First Line of Defense

by Nate Hunter

Identifying the “germiest” places in a retail facility environment.

In the last few years, the American public has become more aware of the number of dangerous germs lurking in public spaces, including retail establishments. An estimated 80% of all infections can be spread through hand contact with contaminated surfaces. Retail environments provide a host of surfaces where illness-causing germs can linger, increasing the risk of transmission to the next employee or customer who touches them. In a typical retail establishment, several high-touch surfaces are known to harbor the most germs. Identifying and properly cleaning these high-contaminate areas through a hygienic cleaning program provides a safer environment for retail customers, while also helping to reduce workplace illness and employee absenteeism.

While spring and summer seem like ideal times to implement and refine best cleaning practices, retail businesses should have a proactive plan in place year-round to reduce the spread of germs. Following a hygienic cleaning program can provide a retail facility its first defense against dangerous germs. These programs focus on the proper daily cleaning and disinfection of the following critical control points to reduce illness-causing germs:


Always a hotbed of germs, the typical restroom is host to E. coli and other waste-related toxins on nearly every surface. Recently, the use of very high-speed hand dryers has come under scrutiny as some studies point to these devices as essentially blowing germs around the room. Experts recommend using paper towels to run faucets, to close the toilet lid before flushing and to open the door before exiting. Poor hand-washing habits by staff members and customers alike easily spread germs from public restrooms to other retail areas such as displays, demo products and check out counters.

Employee break rooms

In employee break rooms, sponges, sink drain areas, faucet handles and refrigerator handles have been identified as key transfer points for germs. Left in a damp, germ-nurturing environment, the average sponge has been shown to harbor billions of bacteria. In break rooms, short lunch breaks also mean employees might be rushed and inclined to skip hand washing routines, further spreading germs. Encourage staff members to follow proper hand-hygiene etiquette, use disinfectant wipes on surfaces such as countertops and tables,* and not share utensils or cups. Where feasible, use dishwashers to provide more hygienic cleaning than manually washing and air drying.

Door handles and elevator buttons

While some larger businesses have automatic front doors, internally many still have elevators for use by both customers and employees. Elevator buttons are key germ hot-spots, some holding as many as 3,500 bacteria per square inch. For clothing retailers, changing room door handles can be equally dangerous sources of cross-contamination, quickly accumulating germs as customers try on clothes throughout the day. People rarely give a thought to how many hands touch both door handles and elevator buttons. They should be educated that cross-contamination can occur whenever people simply touch a contaminated surface, regardless of how brief the touch. High-touch surfaces such as these should be cleaned frequently with disinfectant wipes. No-touch automatic doors also should be implemented where appropriate.


With up to 25,000 germs per square inch, the average telephone is a bacteria transfer station for germs from both the hands and mouth. Unlike a traditional office setting of one phone per employee, in many retail settings, germ transfer is compounded by the shared use of a main phone. Users should periodically use sanitizing wipes on the mouthpiece, headset, and keypads of the phone. Cleaning providers should use best practices to ensure phones and other touch electronics are thoroughly cleaned, yet not damaged.

Cash register areas

Both the employee cash register and the customer payment terminal can contain a high count of harmful bacteria and are a conduit for germ transmittal. Sanitizing hands frequently, periodically wiping these surfaces with disinfectant wipes and thorough nightly cleaning and disinfection is the best way to minimize exposure to germs from these high-use surfaces.

Display or demo merchandise

Laptop computers and other electronic display units at retail stores can spread infections and pose a health risk. When hundreds of people share the same display keyboard, screen or touch pad, the germs transmitted via their hands can contain harmful pathogens. Stores with display devices should make hand hygiene products available on the counter, making sure they are least 62% alcohol. Proper cleaning of such areas requires constant vigilance from staff members throughout the day.

Hygienic cleaning is a combination of using the right techniques and the correct tools to remove soils and germs. Hygienic cleaning is proven to reduce health risks through the prudent use of hospital-grade disinfectants to kill harmful organisms. Additionally, hygienic cleaning programs use advanced soil removal techniques to capture and remove dirt and germs more effectively. Studies show that using an effective surface disinfecting and cleaning protocol can reduce absenteeism in an organization by as much as 50% — good news to retail facilities where scheduling and staffing is an important business function.

Hygienic cleaning programs also utilize color-coded microfiber textiles as the right choice for surface cleaning. Microfiber has been shown to be 99% more effective than traditional cloth materials in capturing and removing soil and germs. To reduce cross-contamination from one facility area to the next, microfiber cloths should be color-coded, with specific color cloths designated for use only in specific areas of the facility.

Another important tool in a hygienic cleaning program is the use of multi-filtration, HEPA backpack vacuums that provide an increase in productivity of 70% when compared to traditional push vacuums. They also improve indoor air quality by filtering dust, dirt, allergens and germs down to 0.3 microns.

When introducing a nightly hygienic cleaning system, retail businesses should consider the benefits of outsourcing their janitorial needs to service providers who offer a proven, hygienic and scientifically validated cleaning program. These providers understand the close relationship between health and hygiene in indoor environments. They are trained in the most advanced, science-based cleaning methods and can provide retailers with measurably cleaner results. Hygienic cleaning programs use more advanced technologies that also provide greater cleaning efficiencies, enabling them to clean facilities more efficiently. This is a real benefit to retail facilities that are closed only for limited times and seek greater value for their cleaning spend.

Utilizing a qualified, hygienic cleaning provider, combined with better regulated employee practices and the introduction of a store-wide hand hygiene program can go a long way in reducing the risk of illness for employees and customers alike. A measurably cleaner and healthier store environment provides employees with a greater sense of pride, while providing customers a better and healthier shopping experience.


* The use of disinfectants on food contact surfaces requires rinsing with clear water to remove disinfectant residues after proper dwell time is achieved.


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