March 25, 2020

How clean is clean? Verification testing in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the recent events that are happening with the COVID-19 pandemic a very interesting question has been posed to a lot of facility managers building owners alike. 

Building owners and facility managers are engaging cleaning and restoration companies to either do a preemptive cleaning where there are no known cases or even suspected cases. The objective is to clean high touch surfaces and work areas as a way to show that something has been done. The cost can range pretty widely from ten $0.15 a square foot to more than a $1.00 per sq foot.  

The biggest question that we are being asked as health and safety consultants is how to verify or tell whether the cleaning is doing anything at all. In addition, contractors are also looking at ways to document the effectiveness of their cleaning as a way to show the difference their cleaning is making and levels to show the efficacy of their cleaning. 

There is no known test for the specific COVID-19 strain.  Currently, you can’t take a simple test on a surface and have it tell you whether the Covid 19 virus is present or not. But there is a test that can be done that is called the ATP test, which is used in restaurants to identify pathogens or organic material present in a swab sample that is taken. 

ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is an enzyme present in all living cells.  An ATP test can detect the amount of organic matter that remains after cleaning an environmental surface, medical device or surgical instrument.  Hospitcals use ATP based sanitation monitoring systems to detect and measure ATP on surfaces as a method of ensuring the effectiveness of their facilities sanitation efforts. 

The idea is that a swabs of surfaces are taken before the cleaning and then taken after the cleaning.  Sampling can be done in a grid pattern in various surfaces throughout areas that have been cleaned.  

When we are addressing concerns in an office setting – we take readings before the cleaning to identify a baseline level.  Post cleaning, we take readings from the same areas to see the differences in the levels. Depending on the levels that the client is comfortable with – some clients want as close to 0 RLU’s whereas other clients are fine with the guideline level of below 170 RLUs.  We have worked with clients to create cleaning goals based on the specific circumstance. 

While this ATP test is not meant to identify COVID 19 virus exactly it can be used to determine the level of cleanliness of a surface especially when used as a pre and post cleaning test.  the overall concept is that if the levels are low enough after the cleaning is done the likelihood of viruses being present is lower although a guarantee that viruses will not be present is not possible.  

Barring new technology that may come out which helps identify COVID-19 fires exactly this may be the best available option from existing technology to truly identify how surfaces are being cleaned. 

Essel Environmental may assist you in coming up with the protocols and verification testing if you are looking for a solutions provider.  We are available for free consults to answer your questions.  
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