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Giving Blood: The Rest of the Story

Blood Process
What happens to blood after the donation process?

Donating blood is a simple thing to do, but it can make a big difference in the lives of others. Each year, 3 million volunteer blood donors give approximately 5.1 million blood donations through the American Red Cross.

The process from the time of arrival until the time the donation is complete takes about an hour. The donation itself is only about 8-10 minutes on average. Here’s an inside look at the rest of the donation process:


  • Donor registers
  • Health history and mini physical are completed
  • About 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes are collected from each donor
  • The bag, test tubes and the donor record are labeled with an identical bar code label to keep track of the donation
  • The donation is stored in iced coolers until it is transported to a Red Cross center

  • Donated blood is scanned into a computer database
  • Most blood is spun in centrifuges to separate the transfusable components – red cells, platelets, and plasma
  • The primary components like plasma, can be further manufactured into components such as cryoprecipitate
  • Red cells are then leuko-reduced
  • Single donor platelets are leukoreduced and bacterially tested
  • Test tubes are sent for testing

  • Steps 2 and 3 take place in parallel
  • The test tubes are received in one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories
  • A dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases
  • Test results are transferred electronically to the manufacturing facility within 24 hours
  • If a test result is positive, the unit is discarded and the donor is notified. Test results are confidential and are only shared with the donor, except as may be required by law

  • When test results are received, units suitable for transfusion are labeled and stored
  • Red Cells are stored in refrigerators at 6ºC for a shelf life of up to 42 days
  • Platelets are stored at room temperature in agitators for a shelf life of up to five days
  • Plasma and cryo are frozen and stored in freezers for a shelf life of up to one year

  • Blood is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Most importantly, each blood donation can help save up to three lives. Many blood recipients have shared their stories on Don’t miss what they have to say.

    For more information or to schedule an appointment to donate blood, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit Donors can also use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, which is free and available for download now. It can be found in app stores by searching for American Red Cross, visiting or, or by texting BLOODAPP to 90999 for a direct link to download. Message and data rates for texting may apply.

    About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.