Alternatives to an ATP Cleaning Verification System

A female janitor wearing a dark green apron and pink rubber gloves is cleaning an office mouse for a computer with a purple rag.
ATP Cleaning Verification System

ATP cleaning verification systems have been a staple in healthcare, food processing/ manufacturing and the commercial cleaning industry since the mid-90s. They were the first portable, rugged and easy-to-use testing system that gave cleaning professionals insight into the effectiveness of their cleaning processes and efforts.

However, technology has changed dramatically since the ATP testing devices first hit the market. Now, cleaning businesses can choose cleaning verification system alternatives to ATP  that are more accurate and  more efficient.

What is a Cleaning Verification System?

Cleaning verification systems are essential to demonstrate the effectiveness of cleaning and hygiene processes. They rely on various testing methods, such as ATP testing, UV and black light kits, or glow gel, to locate residual contamination or show proof that contamination has been removed from surfaces properly.

They are used in numerous industries; some examples of these include:

  • Food manufacturers rely on verification processes to prove their sterile processing equipment is clean and their products are free from contaminants. 
  • Healthcare facilities depend on verification management tools for infection control and prevention of pathogen spread. 
  • Janitorial service providers use cleaning verification systems to monitor the efficacy of their cleaning processes, ensure their facility complies with its governing bodies’ standards, and manage their employees’ performance and skills development.

What is an ATP Cleaning Verification System?

With an ATP cleaning verification system, cleaning and facility personnel rely on ATP testing methodologies to evaluate and monitor surface cleanliness.

What is ATP?

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate; it is a compound found in the mitochondria of all living cells and organic matter. The human eye cannot see ATP, but levels of ATP can be easily detected with a testing device called a luminometer. 

What is an ATP Test?

An ATP test is a biochemical assay that detects the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 

How Does it Work?

When exposed to a bioluminescent compound, ATP creates a tiny flash of light, called a bioluminescent flash. The flash is too faint to be detected by the human eye, however, it can be detected with the luminometer.

In an ATP test, a 4×4 inch area is evenly swabbed with a pre-moistened swab containing a bioluminescent compound called Luciferin. If ATP is present on the surface, it will be gathered up onto the swab.

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Next, the swab is placed into the luminometer. If ATP is present on the swab, the flash of light it generates from exposure to the testing solution will be detected by the luminometer. The greater the amount of ATP present, the greater the reading from the luminometer.

What Does ATP Indicate?

When ATP is found on a surface, it means live cells are present on that surface. If live cells are detected, it indicates a biohazard risk may be on the surface. This is because humans are the greatest transmitter of harmful pathogens. 

When we shed skin cells from our hands, we also shed other kinds of cells that may be on our skin as well, such as flu virus or bacteria. 

Therefore, when ATP is detected, it means live human cells are present indicating a potential for bacteria or virus material to be present as well.

ATP Testing Limitations

While ATP testing devices are rapid, convenient, and portable, ATP systems are limited and can only sometimes meet the criteria of a facility’s cleaning protocols. 

Cost, difficulty of use, equipment maintenance and inaccuracy, limitations of what can be detected, and cross-contamination are examples of limitations that cleaning teams encounter with an ATP cleaning verification system.

With ATP, there is a lack of objective interpretation of test results. Further, the luminometers themselves need to be regularly recalibrated in order to correctly detect contaminants. Lastly, because of the limited read range, a complete test would need to be conducted one 4×4 inch square at a time, with potential for cross contamination during the swabbing process. Additionally, the chemicals used in ATP testing can interact with certain disinfectants to produce false positives.

Cleaning Verification System

Alternatives to ATP Testing and Cleaning Verification System

ATP testing is arguably the most widely known cleaning process for professional cleaning verification systems that are fast, portable and provide results on-site. However, there are other methodologies out there that we discuss below.

Pathfinder® Surface Imaging

Surface imaging uses UV technology to capture the fluorescence emitted by bacteria, which indicates the level of bioburden on the surface. The collected data is then processed by specialized software to generate heat-mapped images that reveal the precise locations of contamination in real-time. This innovative approach enables cleaners to immediately identify and address problem areas, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of surface cleaning.

Pathfinder allows staff the unique ability to test areas over six times larger than what is possible with ATP testing, providing unparalleled visualization capabilities that cannot be achieved with other methods. With this cutting-edge technology, staff can effortlessly gain a comprehensive understanding of the bioburden distribution across larger surfaces, enabling them to identify and address areas of concern with ease.

Surface imaging is portable and robust; it eliminates the need for cleaning staff to execute chemical assays or work with complicated testing devices.

Protein Residue Testing

Testing surfaces for residual protein is another way to measure and verify cleaning processes. Similar in theory to ATP-testing, if protein residue is detected on a surface, it indicates that live bacteria is also on the surface being tested. 

Another way protein residue verification is akin to ATP methods is it cannot pinpoint where contamination is within a testing area and requires users to be skilled in analytical methods and handling sensitive testing equipment.

5 Steps of a Cleaning Verification System

All cleaning verification systems follow a basic outline regardless of the testing methodology, acceptance criteria or tracking tools. The development and validation of a cleaning verification procedure should include the following four steps:

  1. Surface Testing. The first step of a cleaning verification procedure is to set the baseline for a surface’s initial cleanliness. This is similar to a project’s “before” photo and is done with a valid testing method such as surface imaging testing, visual inspection or an ATP test.
  1. Cleaning. Once a baseline is established, step two is to clean the surface using an approved method, cleaning supplies and equipment.
  1. Verification. After cleaning, the cleaner will test the surface again using the test method used in step one. This is to determine an “after” picture. The results from the first and second tests are compared and then used to determine if the surface meets compliance or if further remediation is required. 

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  1. Tracking/Data Management. All test results are recorded as per data management protocols. This could be by handwriting results on a paper record, manually entering test results into a digital spreadsheet, or the testing device can automatically record results into a central data repository through a janitorial data management software platform.
  2. Remediation. Using the data from your test results, identify chronic problem areas and establish improved protocols and training.

Cleaning Verification vs. Validation

When establishing a cleaning verification process, it’s important to understand the difference between cleaning verification and cleaning validation, as the two can easily be confused.

Cleaning Verification

Cleaning verification systems define the processes used to manage surface cleanliness in a facility. This includes acceptable test methods and results criteria, surface testing frequency, data information management and incident response measures.

Cleaning Validation

Cleaning validation focuses on determining the effectiveness of the tests and materials used in the cleaning verification system. For instance, if ATP testing is the primary testing method for ensuring a hotel’s public spaces are sanitized, the cleaning validation process would prove the test’s ability to identify harmful pathogens.

Many Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) standards are established by testing cleaning validation protocols in thorough validation studies.

Gain Cleaning Verification Excellence with Optisolve®

Cleaning verification is a critical step in ensuring the safety of customers, employees and anyone who visits the facilities you safeguard. With Pathfinder™ by Optisolve® you gain access to industry-leading expertise and testing methods that are superior to ATP metering, UV and black light, and glow gel to name a few and will propel your company’s cleaning verification system to the next level. Contact us today to learn more about the possibilities of Pathfinder™ surface imaging and our comprehensive janitorial management solutions.