To avoid risk of infection to, and cross-infection between patients, all sources of contamination must be given attention. These not only include decontamination, handling and transportation, but equally as important – the storage of reprocessed instruments prior to patient use.
Transportation of items should take place in clean and dry cabinets or trolleys, and sterile packs should be inspected at every stage of transportation to identify damage at the earliest possible point. Different coloured inner and outer wraps can make this more easily noticeable.
Similarly to transportation, appropriate “fit for purpose” storage is just as important as all other decontamination practices, including cleaning and sterilisation.
So what makes for the best storage conditions?
1. Storage shelving along with the environment should be designed in a manner to ensure that packs are kept dry, at moderate temperatures, and with strict humidity controls.
2. Sterile items should not be stored anywhere but on, or in, designated shelving, counters, or containers. Other areas may not be sufficiently clean, and window sills collect condensate that forms due to differences in outside and inside temperatures.
3. Handling should be kept to a minimum to prevent any damage to the packaging.
4. If handling is unavoidable, packs must be treated carefully, avoiding any dragging, crushing, bending, compression or punctures. Packs should be carried level and parallel to the floor.
5. Stock should be effectively rotated to ensure that packs are not left unused longer than necessary.
6. Stacking of packs should be reduced to a minimum.
7. There should be enough space between shelves and racking to allow an adequate passageway between fixtures.
Shelving and Racking should:
1. Afford adequate space to store the required stock
2. Free from defects and friction between the shelf and the pack (i.e. from dragging) should be minimised.
3. Items should be stored in racking for good manual handling and to reduce the need to drag and slide packs across shelves.
4. Purpose built, easily cleaned and maintained.
5. Should enable items to be clearly labelled.
Under optimal storage conditions with minimal handling, properly wrapped items can be considered sterile as long as they remain intact and dry. Be mindful that contamination is event related, not time related.