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Specimen Collection, Handling and Transportation

Specimen Collection

A properly collected and handled specimen is critical to quality test results. Test Information Sheets provide comprehensive instructions, including:

  • Type of specimen to collect
  • Collection kit and requisition
  • Special requirements
  • Specimen handling
  • Test methodology and links to relevant Labstracts
  • Turnaround times

Information on Turn Around Time (TAT): The TAT published on PHO test information sheets is an estimate that may vary for some tests or during public health emergencies, outbreaks or exigent circumstances. The TAT does not apply to tests added on to existing specimens or on hold awaiting information to continue testing.  The TAT for tests sent to reference laboratories is dependent on the reference laboratory testing schedule and timing. “Days” refers to business days and excludes weekends and holidays. Public Health Ontario disclaims all warranties whether expressed or implied in respect of the information, including the TAT provided herein.

Specimen Labelling, and Storage

  • Specimens must be collected in an appropriate specimen container to maintain the integrity of the specimen.
  • Test Information Sheets specify the type of container or collection kit that should be used to collect the sample.
  • After collection, label the specimen container with the patient’s full name or code (for anonymous testing), date of collection and one other unique identifier such as the patient’s date of birth or Health Card Number. Failure to provide this information may result in rejection or testing delay.
  • Complete all fields of the PHOL requisition: include, the patient’s full name or code (for anonymous testing), date of birth, Health Card Number (must match the specimen label), enter the name of the analysis(es) under test description, source of specimen, date of onset, date of collection, physician name and address, and clinical diagnosis. 
  • Place the specimen in the biohazard bag and seal the bag.
  • Insert the completed requisition in the pocket on the outside of the sealed biohazard bag.
  • Most specimens should be stored between 2-8°C. Specific handling/storage information is included in the test-specific Kit Instruction Sheets and Test Information Sheets. 

Packaging and Transportation

  • All specimens must be packaged carefully to avoid breakage or leakage of the specimen.
  • The packaging of all diagnostic specimens, cultures or biological products must be handled in accordance with the Canadian Biosafety Standards and shipped in accordance with the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations.
Further information regarding these regulations and compliance packaging can be obtained from the Transport Canada web site. For general enquiries email
Page last reviewed:
Page last updated: 2017-12-19 10:21 AM
Uncontrolled print copy. Valid only on day of Print: [date]
Page updated on [date/time] 2017-12-19 10:21 AM
© , Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion