One of the more frustrating parts of cleaning and disinfection is that we can’t actually see whether the job has been done properly. Due to the microscopic nature of most pathogens, the first hint that our infection prevention program isn’t working might be a disease outbreak, at which point it’s already too late. For this reason, we need to rely on environmental monitoring techniques to make sure harmful pathogens are actually being eliminated on surfaces throughout the facility. Here we’ll break down how a simple monitoring program can be implemented to ensure that your cleaning and disinfection protocol is protecting your plants as well as your team from the threat of infection.
There are a number of ways to perform environmental monitoring on your surfaces, and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. Microbiological methods (i.e., swabbing the surface and culturing microorganisms on a plate) will tell you what types of microorganisms are on the surface, but require several hours to days to produce results, and require a certain level of expertise to perform properly.
On the other hand, ATP bioluminescence testing doesn’t provide a profile of the types of organisms on a surface, but will give you a quick snapshot of the overall cleanliness of the surface. It is easy to use, and produces an instant result. Live pathogens on a surface, including fungi and bacteria, produce a molecule called ATP, which can be detected by swabbing a surface and measuring with an ATP meter. However,ATP can be found in many other types of organic material, which includes food, body fluids and other natural substances as well. Therefore,this test will give you a sense of the overall bioburden on the surface, which can include microorganisms in addition to other organic contamination. ATP and microbiological methods can work together to provide a convenient, yet effective monitoring program.
When selecting an ATP meter, work with the manufacturer or sales rep to get the appropriate training. Every ATP meter is unique, and may require special considerations to make sure it is being used properly. For instance, the swabs may need to be kept refrigerated and shaken for multiple seconds before inserting into the meter.
Identify which surfaces in your facility will need to be tested, and the frequency that testing will need to happen. High-risk surfaces for pathogen transmission, such as growing tables or trimmers, which will come in direct contact with your plants, should be tested more frequently. On the other hand, surfaces such as walls may only need to be tested periodically, rather than after each cleaning procedure.
Work with the manufacturer of your ATP meter to determine PASS/FAIL readings that make sense for your facility. As a general rule, you should perform your normal cleaning and disinfection procedure and collect multiple samples for each surface. Your manufacturer will be able to advise how your baseline data can be used to set appropriate limits. While you may come across pre-set limit recommendations for your meter, these may be based on different industries such as food production or healthcare, where the needs for environmental cleaning may not reflect those of cannabis facilities. Therefore, it’s important for every facility to determine these limits independently.
If you have the capability, microbiological swabbing can be used to confirm these limits by seeing how they correlate to actual contamination of microorganisms on the surface. This will allow you to ensure that your PASS limit is within an acceptable range of actual surface contamination.
  • Once your baseline readings have been established, you’re ready to start with regular testing. Keep track of your readings for each surface over time, to allow you to spot trends in contamination of your surfaces, and whether changes to your protocols might be needed. Often, ATP meter manufacturers may offer a software program to make this process easy.
  • If you notice a spike in your readings for a particular surface, or experience a disease outbreak, microbiological swabbing can help you get to the bottom of what is causing the issue. ATP testing and micro-swabbing can complement one another in building a convenient yet robust monitoring program.
Although no validation system is perfect, using ATP testing, in combination with microbiological swabbing, can help provide an added level of comfort that your cleaning and disinfection protocol is protecting your plants and your production team against infection.