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Sample collection

It is the responsibility of the person collecting the specimen to ensure that it is correctly labelled and safe for transport to the laboratory.

Specimens for bacterial culture, wherever possible, should be collected prior to the start of antibiotic treatment.

Actual pus or tissue samples are always preferable to swabs.

Use aseptic technique during specimen collection to avoid unintentional contamination.

Specimens must be collected into sterile containers.

Ensure the correct specimen container is used for the sample type: see A-Z.

Specimens must be clearly labelled: do not cover any barcodes with sticky labels (e.g. on blood culture bottles)

Electronic requests will always generate a sticky label that must be used for these types of request. When making multiple electronic requests, make sure to put the correct label on each of the samples.

After collection, ensure specimen container lid is secure and place in a plastic, sealable bag.

Do not put samples from different patients in the same specimen bag.

Sample containers

OUH Microbiology suitable sample containers (pdf, 523 KB)

Aseptic technique

Think sepsis - adult blood culture


  • Aerobic (442192) and Anaerobic Blood (442191) culture bottle
  • Decontaminate hands
  • Remove bottle cap
  • Clean bottle top (70 percent alcohol and two percent chlorhexidine swab for 15 seconds, allow to dry)
  • Collect sample as per OUH Guidelines-at-a-glance (OUH sepsis intranet)
  • Remember Aerobic first, then Anaerobic bottle


  • Volume required: 8-10ml
  • Volume of blood is the most significant factor affecting the detection of organisms in bloodstream infection
  • There is a direct relationship between blood volume and yield, with approximately a three percent increase in yield per ml of blood cultured
  • False negatives may occur if inadequate blood culture volumes are submitted


Urgent samples must reach the laboratory as a priority

Patient collected samples

For information for patients on how to collect and store urine and stool samples please visit:

How should I collect and store a pee (urine) sample? - NHS website

For information on self-test kits for STI testing please visit:

Online testing (self-test kits) - Sexual Health Oxfordshire


Samples should be transported to the laboratory as soon as possible. Most specimens for testing within the Microbiology Laboratory must be processed within 24 hours of being taken (maximum 48 hours).

The laboratory can receive samples 24 hours a day, including weekends; however, if there is a delay, samples should be stored at 2-8°C except for the following, which should remain at room temperature:

  • Blood cultures
  • Skin scrapings / nail cuttings / hair cuttings for fungal culture
  • Eye swabs for Acanthamoeba

Waste disposal

All material used in the collection of specimens should be appropriately and safely discarded.

Clinical waste (including gloves and disposable PPE) should be discarded into orange bin bags or the appropriate clinical waste steam.

Equipment that has been used for sample collection, and used point of care test cartridges, should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of accordingly.

Any equipment posing a sharps risk should be disposed of into yellow sharps bins.

Last reviewed:16 November 2023