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Managing Sterility - How Should Sterile Supplies Be Stored?

/ By Ian LoperSeptember 5, 2022

Whether in a hospital, clinic, or any other healthcare setting, having sterile tools and equipment is incredibly important to avoid the spread of pathogens and prevent the transmission of diseases. But it's equally important to organize reliable healthcare storage solutions to prolong their shelf lives.

Medical facilities go to great lengths to sterilize their tools and equipment to ensure the safety of their usage in serving patients. But to maintain this sterility, it's also critical that these sterilized items be stored under strict conditions—following specific requirements for sterile item storage—to avoid compromising their packaging and cutting their shelf life short.

Storage Requirements for Sterile Supplies

  • Storage units for sterile items should be adjacent to the sterilization area, ideally, in a separate, enclosed, limited-access space.
  • The storage unit should have enough room, so the items are not crowded, and there is little to no risk of crushing or packaging is damaged.
  • The environment within the storage unit should maintain a temperature between 18ºC and 23ºC, and relative humidity between 30% and 60%.
  • The storage unit should be made of a material that is non-porous, non-shedding, easily sanitized, and free of burrs or any sharp or rough edges.
  • The storage unit should have a solid top and bottom shelves.
  • If the storage unit contains open shelves, the shelves must be at least 25 cm (10 in) off the floor, 46 cm (18 in) from the ceiling, and 50 cm (2 in) from an outside wall.

Different Types of Packaging Materials for Sterilizing Healthcare Supplies

There may be a huge gap between the moment of sterilization and the moment of use. During that time, healthcare items are exposed to various contaminants, which compromises their safety, and keeping them sterile becomes a challenge.

To help maintain the sterility of healthcare items, healthcare facilities follow CDC guidelines and utilize different types of packaging materials and storage solutions for different types of healthcare items.

These packaging materials should allow sterilizing agents to penetrate and reach the healthcare item, whilst also maintaining the sterility of the item post sterilization and during storage.

  • Paper - is a porous type of packaging that allows steam, dry heat, and unsaturated chemical vapor to penetrate; hence, can be used for most items.
  • Plastic - not porous; can be used for materials sterilized via steam autoclave.
  • Cloth - porous; can be used for materials sterilized via steam autoclave.
  • Wrapped perforated cassettes - the perforations in this packaging allow steam, dry heat, and unsaturated chemical vapor to penetrate; hence can be used to package most items.
  • Paper or plastic peel packages - mildly porous; can be used to package materials sterilized via steam autoclave and unsaturated chemical vapor.
  • Aluminum foil - not porous; can be used with items sterilized using dry heat.
  • Polyfilm plastic tubing - not porous; can be used with items sterilized using dry heat.

Storage Shelving and Cupboard for Supplies

  • Shelving units or cupboards used for medical storage should have cleanable, smooth, and non-porous surfaces that can tolerate cleaning or disinfecting products.
  • Shelving units or cupboards that store devices on the top shelf should have solid top shelving and protective covers to protect devices from moisture and dust contamination.
  • The bottom shelf in shelving units or cupboards must be solid without holes to prevent dust contamination.
  • Shelves and cupboards used for storage of sterile medical devices should at least be 25 cm (10 inches) off the floor, 45 cm (18 inches) from the ceiling and sprinkler heads, and 5 cm (2 inches) from an outside (exterior) wall.

Handling Clean and Sterile Supplies

  • Store sterile supplies separately from clean supplies. If not possible, separate them by storing the sterile items on the upper shelves and the clean items on the lower shelves to prevent lint, dust, and other debris from falling on the sterile items.
  • Store liquids such as packaged or canned food supplements on or near the bottom shelf.
  • Use durable and easily cleaned dividers when keeping supplies separated to avoid mixing.
  • Store clean linens in a designated storage space to prevent contamination from traffic and reduce the risk of linen falling on the floor.

Distribution of Clean and Sterile Supplies

  • Replace the inner boxes used to store single-use medical items such as gloves or syringes when empty. Do not top up.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated containers before using them to distribute medical supplies.
  • Do not return to supply carts or clean storage areas any used medical supplies that have left the clean storage area. Examples include personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been taken off, decanted, or removed from the clean storage area and placed in the patient room.

Cleaning of Storage Areas

  • Keep storage areas clean and free of visible soil, including dust.
  • Whoever is in charge of cleaning storage areas should receive the necessary equipment, resources, and supervision.
  • Staff in charge of cleaning storage areas should receive the necessary training before starting and as an annual refresher.
  • Follow written procedures for the cleaning and maintenance of clean and sterile storage areas.
  • Covered or concealed sprinkler heads should not be exposed to dust and can be routinely cleaned when the ceiling is cleaned.
  • Consult facilities maintenance and engineering (FME) before cleaning open sprinkler heads as there is a risk of activating them during the cleaning process. If FME approves, protect items from exposure to dust during cleaning, and you can use compressed air in a bottle to clean open sprinkler heads.

Get the Best Healthcare Storage Solutions

Following the guidelines listed above is absolutely necessary when maintaining the sterility and cleanliness of your medical inventory and storage solutions—and for the health and safety of your patients.

Distribution Systems International understands this and offers reliable smart healthcare storage solutions which help medical facilities not only maintain the sterility and cleanliness of their supplies, but also help them stay organized, save on floor space, increase productivity, improve employee efficiencies, maximize storage capacity, and control costs.

Providing better patient care through custom storage solutions is at the heart of DSI's smart healthcare storage solutions. We try to understand specific storage-related issues in the healthcare industry to provide clients with innovative, high-quality, and efficient storage solutions.

This lets us help them track and monitor medical inventory, maximize their storage capacity, improve the productivity of their healthcare employees, strengthen the security of their storage units, and provide more control over their healthcare facility.

To schedule a consultation with a local representative and receive a free quote, contact us at 800-393-6090 at Distribution Systems International today!

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