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Scientist takes freezer box out of a ULT freezer

Shifting from Chaos to Order with Freezer Boxes and Racks

Preserving samples in an organized manner makes it easier to track projects and find products

Marnie Willman

Marnie Willman is the clinical writer at Today's Clinical Lab. She can be reached at

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Once a set of experiments is chosen, the work is performed, and the resultant is carefully harvested, storage of those samples becomes a dilemma. It’s all too easy to put tubes in a cardboard box and into a freezer with no overall plan. But future applications of stored cell stocks or other samples require cataloging and labeling of freezer boxes and tubes so they can be easily found later. There are tools available to keep your fridges and freezers organized and at-the-ready for future experiments. 

Ensure organization with freezer racks

Stainless steel freezer racks are a very useful tool to take full advantage of freezer space and keep project materials together. To prevent an eventual avalanche of samples when the door is opened, sorting boxes into sliding freezer racks with a handle makes for easy access to 12 or more boxes at once. These are also stored across the full length of a standard upright lab fridge or freezer, maximizing space. 

Keeping racks sorted by date, staff member, or project allows even more control over organization for future use. Sorting boxes into storage racks also reduces frost buildup in two ways. As organized boxes will allow you to locate samples faster, keeping the boxes organized limits the time that the door is left open. Additionally, many commercially available racks are sizes and shapes that prevent gaps where frost can accumulate.

Organize project materials with color coding

Traditional cardboard tube boxes are excellent for storing samples, but colored plastic boxes can aid in organization. By organizing projects by color, any member of staff can see at a glance what materials are being stored for which projects, along with how much space is allotted to them. Organization by color also prevents the problem of prolonged storage of nonessential samples by color identification. Once projects are finished, the group of associated boxes can be moved to long-term storage or disposed of. Using a single color for projects that are finished, published, and are simply being stored for future reference can aid in visual organization of the space as well.

It is much easier to start organizing the fridge and freezer space and its associated contents when a project begins.

Plastic boxes are not only more durable than cardboard boxes, but they are also less prone to the damage that occurs when cardboard boxes are frozen and thawed. Each freeze-thaw cycle makes the box damp and compromises the cardboard’s integrity. Plastic boxes can be purchased with a lip that clicks together with the lid, making spillage less likely if the box is dropped. 

Use freezer-safe labels for clarity

The final tier of the physical organization pyramid is labeling. Having -80 or fridge-safe labels for boxes and sticking them to the front of the lid when the box is dry and at room temperature is the best practice for effective labeling. Using a pen that is fridge- or freezer-safe will stop smudging and ink running that can make labels impossible to read. Carefully labeling boxes with the contents, name of the staff member who placed the samples into storage, and the date can all assist in later identification without having to open each box and look at various tubes inside. 

Take it a step further with matching inventory labels

To maximize freezer organization and efficiency, it is also possible to synchronize the implemented labeling system with an inventory management database. Using barcodes or numerical codes, boxes can contain information that will direct the user to an online inventory system. While inventories used to be kept on paper such as files or notebooks, online inventory systems have become more popular for their real-time accuracy and ease of updating. Online inventories can take the form of Excel spreadsheets or inventory tracking software. Maintaining the inventory is made easier by keeping the freezer organized and clean, keeping everything visible, and having descriptive (including inventory management) labels on the boxes.

Keeping the freezer organized with routine cleaning

Ice buildup can hinder freezer organization. Unfilled spaces may become iced over more quickly, blocking their use and limiting space. In addition, ice buildup can make some racks and storage areas inaccessible, forcing an inconsistent organizational method. Setting time aside every few months to clear and de-ice a freezer is a maintenance essential. Having samples stored in racks also makes this process more efficient, enabling clearance of a full freezer in minutes by sliding racks into another freezer. This is much easier than removing individual tubes or samples from the freezer for a large-scale defrost. 

Organization: it starts on day one

It is much easier to start organizing the fridge and freezer space and its associated contents when a project begins. Going back to reorganize an area is time-consuming and frustrating work. When ordering supplies for a project, ensure there are coordinated boxes, labels, and racks for fridge and freezer space. This will make maintaining databases for ordering, inventory management, and project management much easier. It also alleviates work required by future staff when projects need to be resumed or when publication revisions require additional experiments. When new staff begin working at the facility, the coordinated and organized space is easier to navigate, making it easier to resume work. For all of these reasons, keeping the space orderly and well-documented is essential to keep the lab running smoothly and efficiently.