Welcome to Professional and Technical Services (PTS) – experts in chemical disinfection for infection prevention. Our goal is to educate and provide you the latest resources related to cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces, medical devices and hands. As specialists in disinfectant chemistries, microbiology, environmental cleaning and disinfection, facility assessments and policy and procedure creation we are dedicated to helping any person or facility who uses chemical disinfectants.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Custodial Chemist - Mixing Acids and Bleach

I hate news that talks about death.  I especially hate it when it could be avoided.  Case in point was the death of a restaurant worker last week in Burlington, MA.  A 32-year-old man lost his life and 14 others were affected by the incident.  The cause of the accident was mixing of cleaning chemicals.
According to reports, an employee was cleaning the floor of the restaurant and used two different products.  One was a bleach-based product, the second an acid cleaner.  Unfortunately, when you mix these two chemicals together it causes a serious chemical reaction. When bleach is mixed with any acid, it releases highly toxic chlorine gas.  The acrid fumes of chlorine gas are capable of can destroying lung tissue and can cause the lungs to fill with fluid.  The end result in essence is death caused by drowning. 

Long story short, NO acid must ever be mixed with chlorine bleach. This includes acidic drain cleaners, rust removers and even vinegar (acetic acid).  

Back in 2011, I coined the term “Custodial Chemists”.   The Custodial Chemist is a group of people that believe that their collective years as professional cleaners make them far more knowledgeable then formulating chemists who have years of higher education and develop the products the Custodial Chemists use. The Custodial Chemist is someone who mixes products together in the belief they are making a better product (or simplifying their job). Why use a degreaser or glass cleaner followed by a disinfectant when you can mix them together and create a degreaser-disinfectant or the best disinfectant glass cleaner on the market.

The situation that lead to this happening was likely due to the fact that the employee (a Custodial Chemist) did not know or understand that bleach and acids should never be mixed and what the resulting consequences could be. 

Employers are required by law to provide training on the use of cleaning and other chemicals PRIOR to their use because chemicals pose such a wide range of health and safety hazards.  OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures is communicated to workers. Under OSHA’s standard, the required training should include:

  1. Health and physical hazards of the cleaning chemicals
  2. Proper handling, use and storage of all cleaning chemicals being used, including dilution procedures when a cleaning product must be diluted before use
  3. Proper procedures to follow when a spill occurs
  4. Personal protective equipment required for using the cleaning product, such as gloves, safety goggles and respirators
  5. How to obtain and use hazard information, including an explanation of product labels and SDSs

This is an unfortunate accident that left a 3-month old baby boy without his dad.  As employers, it is our duty to ensure our employees are kept safe and have the appropriate training to do their jobs safely.  As employees, it is our duty to ask questions, assume we do not know everything and work in a manner that is going to keep us safe.

Bugging Off!


Friday, November 8, 2019

Common Sense or Panic & Paranoia?

Rightly or wrongly, a good outbreak can be exciting.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the impact of illness that interests me – I’m not that heartless.  What fascinates me is what we learn when a new “bug” pops up or what we “relearn” when we get hit by “bug” we know how to handle.  When it comes to infection prevention, we cannot relax and become comfortable because everything is ticking along smoothly and most importantly, just because nothing has happened in a while we cannot afford to lower our defences.

That said, keeping ourselves and others healthy is about finding the balance between being too cavalier and too paranoid.  Take a recent article I read about the cleanliness level of highchairs in restaurants in the UK.  The BBC revealed that restaurant highchairs are dirtier than tables at several different restaurants.  Surprisingly to some, the highchairs tested at McDonald’s were cleaner than the tables.  While the level of bacteria found on the highchairs was significantly higher than expected, it was still not at a level that would cause health concerns.  Of concern was the fact that coliform bacteria were found, as this type of bacteria is associated with waste from humans and animals.  In fact, coliform bacteria are often referred to as "indicator organisms" because they indicate the potential presence of disease-causing bacteria, particularly in water.   Thankfully, the bacteria found on the highchairs can easily be removed and/or killed with diligent cleaning, sanitizing or disinfection. 

The question is if as a society we need to start to panic that highchairs in restaurants could be the harbingers of doom for our babies.  Let’s mull this over and use a little common sense.

  1. Unlike viruses, bacteria have the ability to reproduce.  When conditions are favourable such as if the right temperature and nutrients are available, some bacteria like Escherichia coli can divide every 20 minutes. This means that in just 7 hours one bacterium can generate 2,097,152 bacteria.
  2. A large percentage of infections and outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands. Appropriate hand washing practices can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections.  According to the WHO, adherence to HH by HCWs ranges from 5% to 89% with the overall average being 38%!  If healthcare workers have poor hand hygiene practices, you can be sure the public is much worse.
  3. Highchairs in many restaurants are often stored in readily accessible areas, meaning they could be considered a high touch surface.
  4. Depending on the restaurant, highchairs may sit for some time between usages. 
  5. Cloths used to clean surfaces where food is prepared need to be changed regularly or thoroughly disinfected to prevent the growth of bacteria.  Bacteria on uncleaned cloths can transfer to the hands of staff then on to work surfaces, equipment and utensils.

What does this mean?  Well, pathogens are easily spread from hands to surfaces and surfaces to hands.  Restaurants tend to use the reuse cloths for cleaning tables.  As the cloth picks up food and germs it has the ability to redeposit the soil and/or pathogens to another surface helping them spread and proliferate.  Bacteria can quickly reproduce, so if you have a highchair that has not been cleaned for a while, was poorly cleaned after its last use or in an area where you have umpteen people and kids touching it (most likely with dirty hands), you can be assured that germs will be present and they are likely multiplying at an alarming rate.

What is my take-home message?  If I’m concerned with protecting my loved ones - and young ones in particular who have undeveloped immune systems and are more susceptible to picking things up – then I’m not going to panic or become paranoid about how well a restaurant has cleaned the highchair.  I am going to assume that it has been touched by others after it has been cleaned.  I am going to assume that it has been sitting around for a while between usage and I’m going to assume that it’s dirty.  I am going to clean the highchair before I put my young one it in.

Thankfully, my young one is well past the highchair stage.  He has not yet gotten past the stage of me having to nag him to wash his hands before he eats!

Bugging Off!


Friday, November 1, 2019

Turtles and Halloween Horrors

It’s a rainy Halloween Eve in my neck of the woods.  Thankfully, I have a cold so I pleaded the fact that I need to stay in and not get wet and chilled.  Instead, I sit here stuffing my mouth with chocolate, sipping on an adult beverage and while I wait patiently for the next trick-or-treater to arrive. 

The “turtle” part of the blog is because there is currently an outbreak of Salmonella across 13 states that has been linked back to pet turtles.  According to the CDC as of Wednesday, twenty-one people have been infected with Salmonella oranienburg with seven of those cases requiring hospitalization.  Thankfully there have not been any deaths.

California had the most reported cases at six, while Illinois, New York and Washington have also reported multiple cases. This is not the first outbreak associated with pet turtles.  People that own or come in contact with pet turtles should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling.  While turtles may look cuddly, you should also avoid kissing or snuggling them or let turtles roam freely where food is prepared or stored (e.g. your kitchen).  Another thing to avoid is cleaning a turtle's tank, toys or supplies in the kitchen.  If can clean it outside the house, that would be the safest!

So how does an outbreak associated with turtles go with Halloween horrors?  Why Salmonella of course!  I mean who would not Google “Salmonella outbreaks associated with chocolate”!?  While I was hoping for none, that did not happen.  I’d forgotten the outbreak earlier this year associated with chocolate-covered cream puffs.  Back in 2006, Cadbury had to recall more than 1 million of its chocolate bars and ended up pleading guilty to nine charges relating to breaches of food safety regulations.  In 2018, the company that makes Duncan Hines desserts recalled four types of cake mix after Salmonella was found in their “Classic White” mix.

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps about 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. The illness usually lasts four to 7 days, and most people recover without needing treatment.  So, if any of the candy you or your kids eat has been contaminated with Salmonella you can expect to be sick as early as tomorrow.  Since candy can be a bit like Russian roulette, assuming it takes you a week to finish anytime between tomorrow and up to the 10th of November puts you in the 12-72 hr window!

Bugging Off!