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Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2009 Jun;133(6):973-8. doi: 10.1043/1543-2165-133.6.973.

Tissue floaters and contaminants in the histology laboratory.

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Department of Anatomic Pathology, The Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.



Anatomic pathology diagnosis is often based on morphologic features. In recent years, an appropriate increased attention to patient safety has led to an emphasis on improving maintenance of patient identity. Decreasing or eliminating cross-contamination from one specimen to another is an example of a patient identity issue for which process improvement can be initiated.


To quantify the presence of cross-contamination from histology water baths and the slide stainers.


We assessed for the presence of contaminants in water baths at cutting stations and in linear stainer stain baths. We assessed the potential for tissue discohesion and carryover in tissue samples and we assessed the potential for carryover onto blank slides sent through the stainer.


In the 13 water baths examined (totalling 195 L of water), only one fragment of tissue was identified. The stain baths, however, contained abundant tissue contaminants, ranging in size from 2 to 3 cells to hundreds of cells. The first sets of xylenes and alcohols were the most heavily contaminated. Cross-contamination to blank slides occurred at a rate of 8%, with the highest frequency in the late afternoon.


Cross-contamination can present a significant challenge in the histology laboratory. Although the histotechnologists' water baths are not heavily contaminated, the stainer baths do contain contaminating tissue fragments. Cross-contamination does occur onto blank slides in the experimental setting.

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