Public Beach Water

Specimen Collection and Handling

Specimen Requirements

Test Requested Required Requisition(s) Specimen Type Minimum Volume Collection Kit

E. coli

Public Beach Water submitted by an Official Agency (i.e., public health unit or Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Ontario Park

200 mL (to the fill line on the bottle)

PHO laboratory water collection bottle

Submission and Collection Notes


Collect five (5) samples at designated sites at each identified beach location. Sampling locations should reflect water quality within the entire recreational zone.  More than five (5) samples may be required for larger beaches.

Complete the required information on the requisition (i.e. submitting agency name including the sub office if this office submitted the sample, date and time collected and sample type). The sample will not be tested if all of the required information is not complete or accurate when received at the laboratory.


Remove one barcode from the bottle and apply it to the top copy of the requisition in the “Barcode” field. Remove a second barcode and apply it in the corresponding location on the second copy of the form. Samples will not be processed if the barcodes are not affixed to the requisition. If the barcode is not able to be removed, write the barcode number in the “Barcode” box on the form.


Examine the lid of the bottle. If the tamper evident ring has separated from the cap use another bottle.


Remove cap and ensure it is kept away from sources of contamination.

  • Do not touch the inside of the lid.
  • Do not put the lid down.
  • Do not ingest the sodium thiosulfate in the bottle.  For accidental exposure get medical attention.

Follow the instructions in the Operational Approaches for Recreational Water Guideline. Alternatively, plunge bottle downward into water to 30 cm – turn bottle in direction point of current. Select areas of greatest bather load.

  • Samples may be taken ankle deep (at approx. 7.5 cm below water surface).
  • In deeper waters, if desired, take another sample approximately 7.5 cm below the water surface. This area may be somewhere between the knees and the chest, depending on how deep the water is where the sample is taken.
  • Take samples over the range of environmental and climatic conditions, especially during times when maximal pollution can be expected (i.e., periods of tidal, current, and wind influences; storm water runoff; and wastewater treatment bypasses).
  • Avoid contamination from floating debris.

Fill to the 200 mL fill line.

  • Do not overfill.
  • If overfilled, remove some of the water so the bottle is filled to 200 mL line.

Tighten the cap on the collection bottle. Leaking samples will not be processed; a new sample and requisition will be required.

Timing of Specimen Collection

Ensure adequate time to collect and transport the sample to the laboratory. It must be tested within one calendar day of collection.


Samples will not be tested if the acceptance criteria are not met. Refer to the Public Health Inspector’s Guide to Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Testing.

Storage and Transport

Retain a copy of the completed requisition that includes the barcodes. Specimens should be stored at 2-8 °C following collection and shipped to PHO laboratory inside insulated containers or in a cooler. Pack with frozen ice packs. Do not freeze samples. Samples must be shipped within 24 hours of collection and tested within one calendar day.

Special Instructions

This test is only offered for approved Official Agency clients (i.e., public health unit or Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Ontario Park).

Instructions For Official Agencies Submitting Water Samples to the Public Health Ontario Laboratory provides step by step instructions for completing the documentation and submitting/relinquishing the sample. For legal samples the chain of custody must be complete when the sample is received at the laboratory (Refer to Instructions For Official Agencies Submitting Water Samples to the Public Health Ontario Laboratory).

Requisitions and Kit Ordering

Test Frequency and Turnaround Time (TAT)

Samples are routinely accepted at the laboratory Monday – Friday during regular operating hours. Please contact the PHO laboratory Customer Service Centre prior to the submission of samples that will be received outside of these hours.

The turnaround time is up to 4 days for E. coli.

STAT and Critical Samples Testing

Please contact the PHO laboratory Customer Service Centre prior to the submission of samples that will be received outside of regular operating hours or the PHO Laboratory Duty Officer at (416) 605-3113 if outside of Customer Service’s hours. Samples of an urgent nature (e.g. STAT) will be processed and read with no undue delay.

Test Methods

Specimens are tested by the Membrane Filtration method modified from the American Society for Microbiology’s Bacteriological Examination of Waters: Membrane Filtration Protocol.

By submitting a sample with a PHO Laboratory requisition, the submitter accepts Public Health Ontario’s methodology


Results are reported to the submitter as indicated on the requisition.

Additional Information

For general inquiries, please contact the PHO laboratory Customer Service Centre.

Prior to the beginning of each public beach water monitoring season, notify the local PHO laboratory of the number of samples that will be submitted, day(s) of week for sampling (Note:  routine samples are only accepted at the laboratory Monday – Friday), and approximate time of day that samples will arrive at the laboratory. 

Refer to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Recreational Water Protocol and Operational Approaches for Recreational Water Guideline.

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Laboratory Services

Updated 13 June 2022