Raising the Standard of Clean in Environmental Services Part I

I cannot tell you how many times a day people walk into our office, sniff the air and say, “Wow, it smells really nice and clean in here”. I am always flattered and glad to hear this. We are a janitorial services company after all, so keeping things clean is our bread and butter. However, as nice as it is to hear these compliments, the fact that our office smells pleasantly of “Trade Winds” has almost nothing to do with how clean it actually is. (Another example of this can be seen in Fabreze’s most recent series of commercials.)

Well then, how can you know a place is clean when it really counts? In a hospital or your doctor’s office, for example? Most people look at the condition of the floors and the overall level of tidiness. If the floors are shiny and waxed, people tend to assume that the rest of the place is clean. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Fundamentally, there is a difference between something looking clean and being clean. Looking clean is just that – all in appearance. Things are orderly. There is no noticeable dirt or dust. Whether or not a surface is actually clean, depends on what organic material is present on the surface (the bioload). Generally, a bioload lower than 250 relative light units is considered clean since it is virtually impossible to remove all organic matter from a surface. In healthcare facilities, it is essential to have a systematic cleaning program with the measurable goal of lowering the bioload and eliminating pathogens. Check out our before-and-after video to see a practical demonstration of this.

Why is proper cleaning so essential? Dr. Keith Woeltje from the Washington University School of Medicine discussed this issue in a presentation for the CDC on “The Role of the Environment”. He shared that in one study, only 24% of hospitals tested using ATP bioluminescence were actually clean even though 82% looked like they were. Another study found that only 50% of hospitals were cleaning high-touch surfaces in a way that effectively removed pathogens. He concluded that “just because things aren’t grossly soiled, doesn’t mean they are not harboring pathogens.”

Dr. Woeltje went on to emphasize the seriousness of this issue by citing a series of studies that demonstrate the practical implications of this kind of negligence. These studies showed that if the previous occupant of a room had a healthcare associated infection (HAI), the next occupant of that room was on average 120% more likely to contract that same illness. Specifically, if the previous patient had MRSA, the next patient is 50% more likely to get it. With VRE, C. diff, and Acinetobacter these rates were 170%, 100%, and 300% respectively. Grim statistics indeed.

In our next post, we will discuss practical steps your hospital or healthcare facility can take to ensure that it not only looks but is clean.