Keeping the Flu and Colds at Bay with Proper Sanitation in Schools

Millions got sick. Over a hundred thousand were sent to the hospital. More than ten thousand dead. These frightening statistics sound like something from a war report or terrorist attack, but in fact, these numbers describe the estimated impact of a flu season in the United States. Final data from the 2017-2018 season is coming in and the numbers are expected to be just as bleak and maybe worse.

In addition to the human toll, flu and other illnesses hurt the economy with reduced productivity and lost money – lots of money. Last year’s flu accounted for 32 million missed school days and $9.4 billion in financial losses. For schools, notorious for rapidly spreading germs, lost productivity means a heavier workload when staff go home sick and the remaining employees try to do their jobs. A flu outbreak at a school can be so widespread that schools may close down completely as dozens did in early 2018.

If a school district, perhaps already facing budget cuts or hiring freezes, faces a severe flu outbreak among the employees, particularly the custodians, there may not be enough people to clean the facilities. Their absence from work puts others at risk for illness as school restrooms aren’t cleaned and cafeteria surface sanitation is poor. If you doubt that reductions in custodial staff can affect the health of children, read the news stories from the Chicago Sun Times earlier this year on cleanliness problems at Chicago Public Schools.  The resulting decrease in staff left some schools with unclean cafeterias, dirty bathrooms, and dead pests not being removed.

When staff are able to clean, targeting the most germ covered areas gives custodians the most fighting power for their time spent. The National Education Association (NEA) cites a study from a Michigan school where scientists measured the number of aerobic bacteria per inch of surface area. The water fountain was far and away the most germ laden location in the school giving cleaners a good starting point. Interestingly though, a cafeteria tray and plate were more than 10X germier than a toilet seat and 40X more germ covered than a student’s hand. After the water fountain, the data tells us the cafeteria is the next place to disinfect. The EPA’s “Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Targeted Disinfecting in the Cafeteria and Kitchen” advises “[s]chool cafeterias and kitchens contain numerous high-touch surfaces and little time between meal rotations, making them susceptible to the spread of infectious diseases.”

The need for cleaning to reduce school illnesses is clear and making sure those responsible for cleaning are properly trained is paramount. Most schools have cleaning handbooks or infection control policies in place, but often a custodian’s understanding of cleaning techniques and products comes from what worked in the past and not necessarily what cleans or disinfects properly. For example, in a rush to clean a school bathroom, staff may use glass cleaners on door handles, sinks, or toilets because objects look and smell clean after being wiped down. In cafeterias there are so many nooks and crannies in food service equipment, cooking utensils, and around serving stations that wiping down surfaces properly simply takes too much time. So much time that staff can be quick to hit the high spots, but fail to get in the hard to reach areas where germs and mold colonize. Using too much water when wiping down kitchen equipment leads to water dripping into sections of equipment out of sight from custodial staff. Unless the cleaning water has a disinfectant mixed in, the water can combine with hidden food particles and mold can begin to grow.

Goodway’s BioSpray Surface Sanitation System offers a less labor intensive and more effective surface sanitation method. This system uses a carbon dioxide canister to propel an isopropyl alcohol based disinfectant and sanitizer onto visible surfaces and into unseen corners of the kitchen. No need to wipe down each and every surface with sanitizer, no risk of mixing the disinfectant improperly, and no chance of excess moisture causing mold. The disinfectant/sanitizer used in the sanitation system, Biospray-D2, is EPA approved and does not need to be wiped off after it is sprayed. Cleaning staff lightly spray all of the kitchen surfaces and after a few minutes the product evaporates and kills 99.999% of detectable pathogens. Goodway’s BioSpray Surface Sanitation System can be used beyond the cafeteria in other high-germ places like gyms, locker rooms, and school healthcare rooms. Their system provides the easiest and most effective way to safely sanitize areas to prevent the spread of sickness.

As the 2018-2019 flu season approaches, we shouldn’t forget the human and economic toll the flu wrought on the United States last year. Flu and other illnesses hospitalize millions and kill thousands each year including children who catch the virus at school. Cleaning and maintenance staff working together with school administrators can implement proper sanitizing procedures in high-touch areas like desks, gymnasiums, water fountains and cafeterias. Using the correct tools and disinfectants/sanitizers like Goodway’s BioSpray Surface Sanitation System can make a difference in the quality of the school year for the students and staff by keeping them well and at school.

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