How To Sterilize Specimen Collection Containers

Specimen collection containers are used for clinical or diagnostic laboratories. When you go for a physical examination and you are required to submit a stool sample, a nurse will give you a cup where you will collect the specimen sample. Phlebotomy, the process of collecting blood, also uses specimen collection containers. These containers are designed differently for a variety of uses such as urine collection, blood and fluid collection, containing bone marrow, tissues, biopsy substances and other specimen materials taken during surgical operations.  The specimen collections are then forwarded to a medical technologist who analyzes them by using a computer and microscope as well as other advanced technologies. Any blood, fluid or substance from a patient’s body that needs to be checked is extremely delicate, not to mention potentially infectious. That is why proper sterilization of specimen collection containers is also required. This is achieved by a process called autoclaving.  

Autoclaving is used for sterilization of equipment from microorganisms and sterilization of waste materials before properly disposing of them. The process involves pressurized steam and superheated water. The device used for the procedure is called an autoclave.  Sterilizer and autoclave are basically the same. Both are defined as methods to completely destroy all microorganisms. An autoclave is widely used in hospitals and laboratories for sterilizing reusable laboratory equipment and decontaminating laboratory wastes. The following will guide you in how to properly sterilize specimen collection containers through an autoclave.

  1. Use only clean and fresh water. Water level should be just below the top of the plate.
  2. Put containers or cups in an autoclave bag. Make sure the bag indicates ‘autoclavable’. It must be loosely sealed.
  3. Place autoclave indicator tape on the exterior of the bag to monitor that the item has been exposed to heat. However, you should not rely on this indicator alone, as it will not denote steam temperature and time. Use biological and chemical indicators for testing thermocouple data. For quick testing results, you can also use 3M Comply (Thermalog) Steam Chemical Integrators that are effective strips used for monitoring the sterilization process.
  4. Decontamination time varies depending on the kind of container, the load, temperature, and how the items are arranged. Typically, specimen or biological waste containers must at least be autoclaved for 50 minutes.
  5. Prior to removing items, remember to check the chamber pressure. It must be near zero before you attempt to open the door. Keep your face away from the door, as a rush of steam will escape when you open it. Always wear heat resistant gloves, a lab coat and shoes. Use drip pans and be extra careful upon removing items to prevent injuries in cases of bag leaks or liquid spills.
  6. Properly dispose of autoclaved wastes.

It is important to observe regular autoclave tracking.  It is a safety requirement that is also beneficial for maintaining your machine and keeping it effective in sterilizing specimen collection containers and other equipment. Date, commencement and completion time, temperature, items sterilized, and person who operated the machine should always be recorded. 


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