Cross Contamination in Commercial Facilities

Cross contamination has always been a key concern for medical facilities and for the food service industry. As a result of the threat of pandemics such as H1N1 or swine flu as well as the increase in incidences of respiratory illnesses and allergies, custodians must now also take cross contamination very seriously.

1. Impact of a flu epidemic

The recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus, began in Mexico a few weeks ago. Now, more than 73 people have died from the virus worldwide. The 24/7 news cycle, along with the echo-chamber of the Internet, have dramatically amplified fears.

Widespread illness and fears of a global pandemic will likely also have a financial cost. The World Bank estimated in 2008 that a flu pandemic could cost US$3-trillion and result in a nearly 5% drop in world gross domestic product, damaging prospects1of recovery in a world economy deep in financial crisis. According to the Financial Post , an outbreak of swine flu dampens tentative hopes for the global economy, sending markets lower and analysts fear a possible pandemic could force countries further into recession.

Many of us are all too familiar with the human and financial cost of an epidemic - the SARS outbreak, which disrupted travel, trade and the workplace in 2003, cost the Asia Pacific region an estimated US$40-billion. It lasted six months and killed 775 of the 8,000 people it infected in 25 countries. It also weighed heavily on the Canadian economy.

2. How Cross Contamination Occurs and Preventing the Spread of Infectious Diseases.

There are many steps that you can take in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Whether a deadly influenza or the common cold, these diseases are easily transmitted from one person to another through sneezing, coughing, and hand-to-hand contact. Many viruses survive for several hours on hard surfaces. Therefore, viruses are passed on by picking up an object, turning a door handle, or answering a phone.

It is important to understand that germs hide on every surface. In public buildings, two of the main germ ‘hotspots’ - bathrooms and sinks - usually get a thorough and frequent cleaning. By contrast, phones, desks and computer keyboards are not generally cleaned on a regular basis and therefore may harbor viruses. The floor, desktops and countertops are also major sources of contamination - germs released into the air eventually land on the largest horizontal surface in the room.

The idea that floors house the bulk of a facility’s bacteria flies in the face of common cleaning practices where crews work from the top down, cleaning surfaces above the floor first. Custodians’ feet can pick up germs and transport them everywhere. Also, preventing custodians from cleaning cluttered desktops allow a large germ reservoir to remain untouched. Without a thorough cleaning of these key surfaces, it is impossible to shut down a microbial spread. When risk exists, building occupants should be advised to clear their desks to allow custodians to clean. Experts recommend that this practice continue until the threat of an outbreak is gone. Cleaning should remove many of the germs living on these surfaces, but the ones left behind will soon begin to grow and to re-accumulate. Therefore, to be safe, also use a disinfectant product to kill the bacteria and viruses that are present. In order to remove all disease causing organisms, including spores, an additional sterilization process would be required. Proper disinfection requires dwell time on an already cleaned surface. One must follow the use directions on the label of the disinfectant to understand the appropriate dwell time. Surfaces must first be cleaned properly and then disinfected if we want to achieve our goal of killing bacteria and viruses from these critical touch points.