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Collecting and Shipping Samples Printer-friendly 
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Home > Collecting and Shipping Samples


Collecting Quarter Samples

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The key to accurate analysis is proper sample collection. The two most important principles are cleaning the teat ends and using aseptic technique.

Labeling the Sample Tube(s)

The sample tubes should be labeled with a waterproof marker to identify cow and quarter. It's a good idea to label the tube(s) before starting to collect samples. Make sure to fill out the sample submission form also.

Preparation of Udders and Teats

You must ensure that the udder, specifically the teat ends, are clean and dry before sample collection is attempted. Brush or wipe any bedding, debris and manure off the teats and base of the udder. If the teats and udder are caked with wet manure, wipe as much off as possible with paper towels before washing the teats with as little water as possible and dry completely. Teats must be further cleaned, preferably with a disinfectant solution (pre-milking teat disinfectants or teat dips are a good choice), then dried with a clean paper towel. Each teat end is then scrubbed vigorously with an alcohol swab (a cotton ball moistened, but not completely wet with 70% ethyl alcohol can be used if a swab/pad is not available) starting with teats on the far side of the udder. Use a separate swab or cotton ball for each teat. Scrubbing should be continued until a new surface of the cotton on the swab remains clean. To prevent recontamination of teats after scrubbing, scrub the teats on the far side of the udder first, then those on the near side. If you touch a teat end, swab it again. A clean dry teat end goes a long way towards preventing contaminated samples.

Collection of Samples

Strict aseptic procedures are used when collecting milk samples. First strip and discard the first stream of milk – checking for abnormal milk. The picture shows a strip cup being used. Next remove the cap from the sample tube without touching the cap or the inner surface of the tube. Hold the tube at an angle and direct the milk stream into the tube. Teats nearest to the collector are sampled first, and teats on the far side of the udder last. Fill the tube 1/4 to 1/3 full with milk, a sample size of 2 to 4 ml of milk (one stream/squirt of milk) for bacteriological analysis is collected from each quarter. There is NO NEED to fill the tube!! Do not allow the cap or the tube opening to touch the teat end. Use one of the extra tubes to collect the sample again if you touch the open tube end or the end/inside of the cap. Replace cap on tube as soon as sample collection is completed. Dip the cow’s teat(s) with a post milking teat disinfectant if the cow is not going to be milked immediately.


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Packaging and Shipping of Samples

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After the samples have been collected and tubes placed in racks, they should be kept in an cooler with ice or cold packs or refrigerated. Samples should be stored in a freezer at –20oC until sent to the laboratory. Once at the laboratory, the samples remain in the freezer at –20oC until analysis.

Shipping Milk Samples

Shipping of milk samples must follow DOT and IATA regulations that govern the shipping / transport of biological materials. Milk samples must be shipped in a "triple-package system".

The sampling packs provided by TQML include all the materials necessary to triple pack samples for shipment.

The Primary Container is the "sample" container (plastic test tube) and is leak-proof when closed completely. The primary container (test tubes) are placed in a test tube rack and placed in a heavy duty Zip lock bag (the Zip Lock bag becomes the secondary container). The Zip lock bag must also contain enough absorbent material (paper towels) to absorb the all the contents of all the tubes if all the tubes leaked. The Zip lock bag with the rack is placed in a Styrofoam container (the Styrofoam cooler becomes the tertiary container). The cold pack(s) should be placed between the secondary container and the tertiary containers - put the cold pack(s) in the cooler, but NOT in the zip lock bag with the samples. Fill the empty space in the cooler with some type of packing to prevent the contents from moving around – newspaper is shown, but Styrofoam pellets or bubble wrap work too. An inventory of the contents (the submission form) is placed in another Zip lock bag and put in the shipping box outside of the tertiary container (on top of the Styrofoam cooler). This is all placed in an outer container (cardboard box).

The top of the outer container should be labeled with an "Exempt Animal Specimens" label. A label is included in the package. The outer container is also labeled with the Sender’s return address and the TQML address.

Do not ship unprotected Styrofoam containers because they are easily broken or punctured. Styrofoam shipping containers must be placed inside a cardboard container.

The entire sampling package is sent to the Tennessee Quality Milk Laboratory via UPS or FEDEX. The address is included with the paperwork provided in the sample pack and is also available on the TQML website.

Packaging that is done incorrectly can result in the samples not being delivered and returned by the carrier.


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Collecting a Bulk Tank Milk Sample

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Turn on the agitator and let it run for at least 10 minutes. Agitation ensures that the milk sample will represent all the milk in the tank.

While the milk is agitating, check the temperature of the milk in the tank. It should be 40oF or lower.

Record the date, time, milk temperature and farm name on the vials. Make sure there is NO preservative in the vials.

Collect all samples from the top of the bulk tank. Samples obtained from the outlet at the bottom of the tank give inaccurate results.

After agitating for at least 10 minutes, open the lid of the bulk tank

Using a sterile dipper, rinse the dipper in the milk twice before collecting the sample. Fill the dipper a third time and remove it from the tank. Pour the milk into the sample vials, filling at least 3/4 full. Collect 2 vials of milk to ensure there is enough milk for all the tests. Do not fill the vials over the open tank! Discard any unused milk.

Close the tank lid when finished.

Refrigerate the bulk tank milk samples(s) immediately. Keep the sample(s) refrgerated until they are sent to the laboratory.

DO NOT freeze the samples! Freezing samples will make Somatic Cell Count analysis impossible and Mycoplasma culture impossible.

Whirlpacks can be used in place of the vials.

Fill out the sample submission form before sending any samples in.

Bulk tank milk samples can be sent to the laboratory using UPS, or they can be hand delivered to the laboratory.


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Shipping Bulk Tank Milk Samples

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Shipping of milk samples must follow DOT and IATA regulations that govern the shipping / transport of biological materials. Milk samples must be shipped in a "triple-package system".

The sampling packs provided by TQML include all the materials necessary to triple pack samples for shipment.

The Primary Container is the "sample" container (plastic vial or whirl pack) and is leak-proof when closed completely. The primary containers (plastic vial or whirlpack) are placed in a Zip lock bag (the Zip Lock bag becomes the secondary container). Put one vial or whirlpack per Zip lock bag. The Zip lock bag must also contain enough absorbent material (paper towels) to absorb all the contents of the tubes if a leak occurs. The Zip lock bag(s) with the vials or whirlpacks are put in a Styrofoam container (the Styrofoam cooler becomes the tertiary container). The cold pack(s) should be placed between the secondary container and the tertiary containers - put the cold pack(s) in the cooler, but NOT in the zip lock bag with the samples. Fill the empty space in the cooler with some type of packing to prevent the contents from moving around – newspaper is shown, but Styrofoam pellets or bubble wrap work too. An inventory of the contents (the submission form) is placed in another Zip lock bag and put in the shipping box outside of the tertiary container (on top of the Styrofoam cooler). This is all placed in an outer container (cardboard box).

The top of the outer container should be labeled with an "Exempt Animal Specimens" label. A label is included in the package. The outer container is also labeled with the Sender’s return address and the TQML address.

Do not ship unprotected Styrofoam containers because they are easily broken or punctured. Styrofoam shipping containers must be placed inside a cardboard container.

The entire sampling package is sent to the Tennessee Quality Milk Laboratory via UPS or FEDEX. The address is included with the paperwork provided in the sample pack and is also available on the TQML website.

Packaging that is done incorrectly may result in the samples not being delivered and returned by the carrier.


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Sampling Packs available from the TQML

Sample Packs

The Tennessee Quality Milk Laboratory (TQML) can provide sampling packs that include all the supplies needed to collect samples and send those samples to the laboratory in Knoxville. These packs contain:

  • Sterile tubes for collecting samples
  • Paperwork for submitting samples
  • Instructions for collecting samples
  • Rack for holding samples
  • Sterile tubes for collecting samples
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Absorbent material for shipping
  • Zip Lock bags
  • Styrofoam cooler and outer cardboard box
  • Reusable cold packs
  • Instructions for shipping
  • Appropriate shipping labels.



Large Pack (enlarge)

Medium Pack (enlarge)

Small Pack (enlarge)

Using these packs will ensure that samples are collected in sterile containers and that all the materials are available to ship samples in compliance with Federal Regulations. Using the packs and following the directions should make sure the samples arrive in good condition for analysis.

Kits that are available:

SizeNumber of SamplesCostShipping from lab (UPS Ground)
SmallUp to 4 samples$ 6.00approx. $ 6.00
MediumUp to 20 samples$ 12.00approx. $ 8.00
LargeUp to 60 samples$ 16.00approx. $ 8.00
Bulk1 sample only$ 6.00approx. $ 6.00

These kits are available from TQML.
Contact us by E-mail, Fax, telephone or mail.


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