According to the Red Cross, about 9.2 million people in the U.S. donate blood each year, leading to approximately 15.7 million donations. Ever wondered where all that blood goes?
STEP 1 – DONATION
After the donor registers, their physical health and health history are examined. (Have you been exposed to HIV or fraternized with mad cows? If so, try donating clothes instead.)
About 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes are collected from each donor, which takes about 10-15 minutes. When you’re done, everything is labeled with barcodes and stored in iced coolers awaiting transport to a blood center.
Fun fact: The first successful transfusion took place in 1665, when physician Richard Lower kept his dog alive by transfusing blood from other dogs.
STEP 2 – PROCESSING
The donated blood is scanned into a computer database. (Just the barcodes are scanned, not the actual blood.) It’s like feeding dollars into a coin machine, only nothing like that.
The blood is then placed in a centrifuge to separate the red cells, platelets, and plasma. While the plasma is sometimes further broken down into cryoprecipitate (which contains proteins vital to blood clotting), the blood is leuko-reduced to remove white blood cells. The idea being that white blood cells may harbor disease and suppress the recipient’s immune system after a transfusion. Though according to a study in the Journal of Surgical Research, that’s up for debate.
Fun fact: The Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood.
STEP 3 – TESTING
The test tubes are sent to one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories, where 12 tests are done on each unit of blood. The tests establish blood type and test for infectious diseases.
If a test result comes back positive, the blood is tossed and the donor is notified.
Fun fact: Speaking of tossed out, Forbes estimates that over 1 million pints of donated blood spoil every year. A Red Cross spokesperson told Healthline roughly 3 percent of eligible blood donations are discarded yearly.
STEP 4 - STORAGE
After test results are received, blood suitable for transfusion is labeled and stored. Platelets are stored at room temperature in agitators at the Red Cross facilities for up to five days. Red cells are stored in refrigerators at 6°C for up to 42 days, and plasma and cryo are frozen and stored in freezers for up to one year.
STEP 5 – DISTRIBUTION
Blood is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The American Red Cross estimates that 30 million blood components are transfused in the United States each year!