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Tattoos 101 > View Lessons

Autoclave Sterilization and Spore Testing

A look at the importance of regular testing to ensure your shop’s autoclave is operating efficiently.

by Microbiologist

January 26, 2006

Editor's note: This month's Tattoos 101 is geared towards the interest of the professional tattooist or tattoo shop owner, although the information is indeed useful for anyone interested in the tools and procedures used to prevent the passing of blood borne viral disease and bacteria in a tattoo shop environment.

In recent years, many tattoo and piercing businesses have come under new regulations involving the sterilization of equipment used in their daily operations. These regulations generally outline requirements for routine spore testing of the autoclaves, record keeping, and cleaning and packaging of sterilized items. This article focuses primarily on the theory of proper autoclave sterilization and common spore testing issues.

The Center for Disease Control has recognized the risk associated with the re-use of tattoo and piercing equipment, primarily the potential transmission of tuberculosis, hepatitis-B, and HIV virus through the use of non-sterile needles and equipment. Legislation has been passed in many states already, and we can expect the remaining states to fall under some type of regulation over the next few years. Some business owners may feel these regulations requiring routine autoclave spore testing is another unnecessary and costly governmental burden. In reality, it should be recognized as a valuable tool to help legitimize the safety of tattooing and piercing, and in the long run help the public's perception of the tattoo and piercing artist's businesses.

All positive tests are plated, gram stained, and examined microscopically to ensure they are the Bacillus indicator organism.Most new and existing studios look to the internet to find an autoclave. There is constant trading on Ebay of used autoclaves, and several new businesses have arisen dealing with nothing but the purchase, repair, and re-sale of used autoclaves. The problem with this is the deteriorating condition of the autoclave. These units are used in one studio for awhile, sold and shipped to another, and so on. Over time, the temperature gauges, pressure gauges, seals, timers, switching valves, and heating elements deteriorate and lose accuracy. So how do you know your autoclave is really sterilizing?

Spore strip testing is currently the method of choice to determine if you are achieving complete sterilization. A spore strip test is a biological challenge to the sterilization cycle and unit. A spore strip is a small piece of filter paper that is impregnated with thousands of bacterial spores typically of the genus Bacillus or Geobacillus. The most common in use today are Bacillus atrophaeus for dry heat sterilization, and Geobacillus stearothermophilus for autoclave steam sterilization. Think of a spore as a bacterium encapsulated in a resistant shell. Steam must first penetrate this shell before it can come in contact with and destroy the bacterium. Spores are harder to destroy by steam sterilization than the disease causing organisms listed above. If you destroy all the spores (continued next page)...

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