Eliminating Harmful Microorganisms from Retail Environments

Many surfaces that seem clean may actually be teeming with microorganisms that have a natural tendency to form communities called biofilms. Biofilms quickly adhere to and contaminate surfaces, and then spread to new areas as the cells inside further disperse. Although many microorganisms within biofilms are harmless, some are pathogens that can threaten the safety of individuals or food prepared near the contaminated surface.

Environments such as drains, mop buckets, HVAC systems, bathrooms, and kitchens are prone to biofilms due to their frequent contact with moisture and soil. Retail and foodservice environments must conduct cleaning whenever surfaces appear soiled and at least every 24 hours or more frequently. For some surfaces, such as a food slicer in a deli, cleaning should occur every four hours.

Understanding biofilms in more detail can help businesses better control them and keep customers safe.

A TACTic for controlling biofilms

To control biofilms, it’s important to focus on four variables (time, action, chemical and temperature) during the cleaning process. Each can affect how much of a biofilm is removed.

  • Time: Generally, the longer a cleaning chemical is exposed to a biofilm, the greater the response will be. In the long run, rushing your cleaning or skipping hard-to-reach areas will only encourage biofilm formation.
  • Action: In most cases, more mechanical action during cleaning will remove a biofilm more easily. However, excessive mechanical action does carry risk, as it can inadvertently spread the biofilm’s organisms to other surfaces. Too much force can also damage surfaces, leaving scratches and dents that provide a new place for microscopic organisms and soil to dwell.
  • Chemical: With chemicals, it is important to follow a manufacturer’s instructions and correctly use the appropriate product for the soiled area and the surface. Otherwise, you risk damaging a surface or leaving a film behind, such as soap scum.
  • Temperature: Higher temperatures usually result in greater biofilm removal.  However, when temperatures are too high, you can degrade the chemicals with which you are cleaning. This may deactivate enzymes or drive solvents out of the cleaning solution. Also, it is possible that soils can be baked onto a surface, making cleaning much more difficult.

Biofilm best practices

Once you understand TACT cleaning variables, apply the following best practices to reduce the presence of biofilms in your facilities.

Educate employees: Educate employees about biofilms and their effects in addition to providing training so workers can control the formation and spread of biofilms.

Consult before cleaning: Discuss which chemicals are best for your particular environment with your chemical partner. From acidic cleaners to alkaline cleaners, there are a variety of products that will have different effects on different surfaces and soils. Your chemical supplier can also help you understand the best way to use the chemicals and get the best possible performance from them.

Clean, then sanitize and disinfect: Cleaning a surface prior to applying sanitizers and disinfectants removes soils that can affect the biocidal performance of these products. On their own, sanitizers and disinfectants cannot control biofilms, but they provide an extra measure of security. Remember not to misapply or apply too much of a sanitizer or disinfectant.

Look for problematic areas: Because microorganisms need water to survive, biofilms are usually found where there is an abundance of water. Inspect your facility for areas where water may collect such as on floors, floor mats, counters and equipment and keep these areas as dry as possible.

Biofilms, although often unseen, can easily become problematic bacteria-infested communities intent on spreading from surface to surface. Facilities must take measures to limit the impact of biofilms. To learn more about maintaining cleanliness in facilities, visit Diversey’s booth (#1008) at the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 8-11.

For more information about food retail solutions from Diversey, visit https://diversey.com/solution-finder/food-retail