California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System

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Packaging Guidelines

Specimens Packing Guidelines

Several inexpensive options exist for packing your laboratory samples in a manner that guarantees your specimens will arrive in optimal condition for testing. CAHFS receives many samples that are needlessly destroyed or made unsuitable for testing because of poor packaging. 

See our Shipping and Courier Services page for information on various delivery options.

The most common specimen/sample packing problems can be prevented with these simple guidelines:

Isolate the submission form from the samples in a waterproof bag. Your specimen may arrive in "processable condition" but if we cannot read your submission form due to liquid leakage blurring the information, we cannot process the specimen. Photo: Bad packing example
This package is a good example of the proper way to prepare a shipment:
Photo: Good packing eample #1 Photo: Good packing eample #2 Photo: Good packing eample #2
1. The individual specimens are separated into the correct type of individual containers and further secured in plastic bags, as necessary. 2. The packages are placed within a box with gel-pack ice and the submission forms are placed in separate zippered plastic bags. 3. The box is filled with crumpled paper (or other filler) to minimize movement of the specimens.
This package is a poor example of shipping a specimen:
Photo: Bad packing example These specimen tubes were sent via U.S. Mail in a regular, non-padded envelope. The submission form was also unprotected within the envelope. All the glass tubes were shattered, the contents destroyed and the submission form was barely legible.
* Double-bag any fresh tissues. Organs placed in a single Ziploc or whirl-pak bag will leak.
Do not put multiple loose glass tubes in a container (bag or box) for transport as one or more tubes will often break. We recommend using Styrofoam mailers or the foil-pack method pictured below for shipping all glass tubes. Photo: Bad packing example
Photo: Bad packing example Photo: Bad packing example Photo: Bad packing example
Place the glass tubes in a sheet of foil with end caps alternating top to bottom so that the rubber caps may add a cushioning effect to the neighboring tube bottom. For all vacutainer tubes, we recommend packaging the tubes in groups of ten and in the same order that they are recorded on your laboratory submission form. Fold the foil securely across the tubes while keeping the tubes flat on the surface of the table. Compress the foil tightly around the flat row of tubes to further help prevent the tubes from moving. Place one foil packet inside one zippered plastic bag. Push as much air out of the bag as possible and then zip lock the bag closed. Label the bag with the corresponding number sequence that is noted on the submission form (samples 1-10, 11-20, etc.).
Place these individually wrapped and labeled packages in a box with adequate padding, such as crushed newspaper, and include ice packs as necessary. It is also highly recommended that you place some cushioning material between an ice pack and a package of specimen tubes.
If using a vacutainer box, you must secure the tubes in the box by placing strips of packing tape across the tops of the tubes and adhering the tape to the box or by wrapping the entire box in foil. If the tubes are not properly secured in the box, they could fall out and break if the shipping container is turned upside down. Photo: Bad packing example
If your samples must arrive at CAHFS frozen, you must ship them using dry ice. Do not transport specimens using wet ice which will melt and leak.
For formalin-fixed samples, choose an appropriate container (no yogurt/cottage cheese tubs) and seal it tightly. We recommend also using parafilm and/or placing in a double bag with absorbent material. CAHFS frequently receives containers with leaking formalin.
Photo: Bad packing example For snap-caps to seal, you MUST place your thumb on the top of the cap and use a very firm pressure downward to "lock" the cap tightly. If the cap freely moves, the cap is not tightly sealed. Once the cap is firmly snapped in place, the plastic cap will not move. Adding a parafilm wrap around the cap will provide an extra measure of safety and security for the formalin, or any liquid in any type of tube.