Every lab has had their run-ins with contamination. Managing a lab can be quite the balancing act. Whether you’re dealing with scientific equipment repairs, calibration or chemical spills, lab administration can be demanding and stressful. Naturally, close calls with lab contamination are simply par for the course.
However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight contamination each and every day. Essentially, when it comes to contamination, there are two types. There’s biological contamination (which describes bacteria or fungi) and chemical. Both types of contamination can ruin your day, to say the least. Basically, contamination can destroy research and experiments, and make cell cultures useless.
So how can your lab avoid contamination? Below, we’ll discuss some of the ways to prevent contamination and keep your lab functional and cost-efficient.
1. Lab Equipment Sterilization
The most common measure against contamination is lab sterilization. There are a few different methods of sterilization. Basically, sterilization is critical to keeping lab equipment and samples sanitary. Autoclaving (or wet heat) is the most popular method of sterilization. Essentially, this process uses pressurized steam to heat the item that must be sterilized. Autoclaving is an incredibly effective procedure. It will kill all microbes, spores and viruses. However, for some specific biosafety levels, higher steam temperatures or longer incubation periods are necessary.
Autoclaves emit pressurized steam that holds seven times more heat than water at the same temperature. Additionally, when it comes in contact with the material, the heat makes contact instantly and even penetrates a more dense, thick surface. The speed and efficiency at which autoclaving sterilizes is what makes it the most popular method. Since these are vital to preventing contamination, it’s important to service and repair your autoclaves regularly.
In addition to autoclaving, methods like dry heat (baking or flaming), filtration, chemicals/solvents and radiation can also be effective to sterilize.
2. Maintain Water & Air Quality
A proven way to avoid contamination is to regularly check the quality of your lab’s air and water. Basically, it can help you to avoid unpleasant surprises later on. There are several different kinds of lab equipment that are specifically engineered to keep track of airborne and water contaminants. This way, you have a consistent idea of your lab’s level of contaminants. If you check these levels on a regular basis, you’ll be better prepared to avoid contamination.
Some systems even have features that can instantly alert your lab through an alarm device whenever unusual contaminants appear. For any lab baths or incubators, be sure to change the water in the reservoir at least once a week. Additionally, there are some antibiotic solutions you can apply to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. Also, be sure to test any samples of cell lines, even if they appear just fine. This will save you a huge headache, especially when your cell-based experiments are providing you results that don’t make sense. Biosafety cabinets require a similar level of maintenance in order to prevent contamination.
No matter how armed you might feel against the threat of contamination, none of your methods will work without diligent planning. Essentially, this requires clear, coherent organization. When you prepare for anything – research, experiments, etc, it’s important to set aside everything that requires decontamination beforehand. Basically, this ensures that nothing needs to be cleaned at the very last minute, which is a huge contamination risk.
Organizing all of your bottles and other solutions will also prevent dust buildup, which will spread bacterial matter to your samples. A great way to maintain organization is to use a laboratory information management system. This will help you to keep track of inventory and schedule decontamination protocols.
4. Common Sense
Obviously, one of the most important preventative measures is simple common sense. Make sure each and every employee wears the necessary personal protective equipment, or PPE. This is especially important when in cleanrooms or a sterile environment. Essentially, one of the main reasons to wear PPE is not just to protect you from samples – it’s to protect samples from you. Wearing goggles, a lab coat and gloves will prevent keratin and bacteria from your skin falling into your plates, tubes and vials. Obviously, these are the kinds of contaminants that can really compromise your work.
Additionally, make sure you always clean the lab! The best way to keep your lab clean is to establish a regular cleaning schedule. Make sure all personnel are responsible for the regular upkeep of the lab. If every employee is responsible for keeping the lab clean and sterile, you stand a good chance of avoiding contamination.
At S.E.P.S., lab safety and cleanliness is our mission. For more information or to schedule decontamination services for your lab, contact us today!