With the ease of international travel and a heightened awareness of deadly viruses and infections such as SARS or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), there is a greater emphasis nowadays on sanitary environments not just in our hospitals and schools, but also in office buildings, retail stores, airports and foodservice areas.

“In days past, it wasn’t very common for someone to get from Hong Kong to New York in 15 hours,” says Mark Hoyle, senior product manager at Rubbermaid Commercial Products, Winchester, Va. “Now you could be in Hong Kong one day and New York the next day and bring a strain of the flu or a strain of a cold that the general population in that area is just not immune to. So it leads to more illness and more concerns over cross contamination.”

This has caused the cleaning industry to respond with various new technologies and products to ease the cross contamination concern. From disinfectants to hand tools to touch-free restroom fixtures, there are many options available to help prevent cross contamination in all types of facilities.

Disinfectants and Hand Tools
Restrooms are among the most common places for the potential of cross contamination. It is important for cleaning crews to pay extra attention to these critical areas.

“The key is to clean effectively, disinfectant where required and sanitize where required,” says Mike Sawchuck, vice president and general manager for Enviro-Solutions, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. “You can’t do all effectively for every square inch of a facility so you need to clean as per traffic and contact patterns.”

In the restroom, cleaning crews should focus on disinfecting and sanitizing door handles, toilet seats, faucet handles and levers on dispensers, says Sawchuck. Outside the restroom, areas include telephone handles, elevator buttons, railings and other commonly touched objects, he adds.

When disinfecting, janitors need to pay attention to proper dilution and dwell time, says Sawchuck. Failing to adhere to the recommended guidelines won’t effectively combat cross contamination.

Mop bucket systems can control and eliminate cross contamination in large areas like office buildings, retail centers and airports. For cleaning providers that use cotton mops, a dual mop bucket can help prevent the spread of disease from one area to the next. These buckets have two compartments, one for rinsing the dirty mop head and another to gather more solution onto the mop. This allows the user to have a clean mop each time they apply it to the floor.

Another mop bucket option is for microfiber mops. End users add cleaning solution and a number of microfiber wet pads, depending on the size of space needed to be cleaned, to the bucket.

“You mop until that pad is dried out. When the pad is dry, you peel it off and drop it into your dirty linen basket and get a completely clean, uncontaminated pad,” says Hoyle. “You are never redipping it into that cleaning solution and you are never rewetting that mop.”

Janitors use a fresh mop head for each area. For example, one mop head for restrooms and another for terminal areas in an airport; or one head for the kitchen and another for the dining room in a restaurant.

Besides microfiber mops, cleaning providers can use microfiber cloths in restrooms, counters, windows and a variety of other places.

“If you use microfiber on a surface, it gets about 98 percent of the bacteria,” says Bruno Niklaus, vice president of global marketing for Unger Enterprises, Bridgeport, Conn. “If you really know how to use microfiber, you can cut down on chemical usage.”

However, end users should be aware that not all microfiber products are created the same, says Hoyle. When purchasing product, distributors should ask the manufacturer how the microfiber is produced to ensure they are getting a quality product.

End users can also color-code their mops, buckets and cloths to help ensure cleaning methods are preventing cross contamination.

Color-coding accomplishes two goals. First, it aids the user as to what device to use in what circumstance without the use of language. It also aids supervisors who can easily spot the color-coded device across large areas such as an airport terminal or mall corridors and make adjustments if it is being used in the wrong location.

Generally, there are four standard colors used: red for high-risk restroom areas, yellow for low-risk restroom areas; blue for all-purpose cleaning and green for foodservice areas. However, many cleaning providers use their own color combinations to fit their own needs.

An alternative to buying different colored buckets is to use a sticker system, says Niklaus. With the chemical-resistant stickers, the end-user and distributor can change the stickers as they please, Niklaus adds.

“It’s not permanent. If an end user has 50 buckets in a building that are all color-coded blue and then he loses the building contract, he can get new stickers and reuse the buckets,” Niklaus says. “But if he has colored buckets, he probably has to discharge these because they are not as flexible to use in different locations.”

Restroom Fixtures
Building occupants themselves have a role to play in preventing cross contamination.

“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the best way to prevent cross contamination is healthy hand washing, augmented with waterless hand sanitizing when soap and water are not available,” says Jerry McDermott, executive vice president marketing and innovation - Global Business, Technical Concepts, Mundelein, Ill.

Cleaning providers can help encourage users to wash hands by eliminating touch points in the restroom. Fewer touch points will also reduce the potential for cross contamination.

“The less you have to touch in the restroom, the better you’re going to be in terms of cross contamination,” says Debbie Ponath, products manager, San Jamar, Elkhorn, Wis. “That’s what our customers want, our distributors want and that is what the end users want.”

The general public developing a phobia of germs during the last decade has led to heightened awareness regarding the importance of a cross-contamination free experience in bathroom facilities, says Bob Lewis, product manager, Sloan JANSAN, Franklin Park, Ill.

Susan Kennedy, Director of Marketing at Sloan JANSAN, adds that the future of the prevention of cross contamination lies with no-touch public bathrooms in which all fixtures and handles are controlled by a sensor.

“Now if there are manual faucets anywhere, people will not use them, they will ask where is the electronic faucet,” Kennedy says. “Where it’s going is no-touch from the minute you enter a restroom to the minute you leave, absolutely no touching anything.”

Touch-free products include both towel and soap dispensers, faucets and flush valves. However, there is still one last touch point that manufacturers are currently targeting — the door handle. Users could wash their hands without touching a single fixture, but still get contaminated when exiting the restroom. To relieve this problem, there are certain devices that can be installed on the back of the door to reduce cross contamination. One is a dispenser that distributes tissues to use to grab the door handle. Another option is an automatic disinfectant sprayer. At set intervals, a sanitizer gets sprayed directly on the door handle.

Image Concerns
The prevention of cross contamination falls in line with many facilities’ missions of providing quality service or products to their customers.

“Some customers need to have clean buildings because of their image,” Niklaus says. “If you go to a bank or restaurant and the building has a dirty environment it’s not good for the whole image of the brand or the building so people are continuously looking for better ways to clean.”

Brendan O'Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis.