Guide to shipping biological materials

The transportation and shipping of biological materials includes rigorous regulatory controls. Individuals who work in the transportation and shipment industries must receive training on the applicable regulations and requirements before shipping infectious substances. Biological materials that need to travel from one laboratory to another or between buildings must follow strict regulations. In case of an accident shipping and logistic companies will follow special procedures. The containers must preserve them in such a way as to prevent release to the environment.

Vials on a white light board before shipping biological materials
It is not impossible to ship biological materials – just uncommon.

Main steps to properly shipping biohazardous materials include:

  • Classification
  • Packaging
  • Labeling
  • Documentation

Rules for shipping biological materials

  1. Firstly, movers will place biological samples in a primary container or vessel that you will securely close. It needs to be a leak-proof (or O-ring) tube, vial or ampoule. But that is not the end.
  2. They will then place the tube in an unbreakable, lidded, watertight, secondary container.
  3. If you suspect that the outside of the primary container or vessel has somehow suffered contamination, make sure you decontaminate it. Before your freight forwarder places it in a secondary container, they will use a 10% bleach solution or a disinfectant appropriate for the biological material in use.
  4. Then, all biohazards must have labels with the international biohazard symbol on the outside of the secondary container before you can proceed with container shipping form the UK to Saudi Arabia or even closer locations.
  5. Next, when transporting liquids in glass vials/tubes, make sure you add enough absorbent material. You can use packing materials such as paper towels. Stuff it on the top, bottom, and sides between the primary and secondary containers. This layer of padding will absorb the entire contents of the primary container(s) in case of breakage or leakage.
  6. Make sure that the outside of the secondary container is free of any biohazardous material. That way the personnel shipping biological materials can carry the package safely between buildings without even having to wear gloves or lab coats outside.
  7. Ensure that the package goes directly to its intended location. If a spill occurs during transport, never attempt to clean it up without adequate spill response material and PPE. Steer clear of the spill and mark the spot so other people can avoid it.

Biological materials belong to the following categories:

  • Infectious substances that fall into two subcategories: 1) Category A infectious substances; and 2) Category B infectious substances;
  • Diagnostic samples
  • Biohazardous products
  • Genetically altered organisms and micro-organisms
  • Unregulated biological products

Note that none of the infectious substance shipping regulations apply if the biological material you are shipping cannot cause disease. Biological products that have a low probability of carrying infectious substances (such as water, or samples, or food) do not fall under these requirements.

Shipping biological materials such as infectious substances

Infectious substances can and usually contain pathogens. Pathogens are microorganisms or recombinant microorganisms by definition. These products are known or expected to cause infectious diseases in humans or animals. However, when they are unlikely to cause disease, they will not be subject to the requirements of shipping biological materials. Infectious substances fall under these rules only if they can spread disease when exposure occurs.

An adequate approach to packaging biological materials

When booking your freight forwarder, specify what category of materials you will be shipping. Does your shipment include infectious substances, diagnostic specimens, dry ice, or ice packs? Note that shipping biological materials requires a triple package.

1. Category A: Infectious Substances

  • Category A implies you will be shipping infectious substance that contains or is likely to contain a pathogen. We offer to carry infectious substances, subject to the conditions specified by law. You will need a signed agreement that specifically permits you the shipment of the infectious substance in question.
  • Category A Infectious Substances can only travel overseas if authorized shippers handle them.
Vials with blood and plastic goggles
Make sure you clearly and legibly mark your packages on the external surface of the outer packaging.

2. Category B: Biological substance

  • Does category B refer to infectious substances that do not fall under the criteria for inclusion in Category A. What does that mean? First of all, Category B biological materials cannot cause life-threatening or fatal disease or permanent disability when exposure occurs. All reliable companies will only accept this category of cargo on a contractual basis internationally.
  • Examples of these noninfectious biological products may include human or animal excreta, blood tissue, bodily fluids, and so on.

Packaging requirements and regulations by IATA

IATA is the International Air Transport Association, also known as the trade association for the world’s airlines. The association represents more than 290 airlines or 82% of total air traffic. They oversee many areas of air cargo restrictions. Also, they participate in the formulation of industry policy when it comes to critical aviation issues.
And the IATA Regulations say that shipments containing Biological substance, Category B materials must have the ‘triple package’. This type of packaging belongs to Packing Instruction 650. But let’s see what does triple packaging consist of:

  1. Firstly, you need a leak-proof primary receptacle
  2. Secondly, you must have a leak-proof secondary packaging
  3. Finally, you will need to get an outer sturdy packaging of adequate strength for its capacity, mass, and intended use. This third layer or outer packaging must have at least one surface of minimum dimensions of 100mm x 100mm. All these materials above fall under the International Special Commodities (ISC) Contract.
  4. Last but not least, each package with three layers must be capable of passing the IATA drop test described from a height of not less than 1.2 m.
Vials with blood
When shipping liquids, put absorbent material between the product and the secondary packaging.

Marking requirements when shipping biological products

Packages containing biohazardous materials must have clear marks and labels with the proper shipping name. The characters need to be at least 6 mm high. You should put labels right next to the proper shipping name so that our movers can handle them adequately. Contact us if you’re shipping biological materials and start planning your cargo shipping schedule for optimal safety and ultimate efficiency. With us, even hazardous materials are not that scary.

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