FRIDAY FUNNY: Making Peace With Bacteria

This post comes from Allen P. Rathey, President, The Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI)

The healthy facility of the future will not be at war with microbes, but will seek peaceful coexistence.

Why? Simple survival. Microbes are everywhere − and apparently life requires it. For example, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported researchers in Spain found more than 700 different types of bacteria in breast milk.

It has also been reliably stated that there are more foreign microbes on and inside us humans than there are cells of our bodies.

Biotech companies such as Novozymes, have isolated beneficial microbes from all parts of the world, and − in a high-tech version of farming ─ raised friendly bacteria in large quantities for harvesting enzymes they produce.

Production worker filling drum with enzymes. (Photo: Novozymes.)
Production worker filling drum with enzymes. (Photo: Novozymes.)

Bacteria make and release enzymes to digest their food. When the food for these ‘probiotic’ organisms happens to be a common soil we want to remove, we can harness their voracious appetites for useful purposes.

Most cold water laundry detergents work largely because bacteria from frigid climates have been isolated, farmed, and their enzymes harvested for cleaning our laundry in cold water.

So, what is the facilities professional charged with cleaning and maintenance to do with this information? Understand there is more to be gained from working with nature than against it.

Science has discovered beneficial microbes that – like a microbial Pacman game ─ will eat many of the common soils in our buildings. For example, there are bacteria that consume oils typically found in commercial kitchens, so applying a cleaning solution containing these friendly germs in spore form to a tile floor including grout inoculates the floor with a microscopic workforce that stays on the job for many hours after the human janitors have left the kitchen.

It has been demonstrated that microbes are so effective at consuming grease that the slip coefficient of the floor rises over time. Translation – free labor!

Of course, we need to remove and control pathogens, so cleaning and disinfection will always be part of our toolbox to make environments healthier.

But we do not want to poison or attempt to destroy all germs. As Philip M. Tierno, Jr, PhD, Director, Clinical Microbiology & Immunology, New York University Medical Center, and Associate Professor, Departments of Microbiology & Pathology, New York University School of Medicine said in his book, The Secret Life of Germs:

First, we must understand the important role that germs play as recyclers of complex organic matter on planet Earth, and in the maintenance of our own health. Germs in the normal human flora can prevent establishment of pathogenic germs in our bodies and also provide us with nutritive materials. Therefore, we must never entertain the notion that all germs are bad and should be eliminated. That is neither possible nor desirable. Because germs are ubiquitous (including in and on human beings), we must learn to live with them. Hence our protective strategy should be focused on reducing the risks of infection.

Remember to thank your yogurt as an immediate example of how bacteria are our friends, that the microbial good guys outnumber the bad, and they can help us cleanup − naturally.