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Cross-contamination is no joke. Accidentally transferring germs, bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens from one surface to another can lead to all kinds of health issues — from minor gastrointestinal discomfort, to severe, life-altering illness, or in the worst cases, death.  

While many people think cross-contamination risks are limited to the food industry, the unintentional transference of dangerous pathogens can happen anywhere.  

“It can affect all types of facilities, from schools to restaurants to hospitals,” says Jackie Dyess, president of Chicago-based Inter-City Supply Co, Inc. “In healthcare settings, cross-contamination can even lead to serious healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs), which can threaten a patient’s safety. No one wants to go to the hospital to get sicker!” 

Preventing cross-contamination should be top-of-mind for cleaning crews everywhere. Unfortunately, it remains a common occurrence.  

“It happens far too often,” laments Mike Sawchuk, Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. “The reason is that too many end users are not properly or effectively cleaning. Cleaning is the removal of soils and pathogens and then safely disposing of them in their proper place. The opposite of that is polluting — in this case, cross-contaminating — by spreading the soils and pathogens around.” 

Luckily there are ways to fight the risk of cross-contamination, presenting a great opportunity for new product introductions and/or process training from distribution sales representatives. 

“It is not very difficult or expensive to help reduce the chances of cross-contamination,” explains Dyess.  

Cross-Contamination Culprits 

End users in the cleaning industry are always looking for the most effective tools and processes to keep their facilities clean, healthy and safe. After all, no janitorial team goes into a job actively trying to cross-contaminate surfaces. However, many common tools and procedures can actually increase the chance of transferring dangerous pathogens.  

Take a single-compartment mop bucket. This simple, inexpensive tool encourages cleaning crews to dip their mops into already-soiled cleaning solution and then spread that dirty solution around. The same could be said for paper towels, sponges, or cleaning cloths that are dipped and re-dipped in cleaning solution.  

“The re-dipping of dirty cloths into a bucket to rinse them out and re-use, and the continued use of a single cloth or section of a cloth for too long of a period, are some examples of tools and processes that make it easier to accidentally cross-contaminate,” explains Sawchuk.  

Using the wrong combination of cloths and disinfectants can also affect cleaning and disinfection efficacy. While not exactly an example of cross-contamination, quat binding, where the active ingredient in quaternary ammonium chloride disinfectants becomes attracted to and absorbed into natural fabrics, yield the same dangerous results.  

“The disinfectant’s active ingredients bind to the fibers,” says John Thomas, CMIP, CIMS-GB ICE, director of Health and Wellness, Imperial Dade in Philadelphia. “That means there’s less active ingredient in the solution, so surfaces cannot be properly disinfected. Instead, you’ve created a wet medium, perfect for moving bacteria around.” 

There are other examples, like using the same cleaning cloth in different rooms, not cleaning high-touch points frequently enough or at the wrong time, or not keeping the floor of the custodial closet clean so germs and dirt hitch a ride through the facility on the equipment’s wheels.  

A distributor that offers insight into proper tools or training on effective processes will be worth their weight in gold to an end user. Sales representatives should be ready to offer site evaluations to end user customers and provide recommendations for cross-contamination prevention. 

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Best Tools, Processes to Combat Cross-Contamination