How to Safely Discard Sensitive Information on Labels

Dec 27, 2018 / by George Vaniotis, Ph.D

Protect sensitive information with direct thermal labelsIn both clinical and research labs, it is often necessary to label material or equipment with sensitive information. This can include patient information or confidential experimental data. Once the patient is discharged, or the samples are either processed or no longer needed, these labels must be discarded; however, the information on the labels must still remain private. In certain cases, this may prove to be more difficult than anticipated. Here are 3 unique label options to help ensure that discarded material can’t be used to procure sensitive information.


Direct-Thermal Labels

Option one consists of combining direct thermal labels with the power of an autoclave. Direct thermal material is coated with a layer of heat-activated ink that blackens when printed, producing a sharp printout of text and barcodes. But what happens when heat is applied not so accurately to the entire label? It turns completely black!

This can be achieved using a steam autoclave commonly used by most labs. Running the labels through a steam autoclave cycle will completely obscure and conceal any information printed on them. For best results, use white direct thermal labels, as color labels can provide a slight protection against autoclaving. This is the perfect solution for samples that might need to be sterilized prior to disposal, and also need their associated information to remain confidential, including biohazard material. In the case where an autoclave is not available, any intense heat source can also work, including boiling water.


Blackout Labels

Another viable solution is blackout labels. Blackout labels are not necessarily black. In fact, they look like any other white label. The difference is in the non-see-through material. This opaque material allows you to cover-up pre-existing labels, text, serial numbers, barcodes or designs therefore completely obscuring sensitive patient sample or product information.

These labels are also printable, allowing you to provide identifying information if required, as in cases where re-labeling is necessary but the previous label cannot be removed. This is especially useful when re-labeling legacy vials that can’t be thawed from cryo-preservation. Typically provided with a strong permanent adhesive, these labels cannot be removed once applied.


Water-Dissolvable Labels

Dissolvable labels provide an alternative cost-effective and versatile solution. Ideal for use with reusable glass containers, commonly used in the lab. The water-soluble labels are easy to remove and have a working temperature range of 4°C to 78°C. These labels allow containers to be re-used and re-labeled by simply passing them through a wash cycle.

Water-dissolvable paper labels are specially engineered to dissolve in water at any temperature, leaving no adhesive residue behind. The labels, and all information printed on them, dissolve easily in water during clean-up, whether washing labware by hand or using a dishwasher, and will disappear completely in one wash. This makes them ideal for labeling re-usable material.


Protecting confidential information is important and must also be taken into consideration when discarding labeled material. To that end, proper planning will help ensure that you are using the appropriate labels to safeguard your sensitive information. Depending on what you want to do, there’s a label for you.

GA International manufactures labels for the healthcare, biopharma and biotechnology industries, and understands the need for keeping sensitive information confidential. Our experienced team of support experts can help you select the best labeling solution to meet your identification needs, while still protecting the privacy of your data. Speak to a professional about labeling today?

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Topics: Labels, Healthcare, Laboratory, Sterilization