Home Cleaning & Maintenance Research Conducted for Clean the World: Bacterial Contamination Common in Refillable Dispensers

Research Conducted for Clean the World: Bacterial Contamination Common in Refillable Dispensers


ORLANDO, FLA.—A research study conducted on behalf of Clean the World by the University of Arizona (UA) showed a 100 percent bacterial contamination rate in refillable dispensers that contain shampoo, body wash, conditioner, hand soap, or lotion. Of 82 samples taken, 63 (76 percent) yielded bacterial numbers greater than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram of product (CFU per gram), and 40 samples (49 percent) exceeded 10,000 CFU per gram. According to The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, for non-eye-area products, counts should not be greater than 1,000 CFU per g or mL. An Executive Summary of the study was released exclusively to Green Lodging News by Clean the World. (See related video.)

The study was conducted in the state of Arizona. Dr. Charles Gerba led the research team that included seven others. Forty rooms were booked in 20 hotels (two rooms per hotel). UA researchers stayed at the hotels as guests and collected the samples aseptically by dispensing 20 to 25 mL of the respective sample type into sterile 50‐mL conical tubes. The samples were placed into a cooler and held under refrigeration conditions (4 °C to 10 °C) until assaying for heterotrophic plate count bacteria (within 48 hours of sample collection).

According to Shawn Seipler, CEO and President of Clean the World (CTW), the recent industry move toward dispensers prompted the concern about how safe and healthy refillable dispensers are. CTW is heavily invested in ensuring a safe and healthy environment not only for guests but also for children and others in need around the world.

“We started doing our own research and came across the work of Dr. Gerba and the work he did on dispensers in public restrooms,” Seipler says. “What would happen if the same happened in the bathroom of a hotel room? That led us to the commissioning of the study. We are driving toward reducing plastic. Let’s make sure we are doing it the right way.”

Seipler says the properties included in the study were in the four-star or three-star range.

Surprised by Bacteria Level

“We were surprised that it was 76 percent and by the level of contamination of bacteria,” he says, adding that the report makes a strong case for the use of non-refillable dispensers.

According to the Executive Report, based on the results of the Arizona pilot study and with regards to FDA manufacturing guidelines, the following can be concluded:

High culturable bacterial levels in 76 percent of the samples demonstrates the vulnerability of refillable dispensers to bacterial growth, and potentially to cross-contamination during the refilling process. Bulk soap-refillable dispensers are prone to bacterial contamination, as supported by several reported outbreaks linked to the use of contaminated soap in health care settings.

Once bacteria colonize the refillable dispensers, it is extremely difficult and challenging to completely cleanse a contaminated dispenser and to inhibit the future growth of bacteria. According to a Montana State University research study, bacterial counts in bulk soap dispensers returned to pre-wash contaminated levels within two weeks, regardless of the washing procedure. In addition, the labor and costs required to properly clean refillable dispensers may be prohibitive. Implementation of a periodic cleaning regimen for refillable dispensers would also require ongoing testing and audit procedures to ensure compliance with the internal standard operating procedures.

The World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control have recommended against the addition of soap to partially-empty containers in their guidelines on hand hygiene. This practice, referred to as “topping off”, can lead to bacterial contamination of refillable soap dispensers.

Seipler says Clean the World’s goal is to have the complete report published in early 2020. The Executive Summary has already been sent to many of the brands and key CTW supplier partners.

“It was important to get the results of this story out now,” Seipler says.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at greenlodgingnews@gmail.com.