Transcript of Cleaning Science Interview with Dr. Charles P. Gerba, PhD
What more ideal place for bacteria to live in than a mop or a rag – really as you’re cleaning you’re really spreading microorganisms around.
I think it’s really time for an awareness that we need improvements in technology – we can do better than this.
We need better cleaning tools, because what cleaning is all about is really the tools you’re using and the products you’re using – and so if you use the right products and the right tools you can have a very big impact on how clean an area really is and on the removal of microorganisms.
There are 2 objects to cleaning as I see it as a health-related professional: cleaning, removing the dirt, and reducing the risk from disease causing organisms.
You really have two goals as I see it and there’s room for improvement in both areas.
Get rid of the mops if you can and the other tools that really disseminate microorganisms in the environment and use appropriate products that reduce the number of microorganisms you’re exposed to.
I think this is particularly true in public restrooms. What’s the one area you’re going to share with everybody in the building? It’s the public restroom. We all have to go to the restroom. So that becomes a key germ transfer point in any facility. And it’s really an area that’s really important in public health, and people really haven’t paid attention to it. People, for some reason, don’t like to remember going to the restroom.
We consider it, actually, in some ways a lower area in terms of our occupation. We tend to minimize our time in public restrooms for that reason.
But it’s a neglected area. It’s really one of the key areas where public health is real important and where we can make an improvement in public health.
We’ve actually found in several of our studies that sponges and rags used to clean surfaces end up being microbial compost heaps because bacteria can grow to large numbers in those – both in the home and restaurants you’re actually laying down a thin layer of E.Coli when you’re wiping a surface without really realizing it.
That goes back to trying to develop new tools to replace things that have traditionally been used in it. The rag and sponge have been used for probably almost 100 years, but they end up being bacterial homes, and basically compost heaps, where microorganisms grow to large numbers. What more of a life could you want to live if you were a bacteria but to be in a sponge or a dishrag where everybody’s soaking up food all the time, it’s wet, it’s moist, it’s full of food… I mean, that’s a happy bacteria.
And every time you’re wiping your cleaning area you’re spreading it around. And it’s difficult to maintain disinfectant residuals on these rags, even if you’re soaking them on a regular basis because what we found in our studies, even in restaurants, half the time you were laying down a thin layer of E.Coli when you’re wiping a surface in the restaurant.
When you’re looking at what can we do to improve hygiene and cleanliness in our environment we work with I think it’s developing a concept, too, of what cleanliness and hygiene is. We have to define what that is, and we have to have tools up to the task and then we have to have a way of measuring it.
Really, to be successful we have to be able to show that we are making an improvement over the use of our existing technologies like sponges, rags, and whatever. And that’s where things like ATP meters which measure microorganisms and organic debris are very useful. They’re easy to use; you can come in there and demonstrate very quickly whether you’ve been successful in reducing the risk from microorganisms on cleaning surfaces.
So I think linking new cleaning tools, cleaning products, and a way to measure success is really important. It gives a tool to manufacturers to demonstrate the adequacy of their products and it also provides the cleaning industry with tools to demonstrate and monitor the effectiveness of it.
It’s very difficult to look at a restroom and determine cleanliness because you’re – it’s an unseen world that you’re concerned about, to a large degree. And by having the proper measuring tools we make the unseen world visible to us. Suddenly we know and have a better idea of what cleanliness is and how successful we’ve been in cleaning a facility.
And I think that’s really important in this century is to have those tools available… because we really haven’t made any improvements to a large degree in the last century in terms of what we can really do in cleaning and in effectiveness in public restrooms.
I think a lot of it is not about cleaning more, but cleaning properly and using the right tools and the right products.
We want to reduce the cleaning effort both ergonomically and increase our success in cleaning the areas. It’s not about cleaning more; it’s about the right cleaning tools and the right cleaning products. That’s what we really want. And that actually will result in less cleaning effort by people who are involved in this industry.
That’s one of the things that we’ve observed in our research, it’s probably better not cleaning than cleaning improperly. Because you can spread microorganisms around the facility without realizing it. So, you have to realize you can actually create more of a problem if you’re not cleaning properly.
One of the things we’ve observed in our own studies is you’ve got to clean properly; otherwise you can make things worse. You can spread microorganisms around the whole facility or put germs where they weren’t before. So you’ve got to clean effectively and you’ve got to clean properly.
And that’s why I think when you go in there and measure cleaning ability you’ll see it can make things actually worse.
So cleaning alone is not the answer: cleaning properly, using the right cleaning products is really critical. Otherwise, you can make things worse.
I think that’s why it’s so important to measure things. Because I don’t think people realize that cleaning makes things worse. I mean, we’ve been taught soap and water is really all you need; soap and water are critical, but if they’re not used properly with the right cleaning tools, they can make things worse. And I don’t think most people realize that today.
I have doubts that we live in a much cleaner world than most people think. For several reasons: we’ve changed a lot of our cleaning habits – we spend less time cleaning, actually, in the household than we did 30-40 years ago. So our efforts aren’t there and we really haven’t improved on a lot of our tools. And also we share our facilities more and more. And so our facilities, I think, are more likely to pick up microorganisms that can transmit disease because now we have larger buildings, we have cruise ships that hold 1000s of people, where 30-40 years ago these buildings were much smaller, ships were much smaller, so facilities weren’t shared as much as they are today.
I think it’s open to debate whether we really are cleaner than we have been. I think it’s a perception that may not be real. Particularly in terms of microorganisms and our exposure to microorganisms.
I think our lifestyle’s changed a lot too. We’re indoors more often, we’re working in office buildings, we’re not out in fields or large factories, so our exposure to more people, and our space is more shared than ever before. And when you share a space, you share germs. And so we’re really actually sharing more.
Sharing is a good thing except when it comes to germs, right?
But I think that is a big difference in our lifestyles… most of us are spending our working day indoors rather than out of doors or in facilities where we don’t have much contact with people. So we’re going to share more germs in the facilities that we use. I think in a way we have more germs in these facilities than we used to because we have more people. We have more people sharing facilities. We have to be aware of that.
I think that’s why facilities management and cleanliness of facilities is more important than it ever has been before. Really we’re basically looking at germ transfer points. It becomes critical in maintaining good hygiene to make these areas critical.
I think people in this industry don’t realize they’re really, in a way, in the healthcare industry. Particularly when it comes to public restrooms. We know that they are involved in the transmission of infectious diseases like hepatitis A, Shigella, Salmonella. It’s been shown epidemiologically you can transmit disease by public facilities. So if we want to reduce illness and really save lives too – people do die from these types of infections – it does become important to maintain proper hygiene in these facilities.
This profession is really underrated in what it does and it’s important to hygiene, I think, particularly as we see the evolution of important diseases, you know, like influenza, bird flu, SARS agents. I think we have to realize that proper maintenance of these facilities are going to be critical if we have outbreaks of these diseases. These are really are first defense in hygiene and we have to become aware of that. We have to make the industry aware that it’s just not about cleaning, it’s about disease prevention. Prevention of the transmission of diseases is really one of the things we have to become aware of.
We really are, in a way, guardians of unseen public health, in a way, and I don’t think we should understate that. I think it has been underrated, understated in the past.
I think cleaning, particularly during epidemic times or if you have any increase in the cold/flu season or diarrhea, it becomes critical in breaking that cycle of disease transmission. And people don’t realize you’re maybe touching surfaces that large numbers of people have touched previously and it becomes critical to maintain the proper cleanliness of these areas or build-up of these organisms over time.
People don’t realize, a lot of these organisms can survive anywhere from hours to weeks on surfaces in public restrooms. So it becomes critical to remove that risk either by removing the organisms or disinfecting key surfaces.
I think one of the other things… Why is cleanliness so important? Because you need to eliminate food sources. That’s why making sure you’re getting food out of, particularly, areas where they may accumulate like cracks, crevices, grouting, microorganisms can utilize organic matter there and actually grow or persist for longer periods of time. So, really, a lot of cleaning in public restrooms is removing food – microbial food – from them so they don’t persist for a longer period of time or they grow.
It’s not only talking about health risks, but also odor build-up as this organic matter degrades. Cleaning is important too. You’ve got to eliminate the food source too.
Particularly in the kitchen area, it’s not only an issue of microorganisms growing, but you want to make sure you don’t get insects in there or rodents in there. So, removing food sources becomes important. Particularly in hard to reach areas, or areas that are difficult to clean, I think, becomes critical in these areas because you do have a lot of food, both microbial and insect and rodent. So it’s important to try to keep these areas as low in the food content as you can. You want to prepare your food, but you want it to leave that area too.
Well, insects are notorious for spreading microorganisms largely because they walk across areas which may have microorganisms that cause illness and they walk through food surface areas or they become associated with food. They carry a lot of organisms on their feet, basically, and walk across a lot of objects that may be used in food preparation. And you have the trouble, of course, with larger, like rodents and that, do the same thing. They are notorious for carrying certain types of diseases.
You know, I think one of the things, too, is how important janitorial services are in overall public health, in maintaining public health, in maintaining cleanliness. We know most common infectious diseases like colds, flues, and diarrhea are spread through either our environment.
In fact, it’s been estimated 80% of all our common illnesses like flu, diarrhea, and colds are spread by our environment – either the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, or the surfaces we touch. And that’s why janitorial services are so important to public health. They are the ones that can control exposure to the surfaces in our environment, or what we like to call fomites, in these areas. And they’re playing the critical role, just as the people in food service play a critical role, water treatment operators play a critical role, and so do janitorial services. They play that other critical role of maintaining safe surfaces in our environment. And I think all three of these professions really are the guardians of public health today. Basically they eliminated the age of epidemics 100 years ago when hygiene came in. And we don’t have those water-borne diseases, those huge epidemics and outbreaks anymore. And it’s largely the critical role these three industries play in maintaining public health. Just as they did 100 years ago they do today, especially when we’re faced with new challenges like with SARS, influenza. They really are one of our first barriers in trying to break down that transmission cycle.
The important thing in maintaining proper hygiene, you’ve got to both clean, remove, and disinfect. If you don’t clean, it inhibits the effectiveness of disinfectants. So cleaning is really critical from that. And also you’ve got to eliminate the dirt because it’s a food source.
You’ve got to remove the dirt, but you’ve also got to get rid of it. Soap and detergents will loosen it, will remove it from surfaces, but then it’s critical to remove it, then use disinfectants afterwards.
I think one of the problems with the traditional mop is it’s not as effective in eliminating it from the facility. Basically it tends to spread it around a lot. That’s why we’ve seen a lot of times that just mopping and wiping with soap and water can actually make things worse, because it spreads it all around. Basically, what you’re doing with soap and water is removing it, but then you’ve got to get rid of it. You’ve got to get it out of the facility.
That’s why it’s critical, like the technologies that Kaivac works with because it actually is removing the dirt from the facility and getting it out of there. You’re not spreading it around like you do with traditional mopping.
Then it makes disinfectants you might apply much more effective. Because you got rid of the dirt.
It’s an improvement in cleaning technology that’s long overdue. We’ve been basing our cleaning on mops and rags and I think it’s time for an innovation in tools and technology and I think that’s what we’re looking for.
The future of hygiene is better tools, more effective tools, a way of measuring that effectiveness, and use of disinfectants. So it’s nice to see an improvement in cleaning tool technology come along.
One of the things we’ve been missing is a lack of measure of effectiveness. With that now in our grasp, it allows us to show innovation can result in a cleaner and more hygienic facilities.
The key here is not just innovation, it’s the ability to measure innovation and success of innovation.
I think one of the things, too, people overlook is, we talked about the benefits of hygiene, but, unfortunately it’s an unseen benefit to most people. It’s hard to convince people that spending a few pennies actually saves thousands of dollars if somebody gets ill in a facility. Illness from common infectious diseases run anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending on the illness. Basically, prevention is pennies to save those thousands of dollars. Preventing two or three office workers from getting ill a year by proper maintenance of restroom facilities is hard to see that benefit – and a benefit of pennies a day results in thousands of dollars in terms of healthcare improvement.
It’s really hard to convince people of that, because prevention – it’s always hard to show how you’ve prevented something when it’s so difficult to actually document that type of effectiveness.
But we do know, proper use of soap and water has a big impact on hygiene. Basically it’s been shown the more soap and water used in a country the less childhood mortality there is. So we do know soap and water is incredibly beneficial to people’s health.
It’s really hard to demonstrate a positive effect that’s not easily measured. It’s hard to measure improvements over time. There’s a lot of confounding factors when you do this.
We have to use our basis that we’re dealing with a cleaner environment, that we’re dealing with fewer germs so our risk is less. Basically, what we’re doing is risk reduction – reducing your risk. For what I always look at is a very small cost. The risk reduction, in terms of cost to society is large compared to the amount of money you’re spending for it.
Historically we know it has a big impact. If you look back 100 years ago when infectious diseases were the number one cause of death in the United States. Actually it hasn’t disappeared, too, infectious diseases are the third largest cause of death in the United States. They’re right behind heart disease and cancer. They haven’t given up. Microbes haven’t given up, by the way. They’re waiting. They’re waiting for us to be more lax, they’re waiting for the time when they can evolve to a point and find ways around strategies we’ve used. Microorganisms haven’t given up. They’re going to always be with us. So hygiene is as important as it has ever been before. It’s as important today as it was 100 years ago. It really hasn’t changed.
In food service establishments I think the restroom areas is really critical. That’s why you always see wash your hands right away. That can be a key germ transfer point – particularly if somebody has like norovirus infections are probably one of the most easily transmitted by public restrooms I think.
That’s why it’s key to maintain that facility. The other areas are certainly the food service and preparation areas to prevent cross contamination of foods. Also to prevent contact with employees with the food – those are the key areas.
The other areas that we’ve discovered is rags and cleaning cloths can actually seem to disseminate bacteria in restaurants. We found that over half of cleaning tools they use like rags had E. coli in them. Which means cross-contamination must be occurring in that facility. Even though they’re supposed to put the rag in detergents and disinfectants it apparently was not enough.
I think floor cleanliness in a restaurant is important to remove the food debris because you want to keep insects out and rodents. Particularly in areas that might be hard to reach, you’ve got to make sure you remove as much of the food debris from these surfaces. Largely because you don’t want to encourage insects or rodents getting into the facility. There, it’s largely a get rid of the food off the floor so you’ve got to keep insects and rodents out that way.
I think there’s a lot of challenges coming to the facilities cleaning area. One is certainly the norovirus. We’ve seen that virus evolve fairly quickly over the last couple of years where more people are involved. It’s had a big impact, particularly on the cruise ship industry. But it’s impacted schools, universities, day-camps. They’ve had to close trying to control the spread of norovirus.
It has a very low infectivity – people get ill very easily with noroviruses. I think proper maintenance of facilities can be key in trying to control the spread of this organism. Facility management people should be really aware of this norovirus, because it can close facilities. So you have to be really careful, I think, in the facilities management areas, particularly in outpatient clinics, schools, hospitals. You’ve really got to prevent the spread of this virus. It’s known to be very readily spread by use of public restrooms. I think it’s going to become more of an issue in the future, trying to control this organism. Facilities should really start thinking about hygiene and how to prevent this organism. They’re going to eventually, if they’re any large facility, going to be hit by this organism. So I think they should really re-evaluate their cleaning procedures and make sure the strategy they have would prevent an outbreak, and if an outbreak occurs, what type of remediation strategy are they going to use? How are they going to know it’s safe to let people back in? Basically they’ve had to close facilities. And then go in there and really clean them thoroughly. So they should have a strategy for that. Especially if they’re in any kind of large facility.
I think that’s one of the things people don’t realize – prevention is cheap and treatment is expensive. That’s why, just spending a few cents in prevention actually has a big benefit. It’s always been known that prevention is always far more cost effective than treatment.
Prevention is cheap, treatment’s expensive. It’s always hard to see that benefit.
That’s what we – It’s got to become more visible. People have got to be more aware of the benefits. Really, the long-term cost savings. But not only in terms of human health, but in actual real dollars too.
Cleaning is an act of prevention, in terms of maintaining a healthier environment and reducing the ability of diseases to be transmitted throughout our environment. I think people forget that.
We’ve learned to take too many things for granted. Like safe water, safe food, safe environment we live in and we need to go back and re-appreciate those benefits. And actually improve on them. Not only making them cleaner and reducing our risk, but also making them more effective, with less effort.
We’ve talked a lot about it – like cleaning more is not what we’re after… cleaning more effectively is what we’re really after. We’re in a position to do it more effectively and more purposefully, so we achieve what we really want to do, using less resources in reality, than we did before.
And I think, in a greener way too. Cleaning in a greener way and using disinfectants is a greener way is what we’re heading towards, too. And we can do it today. I think we have the tools available, or being developed and we should rethink how can we do that?
A greener environment is really a good idea, but I think we can do it more effectively at the same time. To me what a greener environment means is doing it more effectively too. Re-thinking how we do it and also improving on it. Sometimes I think we think it’s a back-step, but, not it’s not. Really we have an opportunity to accomplish two goals: reducing our risk of disease transmission and improving the environment at the same time.
Pollutants build up in the indoor environment and we nee to remove them from that environment. I think that’s what it’s about.
Removing pollutants from the indoor environment, because they tend to accumulate in the indoor environment. Where outdoors they’re more disseminated.
In terms of cleaning in the healthcare environment I think people have underestimated, maybe, emergency rooms. We see outbreaks now of norovirus associated with emergency rooms. In fact, a lot of emergency rooms had to close because of norovirus outbreaks. But I think it emphasizes how important cleanliness and proper cleaning and hygiene in that area is. And, really, that’s the role of facility management. They need to become aware of this new risk in that environment and in maintaining proper hygiene and cleaning. Maybe cleaning more effectively, developing a better strategy, particularly if you have an outbreak associated with an emergency room – what’s the effective strategy you’re going to use to ensure that when people enter that facility again that you don’t have norovirus around that can re-initiate infections in the people using that facility.
I think most people don’t realize – the cleaning tools you’re using contain millions of bacteria. Particularly mops and dishcloths, and they’re giving germs a free ride around your facility. That’s why it’s really important to recognize this, that you can actually make things worse with what you perceive is a cleaning tool. It is actually a germ transfer facility for them. And a good place to eat and live too. That’s why people have to become more aware of that. Cleaning with these tools can actually make things worse by spreading germs from one facility, like one area of the restroom to an area where people may come more in contact with.
You need to quit giving germs a free ride around your facility. Sometimes the cleaning tools can be the best fried a germ ever had… at least from our experience, in looking at cleaning that’s normally practiced in a lot of facilities actually made things worse. It was probably better not to clean in some facilities. At least our studies would suggest that.
Re-thinking strategies of cleaning are needed today. We really haven’t thought about it.
I think one of the problems with the science of cleaning is it really didn’t exist. I think what is really needed is developing the science of cleaning. What is science all about? It’s being able to measure. Once we can measure we can determine whether we’ve made a significant change or improvement. I think cleaning needs to become more of a science so we can compare the success of our different options in cleaning. And we need to make it a science. I think it’s time that it actually becomes a science because we have seen when we look at mops, sponges, we still have a problem with that. We can do better. We can increase the hygiene in the facility. We can reduce the risk of infection. And that takes a science. Because we have to measure those improvements. And we have to measure the ability of the new tools to do it.
I think it is time cleaning becomes a science. I think the industry needs to recognize they play an important role in healthcare and in improving our environment.
What is science? It means we need to get the information out. I think what we’re doing now is important. Just talking about it being a science, talking about the importance of it, talking about what we nee to improve this cleaning. Then it needs to be evolved into cleaning and we need to disseminate that information. So that the whole industry can benefit from it. And people who use facilities can benefit. If you ask most people what they’re really concerned about, where they’re concerned about picking up germs – it’s the public restroom – right away. And yet, we don’t give people any assurances that it’s really safe or clean. Except we see on the wall how many times somebody has been in there… But it doesn’t tell us is the facility any cleaner than it was before? We need some measure of that. People who manage facilities and people who contract people who manage facilities need some way of judging whether there’s really been an improvement in their facility and I think that’s what cleaning science is all about – being able to measure it and disseminate that information and get people to recognize the importance of that area in their facility.
Facility management is important. It seems like it’s degraded to the lowest level of education, in reality people need to become more aware of the role these people play. Give them the tools so they can do a better job and give them the appreciation that they are doing something important for this facility. But that takes all levels of understanding. I think that’s why it’s important for cleaning to become a science, because then you can talk about it on the basis of education, of having materials that you can document that this has been proven to be effective, or there’s an improvement. That all takes becoming a science and understanding it.
It’s all about quantitizing it in numbers and then educating people.
It’s estimated there’s between 70-80 million cases of food borne illness every year in the United States. Which means about almost every four years you’ll probably pick up at least one illness associated with food that you’re eating.
A lot of that originates from improper cooking and cross-contamination still plays a role. Cross contamination is where you prepare food on one surface that’s been contaminated by another food. And then disease causing organisms get on that and then you consume it. That’s why maintenance of surfaces that food may touch is really critical in prevention of food borne illness. Basically it happens when you prepare a raw food product that may be later cooked, and the organisms destroyed, then you put another product on there that may be eaten raw, like a salad, for example. Maintenance of cleanliness and elimination of disease causing organisms is critical in the food service environment, both at home and in food service establishments. You have to have a strategy for that. All restaurants and food service are inspected for those reasons.
I think that’s why, in the food service industry, it’s really critical – proper cleaning procedures are maintained on a regular basis. That’s why they’re inspected too. That plays an important role in prevention of food borne illness. Cleanliness in that area, removal of food debris, removal of microorganisms, and sanitizing surfaces are really critical in the food service industry.
That should be looked at as the whole facility – everything from the restroom to where food is prepared and where food is served, I think, are critical. That includes areas like the tables where food is served, and areas, other places, playgrounds in the foodservice establishments. It’s the whole facility that really has to be looked at.
I think the restroom is critical in the food service environment because hand washing is really critical. Large numbers of people are using that. There’s a potential for cross contamination, there’s potential for one person with, say, norovirus coming into the facility contaminating the facility: like, for example, throwing up in the sink. That could contaminate the whole sink area. And just rinsing it is not going to be good enough. So it’s really critical that area be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. So again, you have to remember large numbers of people are using this facility all day. And just going in there and wet mopping or wiping down every hour is not what you really need. You could really be spreading things around.
We’ve shown in our studies that you can actually spread norovirus around quite effectively by just mopping and using sponges and rags. You can make it worse. That’s why it’s really important that you really clean and disinfect areas in the restrooms … in restaurant areas.
At least in our studies, I should point out, that we’ve notice that you can spread germs around a lot, even the norovirus we’ve noticed after outbreaks some …
We’ve noticed after outbreaks of norovirus you can spread the norovirus around just by cleaning the facility. So you’ve got to be really careful that you both clean effectively and disinfect. Because you don’t want to make things worse.
We just completed a study on restaurant rags and what is really happening is the dirtiest thing in the restaurant just was used to wash the table top where you’re going to eat because we found over half of the rags contained E. coli.
What we discovered in this facility is basically the dirtiest thing in the restaurant just cleaned the table where you’re going to eat. Over half the rags we found in restaurants contained E. coli.
Actually, there’s more E. coli on that table you’re going to eat on than the toilet seat you’re going to sit on in that restaurant, from what we found out.
If you ever have to lick anything in the restroom, make sure it’s the toile seat or the door knob, because those are the cleanest things.
I guess I made the comment, when we’re doing microbiology of homes we found there’s more E. coli in your kitchen sink than there is your toilet after you flush it. And if I was an alien microbiologist I would really be confused where the toilet was in your house.
Actually, it’s kind of interesting in rags or mops that we’ve studied, is that even if it’s been sitting there for a couple of days and it looks dry, it’s usually moist on the inside of it. And we believe that’s where a lot of the bacteria are growing and persisting in there. Have you seen how hard a sponge can get? But on the inside it can still be moist for a long period of time. And once you remoisten that, the bacteria move throughout the sponge or mop. So even though it may look dry, and you say it’s really not much of a habitat for germs, but if it remoistens, they’re all on the inside just waiting there for you to remoisten that. So they do persist for a long time. Most people don’t realize that.
Particularly on mop fibers on the inside of a mop, you know, on the inside of a mop, you know how you use a lot of fibers? Well on the inside there necessarily doesn’t dry as effectively. And so they tend to persist there. On the inside of sponges, the in-layer, you know if you cut a sponge you find it stays moist on the inside for a long period of time. So, even though it may appear clean, even though you rinse it out, microbes are good at holding on. You can rinse that a lot and there’s still plenty of bacteria in there. Just set it aside for a day and they’re going to be growing in there.
They can grow.. In sponge and particularly we’ve studied a lot in homes, usually within a week they’ve grown to millions of bacteria.
We did a survey from homes across the country some years ago and we found 10% of them contained salmonella bacteria. And E. coli is very common in sponges and mops. It’s a very happy home for them. It’s got everything you want: food, water… why leave?
Well, the food service environment, I think, the ones you’re worried most about are salmonella and certain types of E. coli, and also norovirus is becoming very important in that environment. Those are probably the three most critical ones today in the United States I would say.
They largely come in, salmonella and E. coli, from the food, and the concern there, too, is if it’s cooked food, if you cook it thoroughly, you probably will kill these organisms. But cross contamination becomes the issue if you prepare a raw food product in one area you contaminate a food service area and it gets onto another food that might be consumed raw like a salad, that’s where the issue comes in. That’s why maintaining proper cleanliness of surfaces in the facility is really critical, particularly in food service establishments.
I think it’s a surface-dominated cleanliness area – you’ve got to really keep those areas as sanitary as you can.
And that means the whole facility, from the food-prep, from the food service to the restroom, to the tabletops; it’s the whole facility you’ve got to think about.
How important are the bottom of restroom floors. In our studies we found about one-third of the bottoms of women’s purses, actually, have fecal bacteria on them. And actually, in observational studies we found they’re taking those purses they put on a restroom floor and then putting it right on a kitchen counter where they’re going to make a meal. So, yeah, it’s a good mechanism for germs to move around, actually, so I think the floor is important.
Also, you have small children which have a greater probability of coming in contact with a floor. And actually, if you drop your pants or clothing on the floor that’s another area that can actually pick up germs on the floor you can move around. You can get it on your clothing actually. Try thinking about what you’re tracking when you go to a public restroom. You might be surprised where your hands just went, or your clothing.
I think the most important thing is, when you’re talking about the bathroom floor, it’s an issue to me of people put things down on the floor, bags, purses, which can act as germ transfer devices that can bring them back to the home or other areas in the office environment.
Small children ten to be in more contact with the floor area and some of you clothing actually touches the floor area which can pick up germs and move it from one facility to another.
Everything is traveling out of the restroom area, more than you think. How much of the restroom did you bring back to your office or your desk? How many germs did you actually bring from the restroom back to your office? Is really the question you’re asking.
They tend to be sticky, they tend to be like hydrophobic or lipids, they tend to like to stick to surfaces. Most microbes in the world are stuck to something. Very few are free living, actually. Except when they’re traveling around. Because it’s a safer environment. Your back is covered. So anything that’s going to come at you is going to come from one direction. And they tend to form bio-films.
What you’re trying to do when cleaning the grouting is eliminate bio-films in there. Because microbes love to stick and they love to grow in colonies, we know they talk to each other now. They have what we call quorom-sensing – this is a good place to be and they develop strategies for protecting themselves in the bio-film. Some of the more amazing things. We didn’t know microbes talked to each other. Some people believe microbes talk to us.
We know they talk to each other about defending themselves when they infect you in the body, basically. It’s quite interesting.
They like to be in bio-films. That’s why parts of the cleaning in public restroom is about eliminating bio-films. Because microorganisms do have a strategy for hanging around in public facilities, and that’s making a colony, making a bio-film. Because they start making glue and they start adhering and it makes it tougher for disinfectants to get through them. You know, when you have layers and layers of microbes, it’s hard for the disinfectant to get down to the bottom. So the guys on top are saving the guys on the bottom. So they’re working together, really. They’re communicating with each other about this. That’s been shown, they do…
So that’s why cleaning and getting them out of there is so important. The best way to get rid of bio-film is to remove it. It’s really hard to get at it with a disinfectant. That’s why cleaning and disinfectants are so important.
Bio-film actually is the microbial strategy for persisting, actually, in a restroom or other facility.
One of the problems with disinfecting without cleaning is we know that dirt and food can protect them against the disinfectants. So disinfectants are more effective if a surface has been properly cleaned. So that’s really where the importance of cleaning comes in. Also if you’re leaving food debris you’re creating opportunities for microorganisms to increase in numbers. So that’s why removing the food is really important. Really, controlling odors and spread of many germs is about removing the food. And so cleaning’s object is really removing the food sources on it.
Dead bacteria can be a food source for other bacteria. Bacteria love to – pretty much bacteria are designed to grow on a lot of food sources – other bacteria, killed bacteria can be used as a food source
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