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All responsibility for packaging compliance rests with the individual sending the package. The commercial shipping company is not responsible for improperly packaged materials that are transported. In addition, the couriers face stiff fines and the temporary loss and use of transport vehicles if they carry leaking packages or if they do not adequately protect their employees. These costs can be charged to the individual sending the package. The commercial shipping companies have the right to question and refuse packages, and are likely to do so if a shipper is known to carelessly package specimens. Even leaking ice packs will not be tolerated. Fines can be imposed on shippers and instances of leaking packages are reportable to the Center for Disease Control.
As a shipper you must decide what is an acceptable level of risk.
- Samples must be in a leak proof primary container. This container must be labeled with patient/owner ID and sample contents. Acceptable containers include:
- Leak proof: blood tubes (vacutainer and transfer tubes), plastic centrifuge tubes, screw top plastic jars with a ridge on the inside of the jar.
- Acceptable only if properly sealed: urine cups, Whirl-Pak® and Ziploc® bags
- Not acceptable: gloves, OB sleeves, syringes, containers lacking sealable lids or containers improperly sealed
- Place the primary container and enough absorbent material to fully absorb any fluid from the sample inside a secondary leak proof container. This may be a sealable bag or plastic jar.
- Place the secondary container in a tertiary shipping container with a rigid exterior that is of adequate strength for its capacity and intended use. Do not send Styrofoam coolers without the outer cardboard. Place packing material around the contents to provide absorbency and cushioning to prevent breakage.
- For air travel the container needs to be able to withstand 95 kPa pressure.
More complete packing instructions and regulations can be found at:
US Department of Transportation:
How to Comply with Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations
IATA (International Aviation and Transportation):
Classification, Guidance, and Packing of Infectious Substances
- Remove any old labels from boxes.
- Clearly label the package with the destination and return address.
- Label the package as "Exempt Animal Specimen" for diagnostic samples when there is minimal likelihood that pathogens are present.
- Label the package with biohazard labels and the appropriate UN specification marking for diagnostic samples when it is likely that pathogens are present. See IATA for UN specifications for "Biological Substance Category B".
Additional Contact Information
- FEDEX Customer Service: 800-463-3339
- DHL Hazardous Materials Hotline: 866-588-2002
- UPS Hazardous Materials Help Desk: 800-554-9964
- USPS: 503-335-7910
- USDOT Office of Hazardous Materials Standards: 202-366-8553
- OSHA: 202-693-2143**
- Greyhound: Call your local agent
**For worker exposure to infectious agents and bloodborne pathogens.