The importance of environmental testing

The importance of environmental testing
© iStock/the-lightwriter

Nova Biologicals outlines the importance of environmental testing to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and protect public health.

Among the various forms of microbiological testing, environmental testing is one of the more underutilised. For most people, this form of testing would not seem immediately necessary or is too specific to have much use in everyday life. In some cases, that assumption would be correct. However, microbiological monitoring is a very important step to overcoming dangerous pathogens or contaminants and is a pivotal part of many industries and businesses.

At any given point in time, the average person is most likely surrounded by millions of microscopic contaminants that are either lingering on nearby surfaces or floating in the air. The same is true of spaces where products are made or food is packaged, and there are many possible scenarios in which health hazards can arise from undetected environmental contamination. However, there are a few other important reasons to keep environmental monitoring and testing in mind when considering their purpose and necessity for society today.

Environmental monitoring: an important asset across various industries

First, there are many heavily regulated industries, such as in the medical field and pharmaceutical manufacturing, that rely on environmental monitoring for key information in their work. In most cases, these businesses are, at minimum, required to perform some form of environmental testing every so often to reduce the likelihood of contamination for both employees and patients alike.

Second, many of the industries that require environmental monitoring are being held to that standard by larger regulatory organisations like the FDA (Food and Drug Association) with the possibility of stiff legal penalties for failing to do so. This deters manufacturers from trying to find ways around getting the required testing done and helps to ensure that contamination is dealt with before it becomes a problem for any possible consumers.

Finally, different forms of environmental monitoring must be done at varying stages of construction and building management depending on which process is taking place. From possible water contamination to fungal spores in the air, there are a near countless number of risks that can arise from failing to properly ensure a clean environment in public or workspaces. For these reasons, and for many more that would require more discussion to fully appreciate, environmental testing and monitoring are very important to ensure a level of trust and security in many aspects of modern human society.

However, this form of testing is used in different ways for different industries and is often conducted for reasons that are somewhat unique to the field. Because of how common healthcare-acquired infections are in many healthcare centres, the need to keep a close eye on pathogens that are lingering in certain medical facilities should be pretty apparent. For example, a person can still be infected by something even if there is a low number of microcontaminants in the area and the danger that this could present would be much greater for someone who was already suffering from a weakened immune system. In some medical fields, environmental monitoring is a key part of identifying local microcontaminants and attempting to prevent their spread to patients and employees. For manufacturing, there is the ever-present risk of contamination occurring during the process of product creation. Many pharmaceutical manufacturers produce multiple forms of drugs in the same facility. While they are packaged and sold separately, being housed in the same facility means that they could all potentially be subject to contamination issues that appear and could easily result in different forms of medicine and packaging carrying dangerous microcontaminants. Like with the example above, this could cause any number of health crises among those who make use of that medicine, such as people who may be using that product because they were already feeling sick and could have a weaker immune system.

Despite the many precautions put in place for handling food, bacteria can contaminate items like meats, raw vegetables, dairy and frozen food products. © iStock/valentinrussanov

On a similar note, many manufacturers are still required to perform environmental testing in areas where their products are assembled or created. For manufacturers, this form of testing is not in place just to ensure that the workers or people in the area will not become infected by any lingering pathogens, but also to prevent those same pathogens from lurking on things like packages, containers, or even the product itself and being transported to another location. This applies to food products as well, with some items such as meat or raw vegetables, being particularly vulnerable to contaminants. There have been many dangerous outbreaks, such as the commonly seen Salmonella or Listeria, and these can cause severe health problems in those who ingest them. These issues could range from things like the flu or pneumonia to potentially life-long damage or even death. This testing is not just searching for contaminants and pathogens and instead might also look for traces of other products which may be present through cross-contamination. For example, if a manufacturer creates and distributes both crackers and peanuts, they would need to ensure that there is no cross-contamination between the two. If this were to fail, it could result in someone with a peanut allergy receiving a bag of crackers that contain peanut residue or dust, potentially causing a health emergency or allergic reaction. For these reasons, environmental testing is so necessary for some businesses and is often used in conjunction with many different forms of allergen testing depending on the industry.

The significance of environmental testing

Environmental testing still sees a great deal of usage in the modern age, but how serious can skipping or failing to get other forms of appropriate testing be? To get a better grasp on the situation, consider how many varieties and brands of hand sanitiser were sold in response to the pandemic. When supply seemed low, many manufacturers, independent or otherwise, began creating hand sanitiser quickly and in large numbers. However, it is abundantly clear that several of the products did not receive proper testing. Many of these new brands of hand sanitiser were reported to contain or possibly contain methanol, an ingredient that could cause a variety of health problems including permanent blindness. Many of these products have already been recalled and removed from the market, but others may have slipped by unnoticed even to this day. Other examples can be seen in the abundance of food recalls there is every year. Despite the many precautions put in place for handling food, bacteria can contaminate items like meats, raw vegetables, dairy and frozen food products. The only way to be as sure as possible that a product does not suffer from problems such as containing harmful ingredients or being contaminated by dangerous microbiological organisms is to conduct the appropriate tests according to the appropriate method.

To make finding the appropriate tests easier, laboratories like Nova Biologicals offer some form of test consulting for any uncertain customers. As there are many different tests, speaking to someone on this matter can be very beneficial in avoiding buying the wrong test by mistake. Most of these laboratories can be contacted easily and are willing to work with both businesses and individuals alike and offer many services like environmental testing. Microbiological testing may not seem like something that many people will need to use in their daily lives, but the need for testing, environmental or otherwise, is an integral part of the world that cannot be overlooked when it comes to public safety.

This article is from issue 21 of Health Europa Quarterly. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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Cameron Medeiros

Nova Biologicals
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