Standard cleaning procedures are manual disinfecting methods, which can have a downside. For example, frontline workers who are strapped for time are more likely to miss contaminated surfaces and skimp on dwell times. As a result, an increasing number of facilities are exploring innovative technologies that provide safer, better coverage in a shorter period of time than traditional disinfecting methods.

Electrostatics, for example, can cover large areas and hard-to-reach surfaces quickly and efficiently and have proven successful in facilities such as schools, health clubs and sports complexes where MRSA is a concern.

In hospitals, copper-treated surfaces have been found to reduce a number of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) — a discovery that Gerba believes will benefit other facilities in the fight against infections.

The industry is also showing more interest in spraying disinfectants using electrostatic technology so chemicals remain on the surface for extended periods of time. However, as Gerba warns, these should not be used as a substitute for regular cleaning and disinfecting, but as an added, multi-barrier approach.

Although hospitals have generated the most interest in continuously acting disinfectants, Gerba believes they could also be advantageous in public spaces and facilities such as schools.

"Schools are one of the areas that have been neglected in terms of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces," he says. "Within two days, classroom desks have the same number of bacteria on them as they did two days before. We see buildup occurring rapidly because these surfaces are touched so frequently."

Safer Alternatives

While technology continues to advance the fight against superbugs, consultants agree that custodial workers should be trained to refocus on oft-neglected daily cleaning and increase cleaning frequencies.

"There's a lot to be said for proper cleaning and the physical removal of microorganisms," says Solomon. "Make sure that it's thorough, and make sure workloads allow janitors the time to do their jobs sufficiently."

She also cautions cleaning programs not to use caustic disinfectants as a preventative measure. Distributors are encouraged to step in and provide proper education on chemicals and effective processes.

"A lot of times, facilities will go directly to bleach, which can cause irritation and respiratory troubles," she says.

Solomon was concerned when she found out that her daughter's teacher was handing out bleach wipes to her students every morning so that they could wipe down their desks.

"We need to consider alternative disinfectants that are safer but successful against killing the microorganism of concern," she says.

Wilcox concurs, adding that distributors should help facilities set up a public health mitigation plan that focuses on green cleaning, as well as sanitizing and disinfecting in the least toxic way.

"Many facilities will just bomb the building with toxic chemicals or deep-clean once when an outbreak occurs," she says. "This does nothing but quell the bad publicity they get."

As Wilcox points out, preventing infectious outbreaks is a whole new game every single day. Think about it. Immediately after cleaning, pathogens in the air settle onto surfaces and re-contaminate them. For this reason, frontline staff need to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting, particularly on high-touch surfaces. She also recommends instituting a color-coded system of microfiber to help prevent cross-contamination.

While in-house training is essential, housekeeping departments should be able to rely on distributors to educate them about emerging technologies, as well as the products they purchase.

"Distributors should be a resource and part of a cleaning team," says Wilcox. "They should be well versed in chemicals that clean versus kill. They should also know what a sanitizer and a disinfectant are and the difference between the two."

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