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Call for Health-Based Cleaning in Correctional Facilities
By Dawn Shoemaker
Published: 03/30/2009

Shari-in-kitchen-1 Editors Note: Corrections.com author, Dawn Shoemaker, is a researcher and writer for the professional cleaning industry. Dawn can be reached at info@alturasolutions.com..

Each year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits approximately 2,500 prisons, detention centers, and correctional facilities around the world that house approximately half a million people. The reason for the visits, among other things, is to assess water quality as well as the overall cleanliness and sanitation of these facilities with the aim of improving both the conditions and treatment of detainees where needed.

What they are finding is quite disappointing. "Existing infrastructures can't deal with rising prison populations [worldwide], and the problem is getting worse across the board," says Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC's Water and Habitat Unit. "Too often, communities turn a blind eye to what goes on inside their prisons, but everyone has a fundamental right to use a proper toilet, eat healthy food, and drink safe water, including people behind bars. Ensuring adequate living conditions is also one of the best ways to prevent illnesses from spreading among inmates, as well as to the outside population."

Developing more hygienic, health-based cleaning practices has long been a concern in medical facilities where the spread of infection and concerns about such diseases as nosocomial illnesses, MRSA, C. diff, and others are paramount. But now, many of these diseases have become “community based,” meaning they are increasingly developing in nonmedical locations such as schools, gyms, and correctional facilities.

To help prevent them and stop the spread of illness, detention centers are encouraged to seek more appropriate, sustainable, and effective ways to keep not only inmates but also correctional staff safe and healthy.

Aesthetic appearance of a facility is no longer the standard or acceptable in determining whether a building is clean and healthy. Instead, health-based or hygienic cleaning, a concept that has been growing in attention and implementation in the professional cleaning industry, is now recognized as the most effective way to determine if a surface or facility is clean and healthy. The call for hygienic cleaning has been fostered by such organizations as the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI), which believes we must scientifically prove that a cleaning product, procedure, or system effectively removes soils and disease-causing microbials from environmental surfaces.

“What we are realizing is that the use of such simple products as color-coded microfiber cleaning cloths, certain cleaning systems, and the use of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) surface monitoring equipment, can help keep a facility hygienically—and scientifically—clean,” says Matt Morrison, communications manager for Kaivac, Inc., manufacturers of no-touch cleaning tools and equipment. “And all of these [products] are as applicable to a correctional facility as they are a medical center.”

Matter Removal
Science has now proven what many cleaning professionals have suspected for eons: wiping surfaces with rags, sponges, and conventional cleaning cloths along with mopping floors with “string” mops and buckets can spread as many contaminants as they remove. In fact, scientific studies have concluded that the last surface cleaned with a conventional cleaning cloth, which is usually a terrycloth towel, may have two to as much as eight times more soil on it than the first surface cleaned with the towel. “Essentially what is happening is the towel then becomes the conduit, spreading disease and contamination,” says Morrison.

What many facility managers are finding is that a relatively simple way around this problem is to use microfiber towels that are labeled into quadrants—1 to 4 on one side and 5 to 8 on the other— and can be folded as needed by numbered quadrant. Microfiber is 99 percent more effective at soil and matter retention than conventional cleaning cloths, according to Peter Sheldon Sr*., CBSE, “and if it can be folded into quadrants, as [one quadrant] becomes soiled, it can be folded so that a fresh quadrant is used,” adds Morrison. “This helps prevent cross contamination.”

Taking this a step further, many facilities including detention centers are now using what are often termed “smart towels” because they are color-coded in addition to having quadrants marked. Color-coding cleaning tools has long been standard procedure in hospitals around the world. It assures that a red towel, for instance, is always used to clean areas such as toilets and urinals whereas a green towel is used in food service areas and a yellow towel to wipe clean office desktops. “Not only is this the next step in helping to stop the spread of infection,” Morrison adds, “but color-coding is not language dependent. Once the cleaning worker knows which towel is to be used for what surface, the cleaning product is no longer the instrument spreading disease.”

Smart towels, along with spray-and-vac cleaning technology, also used in detention centers, further ensure that surfaces such as restroom and locker room fixtures, counters, and floors are both visually and hygienically clean, according to Morrison. Spray-and-vac cleaning generally entails using specially designed cleaning equipment to apply chemicals to areas to be cleaned. The same areas are then rinsed, loosening and helping to remove soils and contaminants that are vacuumed using the machine’s built-in wet/dry system.

In correction center settings, we often find spray-and-vac systems used to clean food service areas, dining rooms, holding cells/cells, infirmaries, and locker room/gym areas. Along with more thorough, hygienic cleaning, a benefit administrators appreciate is the fact that using this system tends to speed-up the cleaning process so that areas are ready to be re-used quickly.

The Test for Contaminants
Health-based, hygienic cleaning would likely not be possible if not for the development, advancement, and application of ATP technology. “ATP is a universal energy molecule found in all animal, plant, bacterial, yeast, and mold cells,” says Morrison. “The energy in ATP is luminescent, which can be detected on ATP monitoring systems.”

At one time these tests were relatively slow, taking one or two days for results to be determined, required a computer the size of a desktop or larger, and had to be conducted by a trained worker. However, today these systems are much faster, the test can be preformed by virtually any worker, and the actual ATP device is about the size of a television remote control.

“Because disease-causing microbials contain ATP, detecting it on a surface is often a red flag that contamination may be present,” explains Morrison. “The test results take less than 15 seconds, allowing managers of correctional facilities to know very quickly if contaminants are present on a surface and if additional cleaning measures must be taken.”

Prisons can be breeding grounds for infection. As referenced earlier, the ICRC reports that this situation appears to be getting worse instead of better. Overcrowding, lengthy confinement, and poorly maintained and often inadequately cleaned facilities all contribute to the spread of disease and ill health.

Some sociologists say that the quality and advancement of a society can be determined by how it keeps its prisons. Although health-based, hygienic cleaning systems cannot solve all detention center problems and conditions, they are a big step in raising the standards, protecting and promoting health, and positively impacting the health and welfare of our communities.

[* Peter Sheldon Sr., CBSE, is Vice President of Operations of Coverall Cleaning Concepts. He is also involved with organizations such as Building Services Contractors International, ASHES, International Executive Housekeepers Association, Cleaning Management and Maintenance Institute, International Franchise Association, and Building Owners and Managers Association.]


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