Putting Clean to The Test!

November 13, 2020

Written by Laurie Holmes, ISSA CMI Certified Personal Trainer

In light of the COVID 19 event, it is imperative that schools adopt a regimented cleaning program. Now more than ever it is vital that school districts also apply a quantitative as well as scientific way to measure their level of cleanliness throughout their facilities.

One such method of measurement is known as ATP Testing and has been widely used by both the food and healthcare industries. ATP stands for Adenosine Triphosphate and was first discovered in the late 1920’s. However, this technology did not come into play as a tool to measure cleanliness until the late 1980’s, into the 90’s. Early models, much like the original cell phone, were bulky, cumbersome, and not easily transported. Yes, I am dating myself and if you can picture the original cell phone (aka bag phone) then you, too, are chuckling over that nostalgic vison. Today’s models are streamlined, ergonomically friendlier, and coincide with data storage capabilities.

ATP defined is simply an energy-carrying molecule generously found in all the cells of all living organisms. Therefore, detection of ATP on a surface is an indication that living organisms are present. A surface can appear to be clean to the naked eye, and even feel clean to the touch, but is it absolutely free of pathogenic microbes?

How does it work? A swab (sampler) is used on a small area on a predetermined surface to collect a sample. Next the swab is inserted into a tube so that it can be mixed with a reagent. The reagent (Luciferin/Luciferase) mixes with the ATP sample and produces light. This amount of light is measured by a luminometer and translates to RLU’s (Relative Light Units)

The same chemical reaction we see in fireflies.

The higher the RLU’s that register, the higher the amount of ATP is associated with that test site. This process takes less than 60 seconds to perform, providing real time data vs sampling that takes days to grow in a lab, for example.

I was first introduced to ATP Testing while I was an instructor at Keystone Technical Institute. I met a gentleman with whom I immediately struck up a conversation, based on our love of destroying pathogens. Who even says that? The girl who spent 6 ½ years managing the laparoscopic surgical instruments at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, that is who! Not long after I met Baron, I asked that he come do a discussion with my Sterile Processing students at KTI. He demonstrated ATP Testing and I was completely enthralled. As he sampled a variety of surfaces and got ridiculously high readings, we were all wowed at the levels that registered. He applied simple cleaning procedures, retested the same sites, and was able to illustrate how you could reduce the count significantly. I was SOLD!

Fast forward to 2018 when I joined the Americhem team as their Health, Wellness, & Safety Specialist. Not long after I was brought on, I recall a conversation with our President, Kurt Amig. He mentioned ATP Testing and I lit up! I said, “Oh, I’m familiar with that technology!” Kurt suggested we use a particular brand by the name of Neogen. I reached out to Neogen and that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, so to speak!

Hands down this system provides consistent readings, a user-friendly testing unit, data storage, and a patented flat surface swab (providing a more comprehensive collection sample). In addition to that, the Neogen’s team is well above par in regard to their support and training.

As I was researching information to write this article, I found a list of considerations when making an ATP system purchase. The final suggestion was stated as follows:

“An ATP testing kit is only as good as the operator using it. The operator using a test kit is only as good as the support from the manufacturer or vendor selling it. Without appropriate training, educational and technical support, investing in an ATP system can be frustrating and nonproductive. It goes without saying that this may be the most important selling point when considering a unit.” Forensic sanitarian Robert W. Powitz, Ph.D., MPH, RS, CFSP

Additional considerations include:

  • Data storage/software capabilities
  • User friendly
  • Ease of calibration, validation, & reproducibility of results
  • Distributor/vendor support
  • Testing environments/easy to transport from site to site
  • Availability of consumables and cost
  • Time commitment for adequate training

We have had the pleasure of assisting several of the school districts we work with, to pair them up with the Neogen program. So, over the past few days I put on my reporter’s hat to ask how the program is working and what their take on the process is.

Here is what they had to say…

Karisa Lehman ~ Carlisle Area School District

“We used in between hybrid sessions to evaluate our cleaning processes. Helped us to pay attention to high touch areas as well as identify trouble spots.” Karisa said the system is easy to use, reporting data is user friendly, and she was able to quickly upload data to send reports to upper management. She also mentioned how impressed she was with the Neogen team. She will continue to do the test over the next few months to create consistency. She will then pass the testing baton to other staff members to continue the program. As she has been testing in classrooms teachers have taken notice and ask what she is doing. With confidence she can say…” validating our cleaning methods.” Joe Wachter ~ Shippensburg Area School District

"We have tested several surfaces at each school.  We have found our staff is doing a great job.  Most of the readings have been in the 200ppm range.  There have been 2 instances that the readings came in at over 600ppm and we made the necessary corrections.  Once we get into a routine of using the system, I think it will be a great tool for us." John Connor ~ Pottstown Area School District~ Neogen Customer

In speaking with John regarding his Neogen experience, he said that Alice from Neogen made the transition too easy! She took all the data such as building, area, test site, etc. and uploaded all of it for them. He realized he had missed a location and he was able to quickly add the site and sync it to his reader. He said that they are in a voluntary phase, so they only have students with special needs attending. The teachers are cleaning in between classes so John will come in and test a variety of desks, some passing and some not so much. John made a point to say this is not a witch hunt or a way of pointing out what someone has done wrong, but rather a teaching tool with the goal of achieving improvement.

In conclusion, as they say, perception is reality. What better way to ease the anxiety of your staff, students, and, most importantly, parents? When I taught at KTI, I often told my students, “You cannot effect change without data.” Using Neogen ATP testing is a clear way to set standards and establish benchmarks. This is a time to be proactive vs. reactive. None of us want to be put in the position we were back in March!  

If you need further information on ATP testing and how this technology works, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at laurieh@americhem.net or 717.939.7100  x26. Remember: feedback is a gift, and this technology affords learning opportunities to help your districts focus and prioritize on successful cleaning and disinfection programs.


Category: Food Safety, Healthcare, Public Health, University & Research, Environmental Monitoring, Sanitation & Hygiene