Storing sterilised reusable medical equipment
Maintaining integrity of sterile stock is crucial to ensuring sterility of reusable medical devices at the time of use. Correct storage and handling of sterile stock is critical to the maintenance of sterile barrier system integrity.
Requirements for sterile stock storage
All sterile stock must be stored in a way that keeps it clean, dust-free, and dry. It must be stored away from sources of moisture (eg not next to or below sinks, above sterilisers, or on open shelves).
Suitable storage areas include clean, well-sealed cupboards, drawers, or enclosed shelving (sliding doors must be kept closed), or sealable plastic containers with plastic dividers (not cardboard). Packs/pouches can be covered in protective packaging such as plastic dust covers, bags or containers.
Avoid paper/cardboard dividers because these shed fibres which settle on pouches. When opened, the fibres may contaminate the instrument.
Drawers must be deep enough so that pouches are not damaged by opening and closing.
Use cleaned hands when accessing sterile packs and fully close lids or doors every time.
Keep packs/pouches out of sunlight, because it can affect the integrity of some types of sterile barrier systems. Sterilised laminate can become brittle over time, so unused laminate packs must be checked regularly (eg every 2–3 months). If brittleness is noted, the contents must be fully reprocessed, including cleaning (in case dust has penetrated packaging) and sterilisation.
Duration of sterility
If items contained within a sterile barrier system are stored and handled correctly, there is no specific time limit on storage. However, the practice’s system for stock rotation must ensure that sterilised packages are not left indefinitely. If a package has not been used within 12 months, re-sterilisation should be considered.
Unused packs should regularly be checked for moisture, brittleness, damage and other signs that they require reprocessing. The frequency of checking should be documented.
Packs/pouches that are used infrequently can be wrapped in plastic dust covers or stored in sealed plastic containers when cooled, before storage. This will further protect the sterile barrier system from dust and damage.
Repeated or rough handling, the use of rubber bands, unclean or wet hands and other exposure to moisture can compromise sterility by damaging a sterile barrier system. If water is splashed onto the outside of a pack/pouch, this renders it ‘unsterile’. The items must be placed in a new sterile barrier system and resterilised.
Unwrapped sterilised reusable medical devices cannot be stored for later use as sterile supplies.
Rotation of stock
Ensure the practice has a procedure for sterile stock rotation such as ‘use from the left, restock from the right’ or ‘use from the front, restock from the rear’. Use the dates on the items within the sterile barrier system to assist.
Practices could develop a protocol for stock rotation that specifies the interval for checking unused items, and what actions should be taken and documented. The system should be designed to avoid frequent handling.
Hands must be cleaned before handling stock.