Laboratory Autoclave Steam Sterilization Cycles, Part 10

Laboratory Autoclave Steam Sterilization Cycles, Part 10: Immediate-Use (Flash) Sterilization Cycle

Arthur Trapotsis
Written by: Arthur Trapotsis

MS Biochemical Engineering, MBA, Consultant

There has been much debate around the antiquated term “flash” sterilization. The Association for Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), the Joint Commission (JC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have all made a concerted effort to clarify the use of flash sterilization, which is now known as immediate-use steam sterilization (IUSS). The particular cycle is not intended for routine sterilization but rather when specific instruments are needed for an emergency procedure.

Compared to traditional gravity or vacuum cycles, which are performed at 250°F (121°C), immediate-use cycles are performed at elevated temperatures of 270°F–275°F (132°C–135°C). As a result, immediate-use sterilization cycles are often shorter than gravity or vacuum cycles, which is where the “flash” in flash sterilization comes from.

Immediate-use sterilization cycles can run anywhere from three to five minutes for unwrapped goods to six to 10 minutes for wrapped goods, though these figures will vary depending on the autoclave’s make and manufacturer. All immediate-use cycles are a form of gravity cycle, meaning they do not use pre-vacuum pressure pulses.

Immediate-Use Sterilization in the Healthcare Industry

Immediate-use cycles are typically found in smaller autoclaves with chamber volumes of less than 300L. These units are ideal for operating rooms and dental practices, which often have limited space and cannot accommodate traditional autoclaving equipment.

IUSS is also popular in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and other healthcare facilities for its speed. These facilities need to sterilize large volumes of equipment, sometimes for emergency use — for example, sterilizing surgical equipment for an emergency procedure. Although traditional gravity or vacuum cycles are generally preferable for their efficacy and reliability, time is of the essence in these situations, making an immediate-use cycle the better option.

It’s important to note, though, that IUSS should not be used as a replacement for traditional steam sterilization methods for the sake of convenience or to save time. Additionally, IUSS should not be performed in the following scenarios:

  • Implantable devices
  • Post-procedure decontamination of instruments used on patients who may have Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) or similar disorders
  • Devices or loads that have not been validated with the immediate-use cycle
  • Devices that are sold sterile and intended for single-use only

Performing IUSS on any of the goods listed above could lead to serious infection and so should be avoided at all costs. IUSS is also not suitable for loads that cannot tolerate the elevated temperatures necessary for flash sterilization.

When using an immediate-use cycle, be sure to consult guidelines from authorities such as the AAMI, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (CDC-HICPAC). Additionally, be sure to carefully log each cycle, noting the contents of the load, the temperature of the cycle, the medical record number, and — if applicable — the patient name for traceability purposes.

To learn more about steam sterilization in healthcare settings, contact the Consolidated team today.


17 Questions to Ask Before Buying Your Next Medical Autoclave

17 Questions to Ask Before Buying Your Next Medical Autoclave

With so many models, sizes, options and components to choose from, how can you ever really know exactly what you need to make the most out of your investment?

These questions will help you to make informed decisions by outlining what is most important to consider and know about owning an autoclave.