All About ATP

What is ATP Testing?

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate. It is an energy-carrying molecule abundantly found in the cells of all living things1. ATP can only be produced by living organisms such that its presence is a direct indication of any and all kinds of biological matter (microorganisms, biofilm and other biological residues) that are invisible to the naked eye.

ATP was first discovered back in the late 1920sbut it was not until the late 1980s and well into the 1990s that ATP testing was developed. This development happened at about the same period as the technological improvements with regards to green_fluorescent_protein (GFP) and luciferase2. ATP Testing is the process by which microorganisms that are actively growing on all kinds of surfaces in any type of environment are measured through the detection of ATP.


How Does It Work?

When ATP comes into contact with luciferase, a naturally-occurring (firefly) enzyme, it produces light. This light-producing reaction is called bioluminescence. The amount of light produced is directly proportional to the amount of ATP present3. This amount of light is measured by a luminometer and is expressed in RLUs or Relative Light Units.

Samples are typically collected from a 10cm x 10cm surface by the use of ATP swabs. The swab will then be inserted into a tube where it will be soaked with a liquid-stable reagent in order for the test to be activated. Within a few seconds from activating the test, the tube is inserted into a ATP luminometer capable of quantifying even very low ATP levels by measuring the amount of bioluminescence from the reaction.


Why is ATP Important? 

ATP testing is a crucial tool for ensuring food safety, water cleanliness, industrial sanitation and disease prevention among others. We fully expect strict cleaning protocols to be 1) established, 2) diligently implemented and 3) regularly revisited or reviewed to discern whether they are still effective. After all, there may be some super bugs growing around us that our old sanitation measures aren’t able to neutralize anymore. So how do we know for sure? The answer is ATP testing.

ATP testing provides the means for us to look at our surroundings with informed eyes. We know not to touch certain surfaces until they have been sanitized properly. We know that while certain areas look clean and harmless, they’re actually not. We may not see these disease-carrying microbes but because of ATP testing we know they’re there, thriving and growing unchecked, threatening the health and well being of not only ourselves but our loved ones.


Who Should Be Testing for ATP?

Surface contamination with any number of microbes is a constant threat. Our generation is fortunate to have at our disposal the means to expose these microbial threats so that we may be better prepared against them. Life as we know it is made possible by the many industries that support modern society - from the farming industries that produce our food, to the food manufacturing industries that process them, to the treatment facilities that provide our clean drinking water etc. 

It is good for our peace of mind to know that these industries follow a set of cleaning and sanitation protocols and other contamination control measures, ATP testing included, to ensure that their end products and services do not end up causing diseases of epidemic proportions.  

  • Biotechnology

  • Compounding Pharmacies

  • Food & Beverage Manufacturing (Including Breweries)

  • Food Service Industry

  • Health Care

  • Hospitality

  • Industrial & Environmental Industries

  • Janitorial, Sanitation & Chemicals

  • Oil & Fuel

  • Pharmaceutical Industry

  • Personal Care & Cosmetics

  • Schools

  • Veterinary and Pet Care

  • Water Quality


Where is ATP Testing Done?

Apart from the many industries listed above, we do many things and visit many places in the course of a single day where ATP testing may play a major role in keeping things clean without us even realizing it. To help us better relate to the idea of contamination control with the help of ATP testing, it is best to cite examples of where tests may be performed in a few real-life examples:

  • Elevator key pads, doors/doorknobs – hundreds of people touch these surfaces. They get several wipe downs in a single business day.

  • Food contact surfaces – food preparation counters, sinks, chopping boards, serving dishes/cutlery, take out boxes etc.

  • Bar counter/stool, dining table, restaurant menu – these surfaces go through dozens of people every single day and are ideal carriers of disease-causing microbes if not cleaned properly and regularly.

  • Shower stalls in gyms/fitness centers, exercise mats, exercise bars – sweaty, warm temperatures and moist environments invite the growth of molds and other microbe populations causing unpleasant odors and the possible spread of diseases

  • Magazines in waiting rooms, ATM machines– Anything that is handled by many pairs of hands day-in and day-out is a breeding ground for bacteria and other viruses.


When Is ATP Testing Done?

  •  Proactive Approach

The objective is to PREVENT biological contamination of any sort and only a proactive approach will do. Food manufacturers can identify certain times in the day for an ATP test to be performed at various stages of their operation, usually at those points where contamination is most likely to be introduced into the process.

  •  After the Fact

For situations where some contamination has been observed, ATP testing is still a critical tool in identifying the specific areas or surfaces where the contamination may be coming from so that sanitizing and disinfecting efforts can be concentrated there.

The following sections will offer a more in-depth look into the world of bio-contamination and the major role that ATP testing plays in it, with relevant facts and statistics that will provide a clear timeline of how bioluminescence technology has evolved over the last few decades, its benefits to society and its limitations, the industries that find the most use from this technology and the major stakeholders from both the government and the private sector whose decisions impact the entire population when it comes to environmental sanitation and safety.

Check out our special section about Hygiena, the recognized industry leader in rapid hygiene monitoring systems and environmental collection systems. Hygiena products are distributed to over 50 countries worldwide.  









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