A Petri dish shows bacteria on a test swab.

Is ATP Testing the Future of Sanitization?

As the Covid-19 pandemic comes to a close and Americans resume Summer travel, AAA Travel wants its customers to know that their hotels are clean.  And they mean business.  AAA is rolling out a new “Inspected Clean” program where commonly touched surfaces are independently inspected using Adenosine Triphoshate (ATP) testing.  This test will help ensure that each room is cleaned to an acceptable level. 

If you’re into clean like the staff here at BCS, at one time or another you’ve likely wondered how clean your hotel room was.  We’ve all heard a hotel horror story or two (the internet is full of them). Post-pandemic, hospitality and tourism has put a laser focus on clean. Maintaining higher levels of cleanliness is a selling point being made by traditional hotel chains against the shared economy of Airbnb or VRBO stays.  With some of those properties there’s less certainty surrounding cleaning protocols. Who is doing the cleaning and how it is being performed?  

KTVB news Boise recently spoke with Matthew Conde, AAA Idaho public affairs director about their new Inspected Clean program. According to Conde, “An ATP test will not reveal the specific source of contamination, but it almost instantly detects unacceptable levels.” AAA properties that pass inspection will receive a Diamond Designation. Now that’s clean! But what is ATP testing and how does it work?  Will ATP Testing be the future of sanitization? We’ve got the answers to some of your questions. 

How Does ATP Test for Sanitation?

ATP has long been used in food production and medical facilities. This form of testing is a proactive measure against unseen biohazards. It detects contamination of surfaces by illuminating the presence of biological materials. In a hotel room this could include everything from the remote control, to the telephone, door handles, thermostat, desk-side lamps, toilet handles, microwaves and more. 

Infographic showing a dirty toilet and bacteria that live on it's surfaces.
Believe it or to, there’s more bacteria on your phone than a toilet seat.

Some brief, but fun science: Triphosphate (TP) is the energy molecule found in every cell, living or dead.  High concentrations will indicate where contamination may exist from organic matter such as bacteria and other microbes such as mold. Clean Room Technology illuminates further: Surfaces are swabbed, then mixed with an enzyme that comes from fireflies called luciferase.  This catalyses a reaction where phosphates are broken off from the ATP molecule. The energy from this reaction is captured by the enzyme to create light (bioluminescence!)

Going Forward More Industries could adopt ATP Testing for Sanitation.

Whether or not other hotel chains will adopt ATP testing as a standard for cleanliness remains to be seen.  According to Hospitality Technology, “ATP monitoring tests are easy to use and can provide results in seconds. Anyone from the sanitation crew to a hotel manager can easily setup and conduct an ATP monitoring program.” However, the high costs of these tests can be prohibitive.  Food Safety Magazine recently did a deep-dive into how ATP testing can benefit the food service industry.  In regarding to cost, “The choice to do or not to do ATP monitoring is often economical. Most ATP systems cost upwards of $4,000 and the test swabs cost $2.50 each. That’s prohibitively expensive for some operations.”  Lowering the costs of administering ATP tests could be a big factor in whether or not multiple industries jump on board.  

Hotel Housekeeper changes bedsheets and linens.
Rest assured that your room will be clean.

Two things are certain: people are eager to resume postponed summer plans and they’ll have cleanliness in mind while traveling. (Mountain Biking in Sun Valley or Zion National Park road trip trip?)  Good commercial cleaning is needed everywhere…from where we eat, shop, or lay our heads down to rest.  We’re seeing evidence in real-time that the cleaning industry is evolving to adapt to consumer demand.  But it’s important to keep in mind that ATP tests are not necessary for keeping the average office adequately sanitized.  Regardless, most industry experts agree that sanitization standards need to be higher than ever, which is why having a reliable, professional cleaning company on your side is vital.