Reprocessing: The dirty truth

Did you know that a large majority of offices we see do not separate their clean and dirty tasks properly when we first visit? 

There is a lot of confusion regarding where the separation should be and how to handle the tasks and items on each side. 

Think about when you do your laundry: you take your dirty laundry and place it on the dirty side to sort and wash, and it moves to the clean side to be dried and folded. You would never place dirty clothes on top of a pile of clean ones.  You should have the same mindset in the reprocessing area of your dental office, but with even more separation. 

You enter the dirty side with your dirty instruments to clean and rinse them, then you can continue to the clean side to dry, package, and label. By using this flow, with proper separation, you decrease the risk of re-contaminating clean items significantly and you create the option for storing clean items on the clean side.

Drying dental instruments

There are a lot of points to consider for this separation, and we have included some below where we often see cross contamination occurring:

  • Physical separation must be used divide the clean and dirty tasks, and this can be done with distance or with a simple barrier such as plexiglass.  This should be placed in-between the sink and the drying area to reduce the risk of re-contaminating clean instruments from any splash and spray that is produced from rinsing any instruments. This barrier can also serve as a reminder to staff that they are moving from one area to the other.
  • Drying must be done in a clean area.  We often see the drying area immediately beside the sink or in front of the ultrasonic, but these locations leave the instruments exposed to recontamination by splash and spray from the sink and/or ultrasonic bath.  Drying must always occur on the clean side where they will be protected from this.
  • Handpiece cleaners/lubricators are very important during the sterilizing process, but did you know they should be on the dirty side? These devices clean items which means the items are dirty when they go in.  Also, like ultrasonics, they produce aerosols which can spread to other items and surfaces in the area. Therefore, it is important to keep them on the dirty side and to ensure they are always properly closed when operating.
  • PPE required in the dirty and clean areas is also different.  Decontamination tasks that take place in the dirty area require a gown, mask, eye protection, clean nitrile gloves, and puncture resistant gloves.  This must be removed, and hand hygiene performed, before donning clean gloves to work in the clean area to dry and package instruments.

If your clinic uses an ultrasonic there is a way to remove the instruments from the bath without re-contaminating the instruments. Instead of removing the instruments from the basket by hand, you can gently tip the ultrasonic basket to set the instruments into the drying area after rinsing. This prevents any contact with the instruments and allows them to be placed on the clean side without recontamination.

By implementing these simple steps, you can ensure that you are practicing proper reprocessing of instruments and eliminating contamination between dirty and clean.

For more information about best infection control and prevention practices for Dental Clinics, please don’t hesitate to contact us using the form below. We offer General Office Assessments (GOA) to many clinics across Ontario and can partner with you in providing a clean and safe environment.

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