One More Thing to Clean
As we know, there is a lot of discontent today among American travelers regarding many of the U.S. airline carriers. And there is another problem that has been brewing for some time, but now coming to the surface: more and more people are concerned about getting sick, not when they travel, but when they get on the plane.
As a result, two reporters from the Today Show decided to test for contaminants on just about anything and everything a passenger touches before they board a plane, once on the aircraft, and when de-boarding.
First the good news. The reporters tested the automated boarding pass systems which most of us use today. Surprisingly, with all the people that use and touch these machines every day, “lab results came [out] completely clean,” reported Jeff Rossen and Josh Davis on the Today Show.
However, that was not the case when the two reporters moved on to the security line. The security bins where we place belts, shoes, computers, clothing, etc., also used by just about everyone, turned out to be bacteria and germ-riddled.
“Tests of two bins used to collect shoes, bags, and just about everything else dumped in for the X-ray machine revealed the presence of dangerous bacteria. One bin yielded evidence of fecal matter at levels high enough to make people sick,” told the reporters.
It is these bins that are the subject of our discussion. Not only are they used in airport security lines, but they are also found in most Federal, state, and city government buildings throughout North America. Some museums now have them as well. And what are considered “high target” office buildings may also ask visitors to place personal items including shoes in the bins and send them through an x-ray machine.
For example, at the Empire State Building in New York, the following information is provided to visitors wanting to go to top-floor observation areas:
There is active, 24/7 security at the Empire State Building… primary security screening [is] similar to airport security procedures.
When are the Bins Cleaned?
This is an excellent question, and the best answer is: who knows? It does not appear either TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) nor most airports have any specific rules about cleaning the bins. This is likely true as well when we find them in government or private office buildings, museums, etc. It appears cleaning the bins, as gritty and dirty as we see them become, is just overlooked.
However, as far as airport security bins go, change is in the air, and it’s called advertising. TSA is now providing about a dozen U.S. airports with crisp-looking white bins (not the standard gray) and placed at the bottom of these bins is an advertisement.
These white bins are getting the royal treatment when it comes to cleaning. The advertisers want the bins clean, so their ad stands out. And because it is added revenue for the airports, airport management wants them clean as well. To make sure everyone is happy and this new revenue stream grows, the white bins are being cleaned, either in-house or by a private vendor.
What FMs and BSCs Need to Know
Facility managers and building service contractors need to know that security bins can be a source – possibly a serious source – of contamination. We can no longer overlook them.
While they may not get as much use on a daily basis as the security bins in an airport, in an office building, some contaminants that may find their way into security bins could be worse.
If soils and contaminants have built up on shoe bottoms, there is less chance they have been scraped off shoe bottoms in an office building, walking a short distance through the lobby, when compared to a passenger, walking long distances in an airport.
We should also note that when it rains, instead of cleaning sidewalks, the rain can make contamination worse. This is because of urban runoff or storm water runoff. The runoff, according to the EPA, often carries with it sediment, oil, and grease, pesticides, viruses, and bacteria, especially from pet waste, which drains over sidewalks into sewers. All of these contaminants can collect on shoe bottoms and unless an effective building matting system is in place, find their way into security bins should the visitor need to remove their shoes.
What FMs and BSCs Need to Do
Security bins need to be cleaned regularly, as often as once a day and more often if used in a very busy location. We should also consider disinfecting them, which means we must follow the “two-step.”
The two-step means the bins should be cleaned first with an all-purpose cleaner (or cleaner disinfectant) to remove surface soils and then again with an EPA-registered disinfectant (or the cleaner disinfectant). Select what is called a broad range or broad-spectrum disinfectant, and ensure the stated kill claims are the ones of concern for your facility. We are not sure exactly what germs and bacteria are being placed in the bins, so this is our best option to kill as many pathogens as possible.
Using the disinfectant, follow all instructions, including dwell (leave wet) time and rinsing the bins is recommended, but typically not required (do follow the specific instructions on the label of the disinfectant). This will help remove any chemical residue (deleted text here).
Additionally, it is a good idea for FMs to install hand sanitizers at building security areas, in positions after the retrieval of the goods from the bins. Consider foam or gel hand sanitizers. Unlike liquid hand sanitizers, these are less messy (deleted text). While a hand sanitizer will not replace proper handwashing when going through security, whether at an airport or in a building, they can help keep us safe and healthy until we do have a chance to properly wash our hands.
Lai-Na Wong is Marketing Manager at Avmor, a leading North American manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: “Oh no! Filthy secrets about germ exposure during airline travel,” June 24, 2014, at 6:44 am on the Today Show (Based on a transcript of the show)