Can You Pass Our Immediate-Use Steam Sterilization Quiz
Do's and don'ts for when you need that item right away.
Byron Burlingame, MS, RN, BSN, CNOR
Rule No. 1 when describing the various steam sterilization cycles used to process items not intended to be stored for later use: "Flash sterilization" is out. "Immediate-use steam sterilization" is in. The term "flash," which arose out of the unwrapped device's abbreviated time of exposure, has given way to "immediate use," which is the shortest possible time between a sterilized item's removal from the sterilizer and its aseptic transfer to the sterile field. Semantics aside, there's still much confusion about the proper way to sterilize an item during the procedure for which it is to be used. We hope this 10-question quiz clears things up for you and your staff.
1. Can we still call it "flash sterilization?"
No. "Flash sterilization" has been used to describe steam sterilization cycles where unwrapped medical instruments were subjected to an abbreviated steam exposure time and then used promptly after cycle completion without being stored. This is in contrast to traditional "terminal sterilization" cycles, where instruments are sterilized within containers, wrappers or primary packaging designed to maintain the instruments' sterility and let you store the devices for later use. "Flash sterilization" doesn't fully describe the various steam sterilization cycles needed to process some items, the longer exposure times, and the use of single wrappers or containers designed to allow for aseptic transfer of an item to the point of use. The term "immediate-use steam sterilization" (IUSS) more accurately reflects the current use of these processes. Immediacy implies that a sterilized item was sterilized in a manner that usually has no dry time and does not allow for storage.
2. Do I need to use a rigid container for IUSS?
Yes, you should use rigid containers that are specifically intended and labeled for IUSS. These containers help to decrease the potential for contamination of the item during transport to the sterile field. You may use other methods of packaging and wrapping textiles, paper-plastic pouches and non-woven wrappers, for example but only if the packaging is specifically intended and labeled for IUSS. Be sure to clean, inspect for wear of gaskets and other critical components and maintain the rigid containers you use according to the manufacturer's written instructions after each use. Be sure to immediately use the items sterilized in IUSS containers and don't store them for later use, not even for the next procedure.1