You thought your vacation would be stress-free, didn’t you? Well, it should be. But here’s something you may need to worry about the next time you choose a hotel: It could be crawling with bacteria.
Researchers from the University of Houston, along with researchers from Purdue University and the University of South Carolina, tested the levels of total aerobic bacteria and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on a number of surfaces from hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana and South Carolina. Of course, some of the most contaminated samples included the toilet and bathroom sink, but they also found high levels of bacterial contamination on the TV remote and the bedside lamp switch. Some of the highest levels of contamination were also found in items from the housekeepers’ carts, including sponges and mops, which can cross-contaminate rooms.
Surfaces with the lowest contamination included the headboard on the bed, curtain rods and the bathroom door handle. The researchers did not know whether the bacteria detected can cause disease.
“Currently, housekeepers clean 14 to 16 rooms per eight-hour shift, spending approximately 30 minutes on each room. Identifying high-risk items within a hotel room would allow housekeeping managers to strategically design cleaning practices and allocate time to efficiently reduce the potential health risks posed by microbial contamination in hotel rooms,” said Katie Kirsch, an undergraduate student at the University of Houston who presented the study.
The study was designed as the first step in applying the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to hotel room cleanliness. HACCP was developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and is a systematic preventive approach that identifies potential physical, chemical and biological hazards and designs measurements to reduce these risks to safe levels.
“Hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests with a safe and secure environment. Currently, housekeeping practices vary across brands and properties with little or no standardization industry-wide. The current validation method for hotel room cleanliness is a visual assessment, which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation,” Kirsch said.
According to Kirsch, this study is preliminary and is limited by the sample size, which included only three rooms in each state and 19 surfaces within each hotel room.
In the meantime, it’s always a good idea to bring sanitizing wipes on vacation to wipe down doorknobs, remotes and other surfaces. Another tip: Put the hotel TV remote in a Ziploc bag. Trust us, you can still change the channel.