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In health care settings, the cleansing, disinfection, and sterilization of medical equipment and surgical instruments occur in a designated central or sterile processing area in order to more easily control quality and ensure safety. This area is most commonly known as the Central Processing Department.

The instrument processing area should be physically divided into sections for:

1) receiving, cleaning, and decontamination

2) preparation and packaging

3) sterilization

4) storage

This Central Processing Department is designed to contain contaminated items in an area designed specifically for cleaning, thus preventing contamination of the clean areas where packaging, sterilization, and storage of sterile items occurs.

Reusable contaminated instruments and devices are received, sorted, and cleaned in the cleaning area. The packaging area is for inspecting, assembling, and packaging clean instruments in preparation for final processing. The sterilization and storage areas contain the sterilizers and related supplies, as well as incubators for analyzing spore tests, and can contain enclosed storage for sterile items and disposable (single-use) items. When it is not possible to have physical separation of these areas, clearly labeling each area (e.g., from contaminated to sterile) might be satisfactory if the personnel who process the instruments are trained in work practices to prevent contamination of clean areas.

The Sterile Processing Experts

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