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a woman holding on to a building's clean staircase railing to prevent the spread of germs

How To Keep Your Facility Flu-Free

  • As the days get darker and temperatures continue to dip lower, it’s inevitable that everyone you know starts coughing, causing cold and flu germs to spread at a rapid speed. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, an average of five to 20 percent of the United States population becomes infected with the flu every year.[i]

    During the flu season, facility managers and their custodial staff are the first line of defense for germ containment. As a result, they are tasked with ensuring all spaces stay properly cleaned and disinfected. Ultimately, to be successful in this effort, there are several best practices that should be integrated into every cleaning program for optimal results.

    Start with a Routine

    The first and most important step to any flu season cleaning plan is to diligently continue with the daily and ongoing routine of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing. The colder winter months also provide an opportunity to conduct a quick and thorough audit to ensure your current daily cleaning program is effective and that you are utilizing the right products for the job.

    In the facility care industry, the terms cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing are commonly used interchangeably and incorrectly. However, it’s important to know the purpose each term has in a building’s ongoing cleaning efforts. To ensure accuracy and to prevent potential misunderstandings, it’s important to remember the following:

    • Cleaning usually involves using soap and water or physical techniques to remove visible debris, dirt and dust from surfaces and objects. It’s important to remember that cleaning should occur before disinfecting or sanitizing surfaces as it does not kill germs. Instead, it assists with the overall cleaning process by removing them and decreasing the spread of infection.
    • Disinfecting uses chemicals or other means to kill germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting typically requires a longer dwell time than sanitizing and does not clean dirty surfaces. Overall, this process kills surface pathogens to help prevent the spread of infection. Disinfectant label instructions should be followed in order to comply with the requirements for proper solution preparation, surface application, pathogen efficacy, and contact time.
    • Sanitizing uses heat or chemicals to reduce the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level. Sanitizing is typically used on hot spots – such as front desks and door knobs – throughout a facility on an ongoing basis as it requires a shorter dwell time than disinfecting. Sanitizer label instructions should be followed in order to comply with the requirements for proper solution preparation, surface application, pathogen efficacy, and contact time.

    Disinfection is held to a higher standard and requires a higher percentage of kill as compared to sanitization requirements as set forth by the US EPA.

    It’s critical to use and apply each of these terms correctly in any cleaning program as disinfecting a surface rather than just cleaning it can make the critical difference in fighting the flu.

    Identify and Tackle the Hot Spots

    During the flu season, it’s important to identify a facility’s “hot spots,” or high-touch surfaces and objects for germs. Research shows the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being spread to a surface, making daily cleaning absolutely critical.[ii] Fortunately, ongoing cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting efforts will greatly increase the chances of preventing the spread of germs.

    Identifying and treating some of the most contaminated places in your facility is a critical step for attacking harmful germs. Typical hot spots include front desks, door knobs, elevator buttons, computer keyboards, bathroom paper towel dispenser handles and faucets in the bathroom sinks.

    Find the Right Solution

    Choosing the right product and using it correctly and safely go hand-in-hand, but it can be difficult to know where to start when looking for cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers. Recognizing that the product selection process can be overwhelming, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the options that best fit with your environment and cleaning goals.

    To ensure the right product selection, all cleaning staff needs to read and understand the EPA label to confirm that the product has been proven effective against the flu virus. In addition, details such as dwell time should be considered because sometimes it’s not practical to choose a disinfectant concentrate that requires a 10-minute contact time. Luckily, products such as MBS Disinfectant Cleaner Concentrates from 3M allow reduced contact times to help cleaning staff effectively disinfect any surface without disrupting the natural flow of the building.

    Understanding Product Usage

    Once the right product is selected, the next step is to ensure that it’s being used correctly, paying special attention to mandatory dwell time and the dilution factor. Dwell time is important because if the product is removed too soon, it might not kill the pathogen as indicated on the product label. Inaccurate dilution can lead to too much of a product, which could damage surfaces and overexpose guests and staff to the chemistry. Conversely, too little product may not allow for the appropriate chemical ratio needed for proper disinfection per the product label, thus exposing students and staff to harmful pathogens. A chemical management system, such as the Flow Control Chemical Management System from 3M, can help simplify the process by ensuring proper dilution and application.

    Safety also needs to be top of mind for cleaning staff when using cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers as they often call for the use of gloves or eye protection. For example, gloves should always be worn when using bleach solutions to protect the hands, and cleaners and disinfectants should never be mixed unless a label indicates that it’s safe to do so. Additionally, it’s important to ensure any staff members who use cleaners and disinfectants read all instruction labels and understand safe and appropriate use.

    Spread Awareness, Not Germs

    During the flu season, it’s vital that staff and visitors are educated on ways to avoid the flu virus. This can be accomplished by promoting the importance of hygienic practices, such as covering coughs and sneezes and hand washing. Additional efforts that can prove effective include displaying signs that promote flu safety throughout the facility, providing extra push sanitizers in high-traffic areas and encouraging workers to stay home when sick.

    During the flu season, keeping high-traffic environments clean can feel like an impossible task. Nevertheless, facility managers and cleaning staff must be prepared and focused on protecting its workers and visitors from exposure to harmful germs and illnesses.

    At the end of the day, the importance of implementing an effective cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing process during flu season cannot be overstated. However, by identifying hot spots for the spread of microbes and treating them with the appropriate products, a healthier environment can easily be achieved.