I talk to a lot of people responsible for making sure their facility and whatever products and/or services they deliver are safe. Safe for people to visit, eat, use – whatever. Clearly, if you run a business of just about any kind, then you rely on customers. Without a smart plan for keeping them safe (and your staff, for that matter), you might as well kiss your business goodbye (sooner or later, anyway).
What I’m often shocked to hear in far too many conversations — whether I’m talking to an industrial food manufacturing company, a cattle ranch, a produce company, a daycare, a university, a chain restaurant with child play areas, a major hotel chain, an airline, a gym, a spa — you name it — the following conversation happens… here’s how it often goes down:
Jeff [Level4 Bio]:
So how are you handling sanitizing [or disinfecting, if I'm speaking to a healthcare company] your facility and equipment right now?
Oh, we have a janitorial company that handles that for us.
Jeff [Level4 Bio]:
Ah, ok — so your janitorial company is able to sanitize the whole environment for you? And they are sanitizing your entire facility… ? Your equipment? Your electronics? Great! Can I ask what kind of products are they using and how it’s going?”
I think it’s a bleach-based chemical or some chemical they mix with water. They clean the floors and furniture. Our staff is responsible for cleaning the equipment… seems to do the trick.
Jeff [Level4 Bio]:
Ah, ok. So staff and your janitors are spraying and wiping it, is that right? Or using the 3-part sinks with chemicals… mopping and using cleaning rags… is that right? So how do they sanitize surfaces that can’t get wet, like fabrics, leather, fine electronics and metal, steel and aluminum equipment? And how are they cleaning the wiping rags and mops between areas to avoid cross contamination?
Um… well… right… Yeah, of course they obviously aren’t ruining our equipment, but they clean areas where they can use those chemical products.
Ok, so I think you get the gist.
I’m left thinking, ‘wow, these are people often putting food into the supply chain, serving food, or managing people in healthcare environments where serious health issues are being handled, or managing massive volumes of consumers of every age every day… and they are leaving the eradication of superbugs and other harmful viruses to the janitors and cleaning crew… or novice staff who’s specialty is not sanitizing environments. WOW! WOW! HOLY COW!’
According to Vaccine News Daily, MRSA infections are up 20% in non-healthcare environments in 2012. That’s a big jump folks. I believe I’m starting to understand why.
The misconception is that janitorial companies are handling true ‘sanitizing’ and ‘disinfecting’ within the context of their janitorial scope of work… and/or, that the facility staff are educated and equipped to do the same. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking janitorial companies or their staff! They are the unseen heroes that keep the world clean while the rest of us sleep. They are fabulous, we need them. But they definitely shouldn’t be responsible for your infectious disease control strategy.
Following me? Is this as shocking to you as it is to me?
Maybe you never stopped to think about it before. Or, maybe you’re one of the few people left on this planet who has never gotten food poisoning, or who has never come down with the flu, or known someone who caught a nasty infection during a hospital stay… So you’re one of the what… say 12 people left?
Remember the Cantaloupe
The produce industry is reeling right now from the Colorado cantaloupe farmers who recently plead guilty to introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, in connection to a 2011 outbreak of listeria that left 33 people dead.
I have to admit, I really feel for these farmers. Honest, hard-working families that are the lifeblood of America’s food supply. Of course the biggest tragedy is for the victims, however, I do commend the farmers for stepping up to take responsibility for a tragedy that happened on their watch… an unimaginably hard situation for them and their families.
What’s even more hard to digest about this case, however, is that I believe it was completely preventable… as most food borne outbreaks actually are.
How so, you ask? The FDA concluded the contamination likely originated from old, hard-to-clean equipment used after harvest, and from standing water on the floor in the facility.
That means with a little extra effort (short of buying brand new equipment, which we recognize many cannot often do), like sanitizing the equipment with an atomizing spray that thoroughly covers every nook and cranny of the equipment, the Listeria would have been eliminated and many illnesses and deaths prevented. The same sanitizing can actually be used on the floor, walls, conveyor belts, and everywhere. Yes, it’s Level4 Bio. I want to scream it from the rooftops if it will save someone’s life in the future… and it can!
The FDA is Sending a Message
It seems the FDA is sending a clear message in making an example out of this case. If convicted of all charges, the farmers could be sentenced to up to six years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines. That doesn’t account for the devastating effects to their business, their brand or their families and their personal lives… all now changed forever. This is clearly a case of tragedy at every turn.
Know Your Definitions, Know Your Options
It’s important to understand and research modern sanitizing techniques. Spraying and wiping chemicals on food surfaces is wrought with issues, especially in a mass processing environment, and especially in the battle against viruses and bacteria that no one can see.
I encourage anyone responsible for customer safety, even if you are higher up in the supply chain, to do your homework thoroughly. Modernize your sanitizing techniques and leave no stone unturned. Better still, leave no area unsanitized! You cannot be too thorough in sanitizing your equipment and your entire facility from wall to wall, and from floor to ceiling… period.
Listeria, Salmonella, E-Coli and other food borne pathogens are living organisms. They are working to hide and breed to in order to propagate and survive.
A simple question: Are you sure leaving such an important task to your staff and to your janitors is enough?
Definitions Matter… This isn’t Just Semantics
So, on to the definitions that are critical to understand… know which level you need, and put an action plan in place to get it done.
Cleaning describes the process of removing soil or residue from a particular surface, often through the use of soap products and detergents. The debris and cleansing product are then rinsed away with water.
Sanitizing refers to the process of removing potentially harmful microorganisms (such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli) from a surface or an object. Sanitizing can be accomplished using chemicals (chemical sanitizing) or very high heat (thermal sanitizing).
Disinfecting is defined as complete elimination of all disease-causing bacteria or pathogens from an object or surface. Disinfectants are frequently used in healthcare facilities such as hospitals and emergency medical vehicles where there is a high risk of exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses.
What’s Right for You?
What you need and frequency totally depends on your environment, traffic volume and other factors, but starting with a basic understanding of the difference between these activities is mission-critical step #1. If you think they’re all the same, you’re missing the boat, and that’s exactly my point.
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