Rethinking Healthcare

Most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms

Most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms

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What else is up there with toilets and bathroom sinks? You might be surprised. A new study examining fecal bacteria tries to offer a scientific basis to hotel housekeeping.

This isn’t meant to freak travelers out. You see, during every 8-hour shift, housekeepers clean 14-16 rooms, spending about half an hour on each room…

And identifying high-risk items in a hotel room would allow managers to strategically design cleaning practices, allocating time to efficiently reduce potential health risks posed by microbial contamination, according to researcher Katie Kirsch at the University of Houston.

They sampled nearly 20 different surfaces from hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana, and South Carolina. And then tested the levels of total aerobic and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on each of the surfaces.

About 81% of hotel room surfaces sampled held at least some fecal bacteria.

The most heavily bacteria-laden:

  • TV remote
  • bedside lamp switch
  • telephone
  • carpet
  • toilet and the bathroom sink
  • items from the housekeepers’ carts, including sponges and mops, which pose a risk for cross-contamination of rooms

Surfaces with the lowest contamination:

  • headboard on the bed
  • curtain rods
  • bathroom door handle

The researchers can’t say whether or not the bacteria detected can cause disease, however, the contamination levels are a reliable indicator of overall cleanliness. And many could pose a threat to those with compromised immune systems.

So how do housekeepers and managers tell if a hotel room is clean enough? “Visual assessment,” Kirsch says, “which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation”

Hopefully this is just the beginning of research offering a scientific basis to hotel housekeeping, she adds.

This preliminary study was designed to apply food safety’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to hotel room cleanliness for the first time. Originally developed by NASA, the system identifies potential physical, chemical, and biological hazards and designs measurements to reduce risks to safe levels.

The findings were presented at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology this week.

[Via Scientific American, ASM release]

Image by miggslives via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure