Infection prevention and control guidelines

10. Reprocessing reusable medical devices

Unloading the steriliser

      1. Unloading the steriliser

Last revised: 17 Jun 2024

Unloading the steriliser

The steriliser must be unloaded correctly by following a standardised protocol (Table 10.9. Steps for unloading the steriliser). Sterile barrier systems, chemical indicators and printouts are checked during this stage (see Monitoring the sterilisation cycle).

The cycle must not be interrupted or the sterilisers door opened until the steriliser has completed the entire cycle and the pressure has returned to zero.

Loads must be removed from the steriliser as soon as the cycle has finished. Do not allow the load to cool in the steriliser.

Any pouches or packs that are wet (see More information: wet packs below), dropped, torn, damaged, or have broken seals are considered unsterile and must be completely reprocessed.

Recleaning is required only if the reusable medical devices have been contaminated. Any reprocessing must be recorded.

All packs should be dry. A wet pack is a sign that the steriliser may not be operating correctly or there has been processing error. The problem should be identified and corrected immediately.

A wet pack can lead to contamination because excessive moisture can act as a pathway for microorganisms, re-contaminating the sterilised load. Handling wet packs can cause microorganisms to migrate inside the package, contaminating the contents.

Table 10.9. Steps for unloading the steriliser

 Do not attempt to open the steriliser door while the cycle is in operation.

  1. Cleanse hands.
  2. Before opening the steriliser, check the printout or onscreen digital display to confirm the sterilisation parameters have been met. Check and sign/initial the printout or verify electronic record to confirm that the sterilisation process has achieved the correct sterilisation parameters.
  3. Open the steriliser and carefully remove the load, using a tray lifter (supplied with the steriliser) or heat-resistant gloves. Handle only the loading trays, if possible; packaging is easily contaminated until it has cooled.
  4. Place the load on a perforated tray or rack (not on a solid surface) so that air can move underneath to both facilitate rapid cooling and prevent condensation. The drying area must be in a low-activity area (eg adjacent the steriliser in the dedicated reprocessing area), protected from splash. Doors and windows must be closed and there must be no fan or boosted air conditioning.
  5. Check class 1 external chemical indicators.
  6. Without touching, visually check that the load is dry.
  7. Allow the load to cool in the ‘clean’ zone of the reprocessing area, away from high levels of activity, before handling. Ideally, items should be allowed to cool for a minimum of 30 minutes (more than 1 hour for large items) before handling or storing. Do not use fans or high-flow air conditioning to dry items.
  8. Cleanse hands. Using dry hands, check that each pack is dry, intact with seal secure.
  9. Check that the batch/item information matches the load documents and that the batch label and/or ID label has/have not dislodged during sterilisation.
  10. Check and record results of process challenge devices (if used) on steriliser cycle record.
  11. Record results of biological indicator (if used) on steriliser cycle record.
  12. Classify load as failed if any of the following occur:
    • Packs are wet or damaged.
    • Class 1 (and any other chemical indicators used) do not show the correct colour change.
    • Cycle monitoring parameters are not correct.
  13. Report any failures. All items in a failed load must be rejected, the fault identified, corrected and recorded, and the entire load completely reprocessed. (A single wet pack does not fail the load, but the cause must be identified so it does not recur.)
  14. In the steriliser cycle log, record the time of release and name of the person releasing the load.
  15. When a load has passed the checks, store the contents correctly.