Researchers from the University of Houston have found the dirtiest surfaces in hotel rooms – which include bedside light switches and TV remote controls. Other bacteria-contaminated surfaces include the bathroom sink and toilet. Outside the hotel rooms, the housekeeping cart had the highest levels of contamination – with sponges and mops posing a risk for cross-contamination. On the other hand, the bathroom door handle, bed headboard and curtain rods had the lowest levels of contamination.
The researchers took samples from 19 hotel room hideouts in search for the surfaces contaminated with bacteria. The study was limited to just nine hotel rooms in three states – North Carolina, Indiana and Texas. They tested the bacteria in general and did other tests in search for coliform bacteria – which is found in feces and is more likely to cause disease. Both tests showed levels of bacteria between two and ten times higher than levels permitted in hospitals. Overall, 81% of the samples were found to have fecal bacteria present. Although this doesn’t guarantee that a guest will sick while staying in a hotel, it creates a higher risk.
It’s the hope of the researchers that this study will support a body of research to offer a scientific basis for housekeeping in hotels. They say the results come as a wake-up call to the industry and are a beneficial tool to pinpoint the most contaminated areas of hotel rooms.
University of Houston undergraduate student Katie Kirsch says hoteliers are obligated to provide a safe and secure environment to their guests. Housekeeping practices vary from brand to brand – and even between their properties – and there’s little to no standardisation across the industry. The current validation method is a visual assessment, which is clearly ineffective in measuring sanitation levels.
Kirsch adds that part of the issue is the sheer number of rooms hoteliers expect their housekeepers to clean – between 14 and 16 per eight-hour shift. They only spend about 30 minutes on every room. Determining the high-risk surfaces in a hotel room will allow housekeeping managers to design cleaning practices and designate time to efficiently reduce the possible health risks of microbial contamination.
Meanwhile, some hoteliers have already moved to alleviate the issue. For example, last year Hampton Inn launched a campaign that featured a guest wearing a Hazmat suit. The ad vowed that the company is dedicated to a fresh and clean bed. Additionally, Best Western has launched a new cleanliness initiative this month called “I Care Clean”. The scheme requires housekeepers to use ultraviolet sterilization wands and ultraviolet black lights to clean hotel rooms. The company has introduced easy-to-clean seamless TV remote controls as well, saying they will be disinfected before every stay.
This study was presented at a medical conference and should only be considered preliminary, as it hasn’t undergone the process of a “peer review” – where outside experts scrutinise the data before it’s published in a medical journal. Still, the findings could send even the most laid back traveller into concern for their health. Some people already travel with sanitation wipes, but maybe everyone should. At least until hotel housekeeping improves.
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