How to Open a Sterile Instrument Tray

Written by richard barker, dvm
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How to Open a Sterile Instrument Tray
Proper instrument wrapping facilitates sterile technique. (Ready for surgery image by DGGallery from

Surgical sterile or aseptic technique prevents infection of wound sites during surgery. Proper aseptic technique includes sterilisation of surgical materials and instruments in wrapped trays, called packs. Nurses or technicians open the packs before surgery. Proper opening procedure prevents contamination of pack contents.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Hand scrub
  • Surgical assistant attire
  • Sterile instrument pack
  • Mayo stand

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  1. 1

    Clean and dry an appropriate surface on which the pack will be opened according to hospital procedures. Wash and dry your hands and don appropriate surgical attire as directed by the surgeon.

  2. 2

    Obtain a sterile surgical pack from storage. Check the labelling to ensure correct pack selection and compliance with expiration dates. Check the external sterilisation indicators for adequacy of sterilisation, and check for physical or liquid damage to the pack. Discard inadequately sterilised or damaged packs. Place the pack on a clean dry mayo stand or other prepared surface in or near the intended surgical field. Orient according to the surgeon's preference.

  3. 3

    Open the pack. Begin by peeling tape away from the pack. Discard the tape. Unwrap folded layers of wrapping material away from the centre of the pack, touching only the outside edges of the wrapping material. If possible always pull edges toward your body, keeping the pack at arms' length away. Move around the pack as needed to avoid passing your hands or arms over the open pack. If you are unable to walk around the pack, unwrap the far side first by reaching your arm around the pack, then unwrap the left and right sides followed by the near side. For packs wrapped with longitudinal fold technique, unwrap in the order of the far, then near, then left and right sides.

  4. 4

    If double wrapped, unwrap single or double layers as directed by the surgeon. Drape the edges of the wrap over edges of the table or stand if the inner portion of the wrap is to be used as part of a sterile field. Be careful to prevent touching of sterile instruments, supplies or any part of the sterile field with contaminated hands or materials.

  5. 5

    Check the internal sterilisation indicator. Start over with a new pack if sterilisation was inadequate.

Tips and warnings

  • Contamination of a pack can result in patient infection. Do not touch any part of the sterile field unless scrubbed in for surgery.

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