The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you perform a weekly spore test on all autoclaves. And most state and national regulatory agencies not only recommend it, they require it as a condition for licensing your practice. But don’t panic if your Tuttnauer autoclave fails a spore test. The problem could be a simple operator error.
Overloading the chamber: Overloading the chamber, or improperly distributing the load, can tuttnauer prevent the pressurized steam from reaching all the surfaces of your equipment. If the steam isn’t allowed contact for the specified amount of time and pressure then all spores may not be eliminated.
Interrupting the cycle: It’s never a good idea to manually interrupt a cycle, even if there are only seconds remaining. Generally, if the power goes down for some reason, your Tuttnauer autoclave will resume the cycle when the power comes back on. However, if the temperature drops more than 5 degrees you’ll have to re-start the cycle.
Too little time: Your user’s manual will give exact timing information but generally it’s 20 minutes at 250 degrees and 15 psi or 8 minutes at 270 degrees and 30 psi. You should always have backup instruments sterilized so you’re not tempted to try to rush through a cycle. Too little time is the biggest cause for failures.
Too little warm-up time: Again, refer to the user’s manual for your specific Tuttnauer model, but be sure to allow proper warm-up time before beginning a new cycle.
Wrong temperature: The typical heat settings are either 250 degrees or 270 degrees but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Even one or two degrees will mean the difference between passing and failing the spore test.
Wrong pressure: Without adequate pressure throughout the chamber there may be cold spots which would hinder sterilization. If operating at 250 degrees the pressure should be 15 psi. At 270 degrees it should be 30 psi.
Wrong packaging: Make sure you use the proper packaging for your utensils to allow proper steam penetration.
This weekly biological monitoring and all the record keeping that goes along with it may seem like a bit of a chore but it’s crucial for the safety of your clients or patients. Chemical monitoring, using the heat sensitive strips to make sure your autoclave is reaching the proper temperatures, isn’t enough because it takes much more than simple heat to kill biological pathogens.
Because each autoclave or sterilization method is different, the best way to eliminate the operator errors that are often associated with a failed spore test is to properly train all of your associates, using the training manual that was provided with your Tuttnauer autoclave. Understanding how an autoclave works, that it takes an exact combination of heat, time and pressure, to completely kill all the spores, and that there are no shortcuts, generally helps eliminate failed spore tests caused by operator error.