Proper Treatments to Control Listeria: Options and choices for healthcare facilities

medical facility

As a healthcare facility owner or administrator, you’re probably aware that sodium hypochlorite (NaClO) disinfectants have been used extensively in disinfection and sanitization protocols to clean your healthcare facility effectively. Unfortunately, what you may not be aware of, is that NaCIO-based products are known to be highly unstable, because the active chlorine concentration in these types of disinfectants decreases rapidly while the products are in storage. Additionally, handling concentrated NaCIO also poses a risk to hospital staff who may inadvertently spill it on their skins, or handle it without protective gear.

So, what options do medical facilities have as part of listeria control treatments?

Going by the Science

Research shows that more recently, however, electrolysis-based solutions are proving to be the better alternative for use in healthcare settings in sanitization and disinfection protocols, including in the battle against contaminants like Listeria. While both, acidic electrolyzed water (AEW) and neutral electrolyzed water (NEW), are produced via electrolysis, NEW is proving to be more effective, and is better suited in high-risk contamination areas, such as hospitals, clinics and medical facilities.

Electrolysis-based sanitizers, such as hypochlorous acid (HOCI), are also a powerful biocidal agent that does not pose a risk of corrosion to medical equipment and sensitive devices. Neither do they pose a risk of skin irritation or chemical burns, as is the case for AEW. And that means HOCI is a reliable tool for any disinfection and sanitization protocol aimed at inactivating a wide range of pathogens in these settings, including Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.

Effective Listeria Control Treatments – Why HOCL?

So, what makes Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) a better product in the proper treatment to control listeria, compared to Sodium Hypochlorite (NaClO /Chlorine Bleach)? And why should you, as a healthcare facility administrator or safety manager care which one is used to clean your healthcare facility effectively in a sanitization protocol – HOCI or NaClO? To understand the answer to those questions, and to comprehend why HOCI is a more effective biocidal agent in dealing with pathogens, like Listeria, we need to dive under the hood in the manufacture of the two disinfectants.

During the creation process, hypochlorite ions are delivered a negative electrical charge, but hypochlorous acid is produced with no charge at all. Therefore, when either of these products is used on surfaces containing bacteria or other contaminants, which typically contain a negative charge too, NaClO (having a like charge) repels the bacteria, rendering the disinfection process ineffective. It takes up to 30-minutes or so before Hypochlorite ions start interacting with bacteria. On the other hand, because HOCl packs no charge, it is able to quickly – within a matter of seconds – move to oxidize bacteria, and render them ineffective.

Like magnets with negative and positive charged surfaces, when two negatively-charged particles (NaClO and germ surfaces) encounter each other, instead of fusing together, they repel. This means that, instead of immediately getting into action, to kill bacteria on the surface of medical devices, examination tables, stretchers and wheelchairs, NaClO /Chlorine Bleach has a delayed effect.

So, even though these devices and equipment are treated with a disinfectant, it’ll be a while before they are incapable of transmitting those germs, viruses and bacteria to anyone coming into contact with them. Because of this delayed reaction, chlorine bleach isn’t an effective treatment to control listeria in highly sensitive medical settings, including a dentist’s office, walk-in clinic, or other health care setting. But HOCI has more going on for it, which makes it a stronger contender for use in any listeria control protocol.

The relative acidity (pH) levels of the water, used in making the disinfectant, plays a vital role in the potency of its ability to kill germs and bacteria. The pH levels in the water used to manufacture hypochlorous acid can easily be adjusted to produce a hypochlorous acid-dominant disinfectant. This gives medical staff access to a more potent listeria killing disinfectant, allowing HOCI to quickly penetrate the protective layer that surrounds germs.

Health professional with a tray of food to a patient

Controlling Listeria in Medical Facility Food Supply

Hospitals, senior residences and long-term care homes typically house residents and patients over extended periods. As a result, they must feed and nourish their patients and guests with healthy, wholesome and safe foods. Because food surfaces and ingredients are prone to listeria contamination, it’s paramount for medical facility staff to be vigilant in protecting the food supply chain. There’s heightened sensitivity around medical facility food contamination, especially given how vulnerable immune-compromised or seniors are to any types of infection.

As part of safety protocols for the proper treatments to control listeria, as a medical facility manager, it’s important to clean your healthcare facility effectively. To do so, you must pay special attention to food surface sanitization, as well as direct food sanitization. As part of your listeria control strategy, there are three typical treatments that you may consider:

  • Quaternary Ammonium (Quats);
  • Ozone; and
  • Hypochlorous acid

Before making a decision on which one of these to use to protect your facilities food supply, however, it’s important to understand how these products differ from each other.

Quants, though an effective sanitizing agent, are not considered food safe. So, before adopting Quant-based listeria protection treatments, you must factor into your protocols the necessity of removing all exposed food from surfaces and counter tops, and placing them in secure, enclosed areas. Only then can you apply a Quant-based disinfectant to food contact surfaces. Otherwise, you risk nonfood-safe materials coating or mingling with food being supplied for consumption by critically ill patients.

With Ozone-based sanitization protocols, medical facility disinfection teams must contend with a gaseous product – one that can’t be used on food contact surfaces. While Ozone can be applied directly to edible products, it continually moves into the environment, leaving staff the task to perpetually regenerate it. This too, like the Quant-based approach, adds time and cost to any listeria-prevention protocols.

Hypochlorous acid, on the other hand, is an extremely food-safe disinfectant, and may be used safely for food surface disinfection, and even direct food sanitization protocols. As a listeria control treatment, HOCI therefore makes the most sense to use in health care settings. It is not just food safe, but because of its non-corrosive nature, is safe for use on sensitive equipment. Best of all, healthcare staff can clean your healthcare facility effectively with it, and not worry about personal safety, itchy eyes, or skin burns.