Cleaning can be defined as the removal of substances and germs from objects and surfaces. Referring back to the CDC’s statement, HTOs in non-critical care areas should be cleaned daily.
Disinfecting is defined as killing germs on objects and surfaces. Disinfecting is a normal requirement in critical care areas of healthcare facilities when there is a known outbreak of communicable disease, and is part of the cleaning process when blood or other potentially infectious material is present in the facility. Dwell times for disinfectants means increased labor hours over the course of the contract.
Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on HTOs to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. In addition, sanitizers require much shorter dwell times.
Where does sanitizing fit into this discussion? Picture this: you walk into a restaurant and while you are waiting to be seated, you observe a person with weeping mouth sores drinking iced tea. That person finishes their tea, sets the glass down and departs. As luck would have it, you are served iced tea in that same glass, however you are safe from the germs that caused the mouth sores. What did the kitchen personnel do to the glass to protect you? Disinfect? No, they cleaned and sanitized the glass. Typically, a glass is allowed to air dry after being dipped into the sanitizer.
Therefore, you might draw the conclusion that cleaning and sanitizing HTOs in non-critical care areas is an acceptable, even good practice. After all, we are not eating or drinking from push plates and door handles.
However, studies show germs contaminate and survive on objects that are frequently touched by hands. For example, MRSA can survive on hard surfaces for months. These germs are efficiently picked up by hands and transferred to the mouth or to open areas on the skin. Even after hand washing, clean hands become contaminated after touching infected surfaces.
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Source: Skip Seal, Trainer and Consultant–9/6/2013