Measuring Cleaning In A Pandemic, And Beyond

One way to identify cleaning performance is through measurement, and a commonly used tool is Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Testing.

Cleaning — the process of removing unwanted matter from a surface — is essential for effective disinfection to occur. Unfortunately, not all cleaning programs are created equal, so that’s why it’s more important than ever for facility executives to look closely at the cleaning and disinfection programs as buildings reopen.

One way to identify cleaning performance is through measurement. John Richter, MSME, is Clinical Faculty Member with the Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering Department at Miami University in Oxford, OH and member of the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) Science Advisory Counsel (SAC). This was the focus of his presentation “High-Performance Cleaning — What It is and Why It is So Important” during a recent CIRI Symposium. In addition to teaching multiple engineering classes, Richter is an active engineering consultant in the cleaning industry. Facility Executive spoke with him recently about the best ways to measure cleaning in this Q&A.

John Richter, MSME
Clinical Faculty Member
Miami University
Oxford, OH

Facility Executive: Why is it important to measure cleaning?
Richter: Ronald Reagan is known for saying “trust, but verify.” With any cleaning operation, particularly right now as we look to mitigate the spread of the pandemic, you should trust that the cleaning is happening, but ultimately find some means of verifying its effectiveness. This happens through measurement.

FE: How does measurement improve cleaning?
Richter: Well, a couple of ways, but the first one is accountability. Cleaning is the process of removing unwanted matter from a surface. We can follow an employee around to see if they follow the process, but if they don’t remove the matter from the surface, there’s a deficiency somewhere in that process.

Think about someone in a sales position. They’ll likely be given a process to follow, but ultimately, their performance is ultimately judged by the amount of revenue they generate for the company. Similarly, we want to measure outcomes — the removal of dirt. When I can take measurements before and after the cleaning occurs, it allows me to quantify the outcomes.

The second reason why is process improvement. Back to the salesperson analogy, if Salesperson A sells 1,000 units and Salesperson B sells 5,000 units, Salesperson B is obviously performing better.

If Cleaner A is removing 40% of the matter and Cleaner B is removing 85%, measurement allows us to go back and look at the processes they are using. Perhaps Cleaner B has found a different tool that allows them to work more efficiently — measurement allows us to work backwards and identify best practices so we can improve processes.

FE: What’s the best method for taking these measurements?
Richter: There are many ways to measure different aspects of cleaning. For example, with slips and falls, you can use tribometry to measure the static and dynamic coefficient of friction which ultimately tells you the slip resistance of a floor.

You can also conduct air quality tests that measure particulate counts in a room. However, that’s more environmental and can be impacted by a number of factors, such as the HVAC systems in a building.

On a surface, there are various ways to measure bacteria, including taking samples of colony-forming units (CFUs) plating, but with these methods, laboratory testing is involved and it might take more than 24 hours to get the results.

One of the most commonly used measurement tools in cleaning is Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Testing. ATP is the universal energy unit of all living cells, so an ATP reading measures the total number of living organisms on a surface. This might include bacteria, skin cells, food particles, etc. ATP has been widely used throughout the foodservice and healthcare industries for many years because of its efficiency and accuracy. When you take an ATP reading, you’ll receive the results within 15 seconds.

FE: Will ATP detect viruses like coronavirus?
Richter: ATP measures the total level of living soil on a surface rather than differentiating between specific type of soil, so no, it won’t specifically detect coronavirus.

I would liken ATP technology to a blood pressure reading. No more than a blood pressure reading will tell you exactly what’s happening in your body, an ATP meter will not tell you what’s on the surface. What it does is offer you a great indicator to see if something is off that warrants further testing.

FE: What are some best practices for using ATP Technology as a measurement tool?
Richter: Because there’s variation associated with many measurement technologies, a best practice is to take multiple readings throughout the room. For example, if I’m trying to identify the cleanliness of a floor, I wouldn’t just take one data point because there’s a possibility someone just spilled a drink there.

I would take six measurements around the floor surface in the room. After cleaning, I would take another six measurements. We know from a statistical perspective that as we increase our sampling size, the statistical significance increases and the more accurate the data.

Manufacturers and suppliers provide training on best practices for using ATP technology. Any staff member who is responsible for using the device should complete the recommended training in order to capture accurate readings.

FE: Do you anticipate that ATP will be more broadly adopted in the future?
Richter: The pandemic is forcing all organizations to take a much closer look at cleaning and there’s a good chance it’s not going away anytime soon. As we look at making the most of our cleaning disinfection efforts, ATP is effective in that it helps promote greater accountability and process improvement. I hope that more people start to look at this and other strategies to improve their cleaning efforts so that we can prevent the spread of viruses and protect building occupants.

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