BACKGROUND: Although transfusion or return of salvaged shed blood has become popular in major orthopedic procedures, this blood-saving method is still controversial because shed blood may be contaminated with chemical and tissular debris, such as fat particles, which may increase the risk of fat embolism after bone surgery. STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: In an effort to find an easy, reliable method for determination of both fat particle content and removal from shed blood, analyses of perioperative blood samples were performed with a cell counter (Technicon H3 [H3]) in orthopedic patients undergoing spinal fusion in which postoperative shed blood was collected and returned with a blood collection canister. A screen or surface filter was intercalated in the return line to eliminate microaggregates, fat particles, and/or WBCs. RESULTS: Fat particles in shed blood are clearly detected as a condensed, sigmoidal-shaped area at the right-hand side of the PMN zone in the channel in which the H3 measures particles according to their degree of lobularity. This signal can be reproduced by the addition of animal or vegetable fat to venous blood, but not by the addition of activated platelets or RBC membranes. Fat particles, together with WBCs and microaggregates, in shed blood were effectively removed by surface filters, whereas screen filters were not effective. CONCLUSION: The use of the TH3 seems to be an easy, reliable, and low-cost approach for monitoring fat particle content and removal from postoperative salvaged shed blood in orthopedic procedures.