A sterilization pouch is a type of specialized packaging designed to be run through an autoclave, a sterilizing tool that kills microorganisms by achieving very hot temperatures and high pressure. Reusable surgical supplies like drapes and tools can be placed inside individual sterilization pouches and subjected to sterilization to make them safe for use on a new patient. Numerous medical suppliers manufacture sterilization pouches in a range of sizes and designs to meet different needs.
The pouch is made from a combination of heavy duty paper and film. It is permeable to gases but does not allow microorganisms inside, and typically has a tight seal so a nurse or technician can place the instruments inside without fear of contamination. The film is tinted to make it easy to spot tears, which would indicate a nonsterile state, and the film and paper will resist cutting from medical instruments and other potential accidents.
To use a sterilization pouch, a technician starts by washing and drying the material that needs to be sterilized. Once it is ready, she places it inside a sterilization pouch and seals it. The pouches come in different sizes to accommodate a variety of equipment. The technician will also place a band of indicator tape on the pouch. The tape will change color in the autoclave to show that the contents were sterilized, and the technician usually dates the tape as well for extra safety. Once a load of pouches is ready, the technician can place them in the autoclave and start the sterilization cycle.
In preparation for a procedure, technicians can pull sterilization pouches with the appropriate tools and equipment from storage, and lay them out for use. To maintain a sterile field, the outside of the pouches is considered nonsterile, and they must be carefully handled to maintain the integrity of the contents. Nurses need to be able to pull out the tools inside without allowing them to touch the exterior of the pouch. A nonsterile person will peel back the opening of the sterilization pouch without touching the inside so a sterile person can grab the tool inside.
Maintaining a sterile field is critical in surgery, and all members of the operating room staff have the right and obligation to speak up if they identify a safety issue. A nurse who spots a hole in a sterilization pouch, for example, must bring it to the attention of the other personnel. Sterilization pouches are also used in other environments, like tattoo and body piercing studios, as well as to sterilize tools like speculums for medical exams.