Preventing Contaminants from Thumbing a Ride

By Dawn Shoemaker

We all know that children, especially toddlers, have lots of contact with floors, where they may play with toys, take a nap, or stretch out to watch television. However, floors can be a source of contamination that can cause illness in both children and adults if it spreads to hands and fingers or is ingested


According to a CBS News report (April 25, 2009), it is estimated that nearly 96 percent of shoe soles carry traces of fecal bacteria and coliform, a bacteria that can become seriously threatening to health if ingested. The report went on to say that these contaminants often have a 'free ride,' meaning they can be transferred from place to place, room to room, on shoes.


In a more comprehensive study, Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist with the University of Arizona, found that shoe soles can actually contain a wide variety of pathogens, many of which can negatively impact health. Gerba distributed brand-new shoes to 10 participants. He asked them to go about their daily activities - working, shopping, studying, etc. - for two weeks and then return the shoes to a laboratory for examination. The results were surprising, according to Gerba, because such heavy concentrations of pathogens were found on both the outsides and the insides of the shoes.


Gerba reported finding approximately 420,000 units of different types of bacteria on shoe bottoms along with nearly 3,000 units on the insides of the shoes. Similar to the study mentioned earlier, Gerba also found that more than 90 percent of the shoes contained coliform; E. coli found its way onto nearly a third of the shoes; and contaminants such as Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause blood infections, as well as Serratia ficaria, which can cause respiratory infections, were also discovered.


'The CBS News report said that these contaminants have a 'free ride,' allowing them to move from one floor to another,' says Mark Warner, Product Manager for Disinfectants and Sanitizers for Enviro-Solutions, a leading manufacturer of Green cleaning chemicals and products. 'That's why I refer to [the contaminants] as hitchhikers.'



But Do We Really Touch Floors That Often?

It's pretty clear to see how children come into contact with floors and the contaminants that may be on them. But how often do we adults actually come into contact with floors?


Warner explained that adults may have as many as 50 direct and indirect contacts with floors every day, and children likely have many more. With each 'touch,' we can come in contact with pathogens. Among his examples of how this happens are these:


  • Tying a shoelace
  • Touching and wrapping up power cords
  • Moving a mat
  • Picking up a tool, pen, or piece of paper that has fallen to the floor
  • Lifting a briefcase or purse that was placed on the floor


In fact, women's purses can be major sources of contamination. In an informal but still informative June 2006 study conducted by an Atlanta television station, researchers asked 50 random women visiting a shopping center if they could swab the women's purses. Laboratory results found that one in four purses contained significant amounts of E. coli and other bacteria. Digging a bit deeper, researchers discovered that all of the contaminated purses had recently been placed on the floors of the mall's public restrooms ? likely making the floors the source of the contamination.


Thorough and frequent floor cleaning along with more aggressive actions when there is a public health threat or concern are the best ways to stop the hitchhiking of floor contaminants, according to Warner. This involves both the type of cleaning performed and the types of cleaning chemicals and floor equipment used.


For instance, Warner suggests that if there is no dangerous infection or pathogen present, floors can be cleaned following standard procedures using clean mops and mop heads and neutral cleaners. However, if a health threat or concern exists in a community (for instance, H1N1), 'the neutral cleaners should be replaced with products that have greater cleaning efficacy such as a neutral cleaner-disinfectant with specific 'kill claims' for the pathogens of concern,' he says. 'These kill claims should be indicated on the product's label.'


More serious and extensive measures are called for when a health threat is present within a facility. For instance, when specific schools and universities are experiencing increasing numbers of influenza cases, presumed to be caused by H1N1, as some were earlier this year, all cleaning procedures, including floorcare using a hospital-grade neutral cleaner-disinfectant, should be amplified significantly, according to Warner.


In addition, no-touch cleaning equipment, which is now considered a 'sanitizing device' by the Environmental Protection Agency, should be employed.



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