Blood Sample Transportation Guidelines

May 8, 2023
Pharmaceutical Transport

Hospitals, clinics, laboratories, and more transport blood samples every day. The timely and safe transport of blood is critical, especially during medical emergencies or surgeries. It can be vital to a person's survival. 

With the stakes so high, blood samples must be transported responsibly to maintain their integrity. This is where regulatory guidelines play an important role in transporting, not just blood samples but all temperature sensitive bio-products and pharmaceuticals. 

Blood is classified as an infectious and/or hazardous substance and needs to be handled with care. Regulations are in place to protect both the stakeholders involved in the transport of blood samples, and the samples themselves from contamination. 

Let’s take a closer look at the  guidelines for transporting blood samples. 

Which blood sample transportation guidelines should you follow? 

The most widely known and referenced set of recommendations are those created by experts in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) called, “Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods—Model Regulations”. These regulations were set up so that they can be applied generally across geographic regions and various modes of transport (e.g. air, rail, road, sea, post). Be aware that more detailed regulations may apply within a particular region or according to the needs or specific modes of transport. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also created a comprehensive and informative guideline on applicable regulations which outline the key regulations you should consider when transporting important substances like blood. While these general regulations are a good place to start, it’s best practice to follow the most stringent regulations that apply to the region of operation.  

Guidelines to be aware of

Before we dive into the regulations for transporting samples, let’s look at the types of samples you might want to transport. The FDA has provided further guidelines to help you transport samples according to their specific needs. Blood samples can come in the form of:

Specific regulations aside, here are the regulations that you should be aware of when transporting blood samples. 

  1. Marking and labeling

When it comes to potentially dangerous or infectious substances like blood, correct labeling is vital. First and foremost, the substance has to be correctly classified. For example, is the sample ‘dangerous’ and, if so, can it be further classified? Classifications for infectious substances are broken into Category A (severely disabling or life-threatening) or Category B (infectious but not severely disabling or life-threatening).  

This important information needs to be captured on the sample’s packaging for quick reference throughout the cold chain. The following must be provided on the outer package of all infectious substances:

  • The shipper’s (sender’s/consignor’s) name and address 
  • The receiver’s (consignee’s) name and address
  • The UN number of the infectious substance, followed by the proper shipping name of the substance. Technical names need not be shown on the package. 
  • When a coolant is used (e.g. dry ice), the UN number and the proper shipping name of the coolant must be provided, followed by the words ‘AS COOLANT.’ In addition, the net quantity of coolant present should be provided.

Along with written information, there are also important symbols that must be applied to the packaging to give quick instruction regarding the substance. For example, orientation arrows for samples that need to stay in position or a cryogenic liquid warning label that indicates that the package contains deeply refrigerated liquefied gasses.

For further reading, The University of California has an excellent resource for uniform specimen labeling requirements.

  1. Packaging

As with any temperature sensitive product, the way that the blood sample is packaged plays a big role in keeping it safe and viable. Regulations prescribe what is called the Triple Packaging System (TPS). TPS outlines that samples should be packed as such:

  1. The primary receptacle, containing the infectious substance, must be watertight, and impermeable to the substance held within. The primary receptacle should be appropriately labeled. 
  2. A second watertight, leakproof container should then be used to enclose and protect the primary receptacle, and its absorbent material. 
  3. A third, outer layer of packaging is used to protect the secondary container from physical damage while in transit.

In addition to the TPS, there are further guidelines for the use of coolants within the packaging. These guidelines stipulate that the coolant must be placed between the secondary container and outer packaging, or in an overpack used to transport multiple packages together. It also highlights the importance of ventilation for the coolants in use, especially coolants that are gaseous such as dry ice or liquid nitrogen. When transporting blood samples, remember to keep them cool but not frozen. The ideal temperature for blood samples is between 2-8 °C

  1. Documentation

Lastly, no blood samples should travel without the proper documentation. Various types of documentation may be applicable, such as:

  • Dangerous Goods Transport Document (DGTD),
  • Air Waybill
  • Spill clean-up procedure. 

Relevant documents need to be correctly completed, easy to read, and resilient to the transportation process. 

All documentation aims to create absolute clarity regarding the nature of the sample, its intended use, and how to handle it safely. There is no such thing as over-communication when dealing with blood samples. 

Temperature control solutions

If you can follow the general guidelines that apply to your region or the UN guidelines, you are well on your way to optimizing blood sample transport. However, If you want to ensure that you have full transparency throughout the process you need to consider incorporating temperature indicators for blood products that give you real-time data about the status of your samples. 

Varcode Smart Data Solution can be used as a blood temperature indicator to give you the tools you need to make informed decisions regarding your temperature sensitive samples. The solution includes Smart Tags that notify you when a product goes below or above its ideal temperature range from a simple scan with your smartphone. It also gives you all the temperature control data in a single dashboard for easy management. 

Why the guidelines matter

Blood products are an expensive and labor-intensive resource that is often a major expense to hospitals and other healthcare institutions. With blood samples being so important, you cannot afford for the transportation of samples to be inefficient and uncontrolled. If you want to get greater insight and control into the transport of your blood samples, check out Varcode Smart Data Solution today and find out how it can streamline your blood transport processes.

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