Infection Control: Take Steps to Limit Risk


Efficacious aseptic processes have long been the cleaning standard in residential healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, where the risks of nosocomial infection and the spread of pathogenic microorganisms are high. However, with growing pathogenic threats such as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus showing up in high population-density environments, such as prisons and jails, there is a significant and pressing need to extend to correctional facilities the type of aseptic cleaning protocols traditionally reserved for the hospital setting.

In recent years, cross-contamination prevention and aseptic cleaning procedures have received a lot of media attention, prompting several large commercial cleaning contractors to conduct research and develop environmental services programs targeted at non-healthcare facilities.

The commercial cleaning industry is under pressure to become more sophisticated. Comprehensive training on cleaning standards and procedures and infection-control guidelines can transform janitors and custodians — the first line of defense against serious health risks arising in our communities — into environmental service professionals.

Judging a facility’s level of cleanliness by mere aesthetic appearance is no longer the standard. All correctional facilities should have stringent protocols that must be followed to protect inmates and staff from infection.

A true environmental services program provides a comprehensive cleaning system that focuses on cleaning at the microbial level. To accomplish this, companies are adopting more advanced cleaning technologies and strategies, such as hospital-grade disinfectants for pathogenic microorganism eradication; microfiber cleaning equipment and color-coded protocols for organism isolation and cross-contamination mitigation; multi-filtration vacuums for enhanced indoor air quality; and no-touch cleaning systems for comprehensive soil/matter removal.

Disinfectant Chemistry

The first step to realizing an effective environmental services program is appropriate disinfectant chemistry — such as a quaternary-based, hospital-grade disinfectant — to kill bacteria and microbes that lurk unseen by the human eye.

But what happens to those germs once they have been killed? With traditional cleaning methods, very few of those dead cells are actually removed. Standard cleaning cloths utilized by most janitorial services spread germs around and leave the dead cells to become a rich food source for the next crop of microorganisms.

Microfiber cleaning cloths, which can be up to 99 percent more effective than traditional cleaning cloths in eradicating pathogenic bacteria, spores and other micro-organisms, have tiny fibers that make the fabric extra absorbent to trap and contain dead microbes at the point of contact.

Taking environmental services program cleaning a step further, several commercial cleaning contractors employ a color-coded system for cleaning equipment to avoid cross-contamination. Rather than using the same microfiber cloth or flat mop for bathroom and dayroom space or hallways, cleaning professionals use different cloths and mops for specific areas of a facility. A well-maintained color-coding protocol ensures that soil and matter from one area are not spread to other areas of the facility.

Environmental Services Tips

There are many components to an effective environmental services program, and strict guidelines must be followed to ensure the health and safety of patients, staff and visitors. In evaluating an environmental services program or contractor for effective infection control and cross-contamination prevention procedures, a facility manager should focus on the following critical systems and program elements:

  • Hospital-grade disinfectant cleaning chemicals should be used on all high-touch surface points and at-risk areas. Chemicals should be clearly and accurately labeled and a current compendium of Material Safety Data Sheets maintained on site for emergency response.
  • Each cleaning process should be designed for soil/matter containment and removal. Post-sanitation, a neutral odor should exist throughout the facility, particularly in restrooms. There should be no foul odors, a potential indicator of bacterial presence, or perfumed odors that could help hide the presence of bacteria. 
  • Microfiber technology should be used in all cleaning cloths and mopping programs to increase soil and matter containment, retention and removal. 
  • Strict color-coding systems should be used for all cleaning equipment to reduce cross contamination.
  • Hard-surface, single-dip flat mopping technology should be used to increase efficiency, improve soil removal and reduce cross-contamination.
  • Sanitation personnel should wear proper personal protective equipment and adhere to rigorous hand-washing and glove-changing protocols at all times. 
  • No-touch spray and multiple-filtration, high-efficiency vacuum systems should be used whenever possible to limit cross-contamination and enhance indoor air quality. 
  • Program effectiveness should be measured through the use of scientific tools rather than aesthetic appearance.

Correctional facilities, by their very nature, are at significant risk of hosting communicable disease outbreaks that can readily and rapidly spread beyond the confines of secure perimeters to the community at large. The clear and present danger for such scenarios places a critical obligation on correctional facilities to adopt and maintain effective environmental services programs.

Facility managers must mandate, implement and monitor stringent standards, guidelines, systems and protocols to ensure effective systematic infection control, prevent cross-contamination and safeguard the health and safety of inmates, staff, visitors and local communities.

Peter J. Sheldon Sr., CBSE, is vice president of operations at Coverall Cleaning Concepts, which specializes in environmental services programs in the healthcare industry. Contact: Coverall at