Guidelines for the Storage of Sterile Items

Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine
May 31, 2024 12:00 am

To establish procedures for the appropriate handling and storage of sterile items.

  • Responsibility

    1. Veterinary Personnel
    2. Investigative Personnel
  • Glossary Definitions


    To eliminate all forms of microbial life (e.g., autoclave, ethylene oxide sterilization, vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilization).

    Event-Related Sterility

    The sterility of an item is determined by how it is handled rather than by time (an expiration date).

    Process Monitors

    Steam indicator tape, ethylene oxide indicator tape, sterilization indicator strip, biological indicator, peel pouch indicator.

  • Procedures

    1. Packaging

    1. Ensure that packaging materials are compatible with the sterilization process being used.
    2. Ensure that packaging is sufficiently strong to resist punctures and tears to provide a barrier to microorganisms and moisture.
    3. Place a new sterilization indicator inside the package/pack. Ensure sterilization indicator is appropriate for the type of sterilization being performed.
    4. Properly seal package/pack. Ensure there are no gaps or puckers when sealing.
      1. Use appropriate indicator tape
      2. Self-seal pouch(es)
    5. Label package with the date of sterilization (The date is used for stock rotation purposes, to ensure usage of oldest stock first.)
    6. Sterilize               

    2. Storage of Sterile Supplies

    1. Ensure storage area is:
      1. In well-ventilated area
      2. Free of airborne and surface dust
      3. Protected against moisture, insects, temperature, and humidity extremes
    2. Items remain sterile indefinitely unless the package becomes wet, punctured, torn, seal is broken, or is damaged in some other way; or the process monitor is questionable. 
    3. For commercially prepared sterile items with an established expiration date, follow manufacturer-recommended expiration dates.
    4. Do not use any item suspected of being compromised.

    3. Maintenance of Sterilized Supplies

    1. Utilize on a first in/first out basis to ensure usage of oldest stock first.
    2. If at any point sterility and/or barrier is compromised (pack becomes wet, punctured, torn, seal is broken, or is damaged in some other way, or the process monitor is questionable) the package/pack will need to be repackaged and reprocessed.
  • References

    1. Butt WE, Bradley DV, Jr., Mayhew RB, Schwartz RS. Evaluation of the shelf life of sterile instrument packs. Oral Surg. Oral Med. Oral Pathol. 1991;72:650-4.
    2. Webster J, Lloyd W, Ho P, Burridge C, George N. Rethinking sterilization practices: Evidence for event-related outdating. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2003;24:622-4.

Questions or concerns about the content of this document should be directed to the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine (ULAM) at (734) 764-0277 or