A new study of U.S. hotel room hygiene has found that potentially dangerous bacteria can lurk on surfaces such as TV remotes and lamp switches. These results, say researchers, show that the hospitality industry - the nation’s third largest industry - must move beyond visual inspections.
Researchers collected samples from nine hotel rooms in three American states. Team members checked 19 different spots per room for aerobic bacteria and coliform bacteria, which is associated with fecal matter.
The most contaminated surfaces weren’t always the most obvious ones. In addition to toilet seats and bathroom sink counters, surfaces with the highest bacteria counts included TV remotes and bedside lamp switches, as well as sponges and mops from cleaning carts.
That last finding is especially worrisome, says Katie Kirsch, a University of Houston undergraduate who helped conduct the study, because if housekeeping carts are infected, they have the potential to cross-contaminate rooms.
Kirsch and her colleagues recommend that hotels adopt a system called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Thirty years ago, NASA and the Pillsbury food company created HACCP to ensure safe meals for astronauts.
Today it is used by livestock slaughterhouses, food manufacturers and restaurants around the world to identify high-risk steps in food processing and handling, and to create protocols to reduce bacterial contamination.
Joe McInerney, head of a large hotel industry trade association, isn’t convinced there’s a problem. The risk of spreading disease in a hotel room, he says, is "as significant a risk as opening the front door or walking into a restaurant."
Some hotels, however, have already embraced high-tech cleaning. In May, Best Western announced plans to equip its housekeepers with ultraviolet wands and black lights. The wands sterilize telephones, switches and door handles. The black lights reveal biological matter that the human eye can’t see.
Company official Ron Pohl said the program is a way "to help ensure customer satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, trust."