Is ATP testing always being used correctly in the cleaning sector??
Used correctly, ATP testing can be a powerful tool to ensure that high standards of cleanliness are maintained. Like many unregulated systems, however, ATP can be used as a tool to gain business. As we do not believe this should ever happen, we have attempted to explain how it should be correctly employed.
The use of ATP testing in the commercial cleaning sector seems to be growing, especially with the advent of stronger disinfectants and anti-virus barrier products. But is the method being used in the way that it was intended?
We have recently seen posts on LinkedIn where cleaning companies are offering ATP as a way for facility managers to gauge if their cleaning contractor or in-house cleaning team are operating correctly. How this works is the company offers to come in and test areas, often free of charge. Swab tests are taken and readings are shown. The reading may register a fail in cleanliness standards, so it is only to be expected that the facilities manager would be rightly concerned and question the standard of workmanship.
However, there are some very important points to consider before jumping to any conclusions. Firstly, how long since the tested area was last cleaned, and how heavy was the footfall within or usage of the tested area? Office cleaning, for example, is often carried out after hours. If the test is undertaken on the following day, it is fair to assume that a certain level of re-contamination will exist on the surface. Therefore, a high reading would not necessarily mean that the surface had not been cleaned properly the evening before.
And what level has the ATP testing machine been set to? There is currently no legal RLU standard set for this, and for a very good reason. It’s impossible to be able to set a regulated standard over so many different industry sectors. For instance, a hospital involved with sterile services will have very different challenges and needs when compared to an airline company, and will therefore require very different RLU limits. Typically, limits are set according to the individual industry guidelines, or an understanding of acceptable levels within the testing environment. But it’s an area that is open to misuse. To deliberately set a low reading on an ATP to produce a fail would suggest at best, a misunderstanding of ATP testing, and at worse, dishonest practice to gain contracts.
So what is the purpose of ATP testing, and how should it be used correctly in the commercial cleaning sector?
The most common use of ATP is for industries such as the food and drink sector, where very high levels of cleanliness and safety are mandatory, and any contamination within products would cost the business dearly. So before production is commenced, the working areas would be thoroughly cleansed then the RLU on the ATP machine set to the recognised standard for food production. Any areas failing to reach this standard after the ATP test would be cleaned again until the correct level is reached.
For commercial cleaning, the key is to understand the required level of the environment being cleaned and tested. Once a benchmark is set, management can make good use of ATP to ensure that correct cleaning procedures are being reached.
ATP testing is particularly effective for Antimicrobial Surface Protection products. which provide a barrier against viruses and other harmful bacteria, as they need a clean surface to bond correctly