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Infection Control

Cruising For Health

September 19, 2010
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When it comes to hygienic cleaning, we must recognize that there are many components along with two cleaning "modes" or procedures that must be followed.

The first is routine cleaning. This does not mean we just perform the same type of cleaning tasks we normally do; instead, its emphasis is on the prevention of disease.

We are following and using scientifically proven cleaning procedures, systems and products that we know can help prevent or minimize the risk of disease.

The second mode of cleaning, outbreak cleaning, is far more serious and involved.

This is when the threat of disease — whether it is the H1N1 influenza A (swine flu) virus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), norovirus or a mild form of influenza — is present in the community and/or in the facilities we clean.

Schools, as well as many other types of facilities, typically track student and staff absenteeism very closely.

They know very quickly when a virus or infection is "making the rounds" in their buildings — signaling a disease outbreak has begun.

Outbreak cleaning is a far more aggressive form of cleaning.

Using a school as an example, areas such as restrooms that may only be cleaned at the end of each day are now cleaned during the day as well as at night.

Athletic equipment, normally cleaned once per day, is now cleaned after each use; and common touch point (CTP) areas, such as pencil sharpeners, elevator and water fountain buttons, doorknobs, handles, grab bars and so on, which may only be cleaned twice per week under normal conditions, are now cleaned as much as three times per day.

Both cleaning modes, routine and outbreak, are based on the Outbreak Prevention and Response plan developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for cruise ships.

With the public health scares of the past five years, and concerns about swine flu today, it appears there is a need for this program in the land-based facilities we clean.

Measurement: Proving Surfaces Are Hygienically Clean

Because hygienic cleaning is based on science, determining how well the cleaning system is working is dependent on tests, evaluation and measurement. This is a second component of hygienic cleaning.

We know that just looking at a surface tells us very little as to whether it is really free of disease-causing pathogens.

Until recently, there was no reliable, cost-effective and rapid system for determining how hygienically clean a surface really is.

Fortunately, that has changed in just the past couple of years with the development of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing meters.

ATP is an energy molecule found in all animal, plant, bacterial and other living cells.

For cleaning professionals, its presence on a surface is typically viewed as a "red flag" that microbial contamination is present.

The system has proven so successful that ATP ratings — such as "excellent," "pass" and "fail" — have recently been developed to help cleaning professionals evaluate and ensure the true cleanliness of a surface.

Some examples of these ratings include the following:

Tools At Play

A third component of hygienic cleaning focuses on the actual tools we use for cleaning.

Dr. Charles Gerba, microbiologist at the University of Arizona, says that given the poor cleaning results from using some cleaning tools, there are times when it is best not to clean.

This is because we now know, through the use of scientific measurements and ATP metering systems, that some commonly used cleaning tools actually spread as many contaminants as they remove.

For instance, a study was conducted using a disinfectant registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a new, unused microfiber wiping cloth and a conventional spray-and-wipe cleaning method to clean 28 standard classroom desks.

All desks were tested using an ATP metering system before cleaning and then again after cleaning.

These were the results:

  • The first few desktops cleaned had an improvement in cleanliness and a "pass" ATP rating
  • Thereafter, the majority of desks actually became dirtier, with ATP ratings becoming higher, nearing or surpassing the accepted "fail" rating
  • The last desktop tested had a reading double its ATP reading before the cleaning.

What occurred here is that the cleaning cloth reached its maximum "load" very quickly, and after the first few desks, it began redepositing soils and contaminants on desk surfaces.

Although this study involved classroom desks, similar studies have been conducted on hard surface floors with congruent results.

In one study, a floor was thoroughly cleaned and then tested for ATP.

It had a "pass" rating of 25, which was used as a benchmark.

A grape, which contains high levels of ATP, was spread over the tile floor, resulting in a very high ATP reading of 7,267.

The floor was mopped using a new microfiber mop head soaked in an EPA-registered disinfectant.

After cleaning, the ATP levels dropped to 1,479, but surprisingly, the surrounding tile areas saw their ATP reading jump from 25 to nearly 700.

In this case, what apparently was happening was that the soils and contaminants on the floor and mop head were actually being spread to nearby floor surfaces.

Because of this, Gerba, along with the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), encourages the use of more hygienic cleaning technologies and practices.

One such example is spray-and-vac cleaning systems, otherwise known as no-touch cleaning systems — a machine injects cleaning chemicals onto surfaces, which are then rinsed clean, similar to using a pressure washing system.

The process removes soils, which are then vacuumed up using the machine''s wet vacuum system.

With this system, the ATP readings dropped to 27 after cleaning and contaminants were not spread, but rather removed from the floor surface.

The best way to deal with disease is not to treat it, but to prevent it. This is the goal of hygienic cleaning.

Implementing different cleaning modes depends on situations and needs.

Use ATP metering systems to determine if contaminants have been removed and employ scientifically proven cleaning systems that thoroughly remove pathogens from surfaces.

These are necessary parts of an effective, hygienic cleaning system.

Angelo Poneris is customer service manager for Valley Janitorial Supply Company, a more than 20-year-old janitorial distributorship in Hamilton, Ohio.

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