A Renewed Focus on Instrument Processing

By Darwin Asa, Marketing Manager


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to how sterilization is handled within the healthcare industry. It has revealed how critical instrument processing and sterilization is and how accurate the sterilization process must be to successfully eliminate all possible pathogens.


Perfecting instrument processing is crucial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established guidelines pertaining to this process in a series of five steps:


Step One: Receiving, Cleaning, Decontamination

  • Instruments should be placed in an appropriate covered container at the point of use to transport used instruments to the Instrument Processing area
  • All contaminated instruments should be sorted, cleaned and decontaminated in a designated, discrete section of the instrument processing area
  • Sterilization will not be effective if instruments are not first thoroughly cleaned with all macro and microscopic debris removed


Step Two: Preparation and Packaging

  • Instruments should be rinsed and dried thoroughly
  • Hinged instruments should be opened
  • Instruments should not be held together with rubber bands
  • Instruments should be assembled into sets or trays and packaged for sterilization with the use of approved autoclavable packaging materials


Step Three: Sterilization

  • Place wrapped cassettes or instrument pouches in racks if possible
  • Pouches should be placed on edge in racks or with the paper side down if racks are not used
  • Instruments should be spaced to facilitate free circulation steam into and out of packages
  • Do not overload the sterilizer by placing packages too close together or by trying to fit too many packages into the unit  
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the proper sterilization conditions for their instruments
  • Allow packages to dry thoroughly before removing them from the sterilizer


Step Four: Monitoring

  • Physical, chemical and biological monitoring should be performed as indicated to ensure the effectiveness of the sterilization process and records should be kept for each sterilizer cycle
  • Biological indicators should be used at least once per week or with any load that contains implantable devices
  • Records of sterilization performance should be documented in print or electronic format as mandated by local, state and federal regulations


Step Five: Storage

  • Sterilized supplies should be stored in closed or covered storage spaces
  • Avoid storage under or above the sink or sterilizer units where supplies and instruments are susceptible to becoming damp and/or damaged
  • Store sterilized items to eliminate exposure to dust, airborne organisms and other forms of contamination
  • If packaging is compromised, the supply and/or instrument should be recleaned, repackaged and sterilized again


Following these instrument processing best practices creates a smooth workflow—from dirty to clean—helping to contain contamination and maximize the efficiency of your instrument processing workflow.