Spore testing is the most common way to ensure that an autoclave is working properly. In short, it works by running a package of living spores through an autoclave cycle. This package is then sent to an independant laboratory which attempts to incubate it. If anything is still alive, then the autoclave did not achieve sterility. Spore tests actually test the autoclaves ability to kill even the most dangerous and resistant organisms such as HIV, Hepatitis and other bloodborne pathogens.
If you're considering getting a tattoo or a piercing, seeking spore test results and proper sterilization documentation should be high on your list while searching for a safe establishment. Our spore test certificate is always displayed to ensure you that our autoclave is in proper working condition.
Recently the media has focused on the improper record keeping within tattoo studios and unfortunately little is being done to monitor this situation. Some studios that have been inspected haven't been able to provide any spore testing documentation. In our local area it is required by our Health Board Department to test our autoclaves (sterilizers) at least once per month. Then as part of our tri-annual Health Board inspection we are required to show them our test results and prove to them everything has passed.
At Metal 'n' Ink Tattoo Studio we believe the minimum health board standards are too minimal. We test our autoclave bi-weekly. We also run integrator tags with each sterilization load to ensure the proper amount of time and the correct temperature was achieved during the sterilization cycle.
The colour changing indicators on the back of most sterile packages only indicates the package has reached a certain temperature. This does not mean it has been properly sterilized. Many people believe that an instrument or needle etc. is sterile due to the fact they saw it come out of a package. This is not always true. You can leave a sterilization package on the dashboard of your car on a hot summer day and the indicator will also change colour. Obviously this doesn't imply that the instruments inside the packaging are properly sterilized. Current spore test documentation is the only way to know for sure.
If your studio follows the above protocol and are willing to show you all the spore tests, integrators, and answer all your questions about the sterilization process then they are working to ensure your health and safety. Don't be afraid to ask as most studios would be happy to show their results with you if they are following the minimal standards. Remember it's only yourself that you're putting at risk if you don't know the answers to these questions.
Below is an example of spore test results which is displayed for your viewing in our studio: