally freeze or incorrectly store your injectable multiple sclerosis medication--Avonex, Copaxone, Rebif, Extavia, and Betaseron--in a cooler not designed specifically for drug storage. The ice packs included in your drug shipment are frozen to only 30 degrees, not the zero degrees most household freezers are set to. Also, placing your medication in or atop ice cubes will freeze your drugs. Please read this review in full.
The Polar Bear Medcooler is far safer to use than a general do-it-all cooler.
At first blush, testing coolers to hold your MS medication might seem a bit like overkill. Seriously, how different can a cooler be? After all, you just need to grab a couple ice packs, toss the meds in an ice chest, and you’re good to go, right? Um, wrong.
We pitted the recently released Medcooler (www.medcooler.com), which claims to keep your medication at an average of 40 degrees for 24 hours in 100 degree temps, against the popular classic Igloo Playmate (www.igloocoolers.com). The results of our tests were surprising and eye-opening.
Polar Bear Medcooler, Test #1
We first tested the Medcooler, which is made by Polar Bear Coolers and was designed specifically for medication. The lightweight cooler (15 ounces) is soft-sided and comes with two reusable ice packs, a dry-storage medication container (7.5 inches high, 2.5 inches diameter, holds 10 Copaxone syringes), and a freeze indicator that will change colors if your medication ever drops below 32 degrees. The cooler also comes with a light cloth for wrapping your syringes and an outside zippered pouch for storing your prescription and/or doctor’s note. According to the manufacturer, the 10x7x7 cooler is leak proof, sweat proof, and can maintain an average temperature of 40 degrees for 24 hours.
Following the manufacturer’s instructions, we properly charged the ice packs (they need to be soaked briefly in water), and then froze one ice pack sheet to 0 degrees and refrigerated the other pack to 36 degrees. For testing purposes only, we opted not to use the supplied medication container. In its place we used a wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer so we could constantly monitor temps without opening the cooler. We wrapped the thermometer with a light cloth and then followed the remaining instructions. First we took the refrigerated ice pack and wrapped it around the thermometer, securing it with rubber bands. We placed it in the cooler, and then draped the frozen ice pack over the top of the wrapped “medication,” tucking the frozen sheet down the sides of the cooler as instructed. Then we zipped ‘er up and sat back to let time take its course.
We conducted the test at a variable room temperature of about 65-75 degrees. With a starting temp of 40.5 degrees when first sealed, the temps in the Medcooler gradually declined to a low temp of 33.3 degrees (hour 1) in just over an hour. It took a total of five hours to reach 34 degrees and another five hours to reach 35 degrees (hour 10). The temperature in the cooler when I hit the hay for the night registered 35.6 degrees and seven hours later registered 41.4 degrees (hour 19). The temps went up nearly five degrees in just two hours and reached 46 degrees in hour 21. At the conclusion of our 24-hour test, the cooler registered 53.1 degrees.
Avonex: Prefilled syringes of Avonex must be refrigerated (36-46°F or 2-8°C) until you are ready to use them. Pre-filled syringes will not lose efficacy or become unusable if left at room temperature for no longer than 12 hours. Avonex in the powdered form may be left at room temperature for up to 30 days.
Copaxone: Keep your monthly supply of Copaxone pre-filled syringes refrigerated between 36ºF and 46ºF (2ºC-8ºC). Pre-filled syringes may be stored at room temperature between 59ºF and 86ºF (15ºC-30ºC) for up to one month.
Rebif: Rebif should be stored in the refrigerator at 2°–8°C/36°–46°F. Do not freeze. If a refrigerator is not available, Rebif may be stored at or below room temperature (25°C/77°F) for up to 30 days and away from heat and light.
Betaseron/Extavia: Betaseron and Extavia should be stored at room temperature 25°C (77°F), but may be stored between 15 to 30°C (59 to 86°F). Avoid freezing.
* Taken directly from drug manufacturer’s website
Properly wrap your drugs with chilled (36 degrees) Techni Ice.
Igloo Playmate, Test #1
A cooler staple for decades, the 2-lb, 10x7x10 hard-sided Igloo Playmate is found in many a household, including this MSers’. How would this icon, not advertised as a medication cooler, hold up to the Medcooler? For our first test, we went for maximum cooling. We took our thermometer, wrapped it in a light cloth, and then sandwiched it between two ice packs, using the large ones that get shipped with my Copaxone. The drug makers use these ice packs to keep the drugs cold, so why shouldn’t I?
Don’t do this at home with your drugs! Temperatures reached the frozen mark in just 13 minutes. By minute 20, with temps threatening to drop below the 26 degree mark, we halted the test.
Okay, maybe max cooling your multiple sclerosis drugs isn’t such a good idea. For our next test, ActiveMSers took the Medcooler approach--using refrigerated cooling packs to insulate the drugs and then using frozen packs to maintain the cold temps. To do this, we took our thermometer, wrapped in a light cloth, and then sandwiched it between two refrigerated gel packs using rubber bands to secure the gel packs around the thermometer. We placed one frozen ice pack at the bottom of the cooler, dropped in our “sandwich,” and then added another ice pack on top.
Don’t do this at home with your drugs! Despite the extra half-inch of insulation, temperatures reached the frozen mark in 35 minutes. By minute 43, with temps threatening to drop lower than 30.9 degrees, we halted the test.
Boy, we’ve now managed to potentially freeze our medication twice. We decided to try a more conservative approach with our third test. This time we layered the bottom of the cooler with two ice packs and then placed atop the ice packs our refrigerated gel packs. On top of that we placed our thermometer. The theory: cold air sinks, so max cooling will happen at the bottom of the cooler, keeping our drugs at a chilly but not frozen ambient temperature.
Don’t do this at home with your drugs! Temperatures started at an acceptable 42.8 degrees, under the 46-degree recommended high temperature for refrigeration. But instead of remaining stable or perhaps dropping a few degrees, our temperatures just continued to rise, reaching an unacceptable 52 degrees in just 22 minutes. The test was halted.
Alrighty, determined to make this work, we tried another method. We put our “drugs” into a Tupperware container, and then put a double layer of gel packs (cool but not chilled all the way to 36 degrees), and then an icepack on top. Alas, we’re getting closer but still no cigar. Temps started at 46.6 degrees, rose to a high of 48.2 degrees, and then cooled to a steady 46.6 degrees, too high for our 46-degree limit. The test was halted after two hours.
Using all the data from Playmate tests 1-4, we came up with a layering plan that just might do the trick. Essentially we went with the same technique as in Test #4, only we used a single layer of gel packs and added an extra frozen ice pack. So we had two frozen ice packs on top of a single layer of refrigerated gel packs on top of our Tupperware, which housed our thermometer. Finally success! Well, maybe.
With the gel packs cooled to 36 degrees, temps started appropriately at 36.5 degrees. Over the next hour, the temperature inside the Playmate rose to over 42 degrees and the test appeared to be nearing a quick end. By hour six, temps in the cooler reached 46 degrees, our maximum. But that temp held steady for a couple hours, only now it was my bedtime. I awoke to a surprise: temps had actually dropped to 44.4 degrees. Did temperatures go above 46 degrees in the early a.m. hours? Don’t know.
It took until hour 26 for temperatures to reach 46 degrees again and stayed under 47 degrees through hour 28. It took a full 39 hours to reach 53.2 degrees, the temperature of the Medcooler after 24 hours.
The Igloo Playmate or any other general all-purpose cooler is not recommended to store your MS medication.
WARNING: Do NOT reuse the ice packs from your drug shipment!
When you receive your MS medication in the mail, it is always shipped with an ice pack or two. We contacted McKesson Pharmacy, the largest mail-order drug company in the US, and asked them what temperature those ice packs were frozen to. They are only frozen to 30 degrees F! Your home freezer is set in the zero degree range. As our tests have proven, if you use the ice packs frozen to 0 degrees to chill your medication, you will freeze it. ActiveMSers recommends not using those ice packs or exercise extreme care.
IMPORTANT: Using regular old ice cubes from your freezer may freeze your MS medication!
ActiveMSers wanted to see if plain-jane ice cubes would be safe for our multiple sclerosis medication. So we dumped ice into our Playmate and buried our thermometer--wrapped in a plastic baggie--into the ice. The starting temperature was 34.7 degrees. In two minutes the temperature had dropped to 23.5 degrees! For our next test, we set our thermometer on top of the ice thinking that might be safer. Wrong. Temps started at 35.4 degrees and in seven minutes the temperature had dropped to 25.2 degrees!
Polar Bear Medcooler, Test #2
Based on our final test with the Igloo Playmate, it was clear that those “throw-away” ice packs that come with our MS medication pack serious cooling potential. So we at ActiveMSers decided to retry the Medcooler using a combination approach. We followed the manufacturer’s recommendation of wrapping the medication in a light cloth and then wrapping that in their refrigerated Techni Ice, securing it with rubber bands. But instead of using the frozen Techni Ice draped over the top, we used three frozen packs (Huskies and Polar Packs are common brands used by drug shippers). We put one frozen pack on the bottom of the cooler, placed in our “medication” wrapped in chilled but not frozen Techni Ice, and then put two frozen packs on top and sealed up the cooler. (Note: it may not be possible to fit all three frozen packs into the cooler with the medication container provided by Medcooler. In that event, only use two ice packs).
Wow. With a starting temp of 34.3 degrees when first sealed, the temps in the Medcooler took hours to budge. Temps were still in the 30s at over 20 hours into testing. After a full day, temps still only registered 40.5 degrees. Hour 37 registered only 42.8 degrees and it took a full 45 hours to reach 46 degrees, almost a full two days. We concluded the test at hour 52 with temps still not hitting the 50-degree mark.
Just for grins, and because we have a few ActiveMSers out there who enjoy winter camping and traveling in cold climes (skiers and boarders especially), we tested how long the cooler would insulate your medication in very cold temperatures. We followed the manufacturer’s instructions for wrapping the “medication,” except the two sheets of Techni Ice were in the mid 60s, not refrigerated or frozen in any way. Then we tossed the entire cooler into the freezer set at zero degrees--think the trunk of your car at Jackson Hole in January on a chilly morning.
Based on our tests, it takes a little over eight hours to drop from the 60s to 32 degrees with an outside temperature at a constant zero degrees. NOTE: If your Techni Ice is prepped for keeping your medication cold (chilled inner layer with and frozen outer layer) and you take your cooler into a below freezing environment (even just 30 degrees), your medication can freeze in under an hour.
We expected the Polar Bear Medcooler to do well, and--in its stock form--it more than lived up to its claims of keeping your medication at an average temperature of 40 degrees over 24 hours. But it’s important to note that the cooler maintained temps of 46 degrees or below in our tests for a total of 21 hours. For maximum cooling, we suggest using the toss-away cooling packs that drug companies use to ship your medication in addition to one refrigerated sheet of the Techni Ice. (This sheet of Techni Ice acts as an insulating barrier and prevents your medication from freezing. Wrap and secure the Techni Ice around your drug container as instructed by Polar Bear Coolers.) Using this technique, the Medcooler far outperformed the Igloo, keeping temps at 46 degrees or cooler for an amazing 45 hours (compared to 26 hours for the Playmate).
Due to the vastly divergent results we received while testing the Igloo Playmate, ActiveMSers strongly recommends NOT using all-purpose coolers for storing your medication during travel. We found it difficult to maintain safe temperatures below 46 degrees and, worse, it was far too easy to freeze our multiple sclerosis medications (or any liquid drug for that matter).
With MS medications being not only very expensive, but also critical in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis, ActiveMSers gives the Medcooler by Polar Bear Coolers an excellent rating of 9.5 at keeping our medication at safe temperatures. We also like the freeze indicator (which is in the clear plastic medication tube), so you'll know if you've accidentally frozen your medication--especially handy for temperamental hotel refrigerators. Note that the freeze indicator only can be triggered once, so we suggest using a thermometer to test the temperature of a fridge before putting in your medication.
The Medcooler comes in two sizes. The larger size, not tested, does not have the same cooling power as the smaller cooler. Purchase the small cooler for $55 (ideal for frequent travelers) or the larger cooler at $65 (best for toting more than a 10-day supply) from www.medcooler.com. Tell them ActiveMSers sent you!
The Medcooler by Polar Bear coolers keeps your medication at 46 degrees or cooler for as long as 45 hours.
The plastic medication tube (left) holds 10 prefilled Copaxone syringes and includes a freeze indicator.
REMEMBER: Ice is not a stable 32 degrees, that is the melting point of ice. Ice comes out of your freezer at the same temperature as your freezer, which is set between -10 and 10 degrees F.