The Problem with ATP Meters

ATP Meter off to the left with a white latex handing holding a q-tip off to the right

Validation and measurement have been buzzwords in the cleaning industry for the past decade, and trends toward integrating data into cleaning programs continue to rise. Mostly, this has meant the widespread use of ATP meters to measure surfaces and validate whether the surface has been cleaned. ATP meters were an important tool used to give facilities the most basic data about surfaces. However, they also are highly limited and can be unreliable. As new tools with advanced technology are able to more precisely measure the presence of contamination on surfaces, the industry no longer has to accept the challenges of ATP meters and can collect higher quality data to improve their cleaning processes.

How do ATP Meters Work?

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate, an enzyme present in all living cells. ATP meters are used to detect this enzyme on a surface. The idea is that the presence of the enzyme indicates living cells exist on the surface. The higher the reading, the more of the enzyme is present. The assumption is that it means more living cells are also present on that surface. That is why when you are using an ATP meter after you have cleaned a surface, you want to have the lowest number reading possible.

The lower the number on an ATP readout, the more likely a surface is clean. Generally, the way ATP meter results are read does not rely on the precise number of a reading. Instead, the ATP direction that the numbers go is what matters. So, it doesn’t matter what the number on the reading says, as long as the number goes down after cleaning.

ATP Meters Rely on Guesswork to Interpret Results.

With a standard ATP monitor, you might have to guess at why your readout number is high. You may be getting a readout that is concerning because it is consistently high, or because it is getting higher even after it has been cleaned. You may not be able to understand where on the surface the enzyme exists, or even if there is a problem with the reader that is causing a higher readout. You only have the number provided after using the reader. This is the only data to interpret. You are essentially guessing at the reason the number is higher or lower.

When using an advanced surface imaging technology like Pathfinder, you will get precise digital imaging through your smart tablet, which allows you to pinpoint exactly where a contaminant is on a surface. This takes the guesswork out of measurement. Rather than guessing why your readout number is high, you can see exactly where you have contaminants on a surface.

Disinfecting Products May Alter Results.

In one of many published studies taking a closer look at the reliability of ATP meters, it was shown that some disinfectants can have an impact on ATP readings. The study, “How Reliable Are ATP Bioluminescence Meters in Assessing Decontamination of Environmental Surfaces in Healthcare Settings?” tested a number of leading ATP meters for their sensitivity and correlation of the readings to controlled microbial contamination. 

The chemicals in certain disinfectants and sanitizers can provide ATP readouts that are inaccurate. Most best practices state to only use ATP monitors prior to disinfecting. This renders an ATP monitor nearly useless in facilities that rely heavily on disinfection and sanitation, such as healthcare and food service settings. It means that an ATP monitor can only be relied on to show whether a surface has been cleaned, rather than truly disinfected or sanitized.

ATP Meters Vary in Reliability.

There are many different types of ATP readers made by a variety of manufacturers. Each of these readers has a different system for obtaining a readout.  Often the process relies on first taking a swab of a surface, then testing the swab. One of the most common causes of ATP reader error comes from contamination during the swabbing process.

In addition, the vast quantity of readers available on the market have been shown to produce varying degrees of reliability and sensitivity. 

Leaders in the field recognize the need for a system of measurement that allows cleaners to know if a surface is indeed truly clean. Some of the tools used to measure cleanliness of surfaces have significant shortcomings that the cleaning industry was forced to accept. That is no longer the case. With the advent of advanced surface imaging technology, tools available for cleaning teams are working better—and more accurately—than ever. 

If you are interested in learning more about how Optisolve’s advanced surface imaging technology can help improve your cleaning program, book a demo or contact one of our experts today.

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