Dropping Samples at the Lab: A Closer Look at Environmental Laboratory Login Procedure

Do you ever think about what actually happens when you submit a sample for analysis at a laboratory? Depending on its size, a given lab can receive hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of samples per week. Due to the complexity of the processes and procedures involved, it’s no wonder that labs have strict systems in place to ensure that quality control, safety, and compliance requirements are met. For any lab, their sole reason to exist is to provide quality analytical data, and therefore they want to make sure that every lab report released contains scientifically sound information. 


Begin with Quality

The sample receipt process at a certified lab begins with a strong Quality Program. Laboratory management will develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the staff to not only include extremely detailed instruction about laboratory procedure and quality control, but also information about issues related to things like safety and ethics. When followed correctly and updated regularly, SOPs ensure consistency and compliance with industry regulations and standard business practices.

Sample Condition 

Certified labs must follow strict “Sample Acceptance Criteria” when receiving samples for analysis. The sample condition, container, preservation, temperature, and holding time all play a role in whether or not the sample can be accepted by the lab for analysis. Sample acceptance criteria are dictated by industry standards as well as regulatory procedures. Before sampling, it is always a good idea to check with your lab about their sampling requirements for the analysis you will be requesting. 








Bottles & Containers

At our environmental lab in Portsmouth, NH, customers don’t always realize that certain tests require specific sample containers, and that every single sampling container is prepared by hand and quality checked before distribution to the client. We must verify that proper bottles are sent for the requested parameters. (i.e., metals require a preserved container, the test for EPH requires an amber glass bottle, and the test for bacteria requires a sterile plastic bottle). For larger projects, timelines and logistics can be quite complicated and will also play a big role in bottle / container preparation. Many labs, like ARA, will combine tests when possible to reduce bottle ware and collection time in the field.

Sample Receipt

Once properly collected, the environmental sample is relinquished to the laboratory for analysis. But between sample collection and lab analysis, there are many details to consider and manage. The login process at a typical environmental lab goes like this: 




  • Environmental samples are submitted to the lab by customer drop off, package carrier such as UPS or FedEx, or a lab courier service. 
  • Samples cannot be received without a Chain of Custody form, which must be filled out completely and checked by laboratory personnel for accuracy. 
  • Holding time requirements (think, sample expiration window) vary widely by test and can range from a few hours to several weeks.
  • Holding times play a big role in sample acceptance, as you do not want the sample to expire before the requested test can be performed.
  • If the holding time has expired, your sample will likely be rejected by the lab and you'll be asked to resample. 
  • Tests with short holding times, such as Bacteria and Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), are prioritized by the lab. The analysts are notified about these projects when they arrive.
  • Preserved samples must be checked to ensure proper preservation.
  • Each project, and the associated samples, are assigned unique identification numbers. 
  • Every container is labeled with its unique number, on both the cap and bottle. 
  • The information is then logged into the lab’s Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).
  • Any discrepancies or issues related to login / sample acceptance are communicated to the customer before the sample is analyzed, or as soon as possible. 


Laboratories are often thought of as a black box where samples go in and reports come out, but in reality, there’s a lot that needs happen after samples are received to maintain sample integrity and ensure accurate and timely results.


The role of the login staff is vital to getting a project off on the right foot. Login staff ensure that the samples received are appropriate for the selected analytical methodologies and remain traceable all the way from receipt to disposal.


To maintain certification, laboratories must demonstrate accurate and efficient login processes as part of their Standard Operating Procedures. When moving thousands of samples through a lab, attention to detail must always be paramount, and that begins with the lab’s sample login procedure.






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