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Dear Diabetes: Storing Insulin

Can I store insulin in the butter compartment?

When Lee Ann Thill, founder of Diabetes Art Day, decided to call her diabetes blog The Butter Compartment in honor of her favorite place to store her unused insulin, she was on to something – many people living with diabetes do the same thing. But is it a good idea? And just how sensitive is insulin, anyway?

First things first: insulin is a protein, and as anyone who’s fried an egg can attest, subjecting a protein to high heat can cause some pretty dramatic changes in its structure. But unfortunately for those living with diabetes, cooking insulin doesn’t result in a tasty omelet – instead, it makes the insulin go bad, which, if used, may lead to high blood sugar. That’s why you never store your insulin in a hot location, like in direct sunlight or the glove compartment of your car. (Light in general – even indoors – can also affect insulin, so try to keep it in the dark.) Likewise, you never want to freeze it – if you ever do so accidentally, you should throw it away. Always dispose of medications properly.

According to the American Diabetes Association, it’s safe to keep your current bottle of insulin at a controlled room temperature for up to twenty-eight days. (In fact, it can be preferable to do so since injecting cold insulin can cause some discomfort.) If you use less than a bottle a month, label the one you’re using with the date you opened it. The room temperature needs to be controlled so again, make sure not to leave it in a spot that gets too hot or cold.

However, insulin manufacturers may define “room temperature” somewhat differently and twenty-eight days is not a hard and fast rule, so it’s important to check the product information insert that comes tucked inside the box to find the guidelines for your particular medication.

As for your backup bottles and pens, they should be kept under refrigeration at a temperature between thirty-six and forty-six degrees Fahrenheit, and should be good up to their expiration dates. If you’re unsure if your refrigerator’s butter compartment meets these temperature requirements, check with a refrigerator thermometer. Most butter will begin melting at around 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit and is best stored at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the butter in the butter compartment is frozen, that indicates a temperature that is too low for insulin. But butter is not the best indicator of a temperature that is in excess of what a manufacturer recommends for refrigerated storage of unused insulin vials.

Other insulin storage tips:

  • Inspect your insulin. If your insulin changes appearance – if, for example, it’s normally clear and becomes cloudy or discolored, or it develops crystals or clumps – it’s a sign it should be tossed. (If that does happen, call the manufacturer – it may be possible to get a replacement; always follow FDA guidelines for disposal.)
  • Speaking of tossing, never shake your insulin bottle. It’s fine to flick at it to dislodge bubbles, and there are certain types of insulin that require you to roll the bottle between your hands to mix them. But avoid any movement that could resemble making a cocktail, since excess shaking can actually cause the insulin’s amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to separate from one another, and the insulin to go bad. If you have any questions regarding your insulin, check with your doctor, your pharmacist, and/or the manufacturer.
  • Respect expiration dates. If you order several months’ worth of insulin at a time, avoid waste by putting each new shipment into its own small plastic bag and labeling the bag with the expiration date. That way, you can always be sure to grab a bottle or pen from the bag whose expiration date is coming up the soonest.

Catherine Price is a freelance journalist and type 1 diabetic who has written for The New York Times, Slate, Popular Science, and O Magazine, among others. She blogs about diabetes at asweetlife.org and you can follow her on Twitter @Catherine_Price. Price is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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