Understanding steam quality and its vital role

Steve Bishop discusses the important role of steam quality in decontamination and tackles some key questions, including: how can we solve the ‘trilemma’ of service resilience, improved quality and decarbonisation challenges?

Steam is a vital element of sterile services and one that is all too often taken for granted. It is the predominant (indeed default) sterilisation media for many applications, yet often seen as a mere "utility" that is surely always delivered as required under all circumstances.

Yet sometimes, the signs are right before us that all may not be as it should be with this critically important element in our 'sterilisation armoury'. Corrosion rates on re-useable instruments, increased processing times (or even reprocessing) for sterilisation loads, repeated daily validation test failures on steam sterilisers, wet loads after processing, requirement for increased drying times and intermittent load failures due to temperature shortfall; these can all be indicative of problems with steam quality.

This raises some important issues and questions, including: why is steam used in sterilisation? How do we define 'steam quality'? How should we measure and assess this? What is the impact of not having a sufficient quality of steam? What's the difference between steam quality and the grade of steam we use ? What aspects of our steam system/plant or their use can adversely impact steam quality? What are the practical steps we can take to mitigate the risks involved? How can we solve the 'trilemma' of service resilience, improved quality and decarbonisation challenges?

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