A big challenge in sterile storage is knowing whether sterile instruments or packs have been compromised, especially when there isn’t any visible damage. Two methods of tracking sterility are used for managing shelf life: time-based shelf life and event-based shelf life. In recent years a better understanding of the what causes contamination has pushed many facilities to move to the practice of event-based shelf life. There are several “events” that can impact sterility, including:
·Handling: the possibility of a sterile items becoming contaminated increases as the handling of these items increases. Dropping a package or tearing the wrap moving it in or out of storage will result in throwing supplies away or sending instruments back to reprocessing. Once an item is placed in sterile storage, leave it alone until it is time to use.
·Storage Room Conditions: Track and maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels as well as storing items to ANSI-AAMI ST97 2017 guidelines standards (discussed in our February post) can help to mitigate contamination. In addition, routine cleaning of shelves should be completed according to your facilities cleaning schedule.
·Packaging Material Used: There are several options for packaging sterile instruments including peel-pouches, rigid containers, and sterile wraps. Packaging materials should be selected based on the type of sterilization is being used. For example, if steam autoclave is being used, you can use paper, plastic, cloth, peel pouches, and wrapped perforated cassettes.
As always, follow the policies and procedures that have been implemented by your facility and the manufacturer.