Meeting customer expectations now and post-Covid27 May 2021
The advent of Covid-19 certainly concentrated minds on super-hygiene practices in the industry with customers demanding enhanced safeguards they never looked for before the pandemic. Richard Neale of LTC Worldwide looks at how to provide this extra level of service in an affordable and cost-effective way
The worldwide pandemic has changed the market for contract laundering and rental textiles. Healthcare users have extended their demands to include Covid-19, as have food industry users, but they were both already sensitive to the risks of biological contamination and adept at detailing their requirements and checking they were getting these. Workwear suppliers to all sectors of industry are now having to submit some or all of their largest garment contracts to the same procedures as apply in their cleanrooms. It is the hospitality sectors which are facing the biggest changes and are having to adapt their thinking significantly. Hotels and restaurants are rightly demanding textiles which are essentially bug free and they are not prepared to accept verbal assurances from the launderer on their infrequent visits to the laundry premises. They want independent verification and they do not expect to have the revenue streams yet to pay very much for it. This month we look at alternative ways of meeting this demand in an affordable and cost-effective way.
The contract laundering and textile rental sectors worldwide are adapting to swift market changes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating effect it has had on the laundering industry and its customers. As the travel and hospitality sectors open up again, there are fears in many countries of a third wave in the coming winter and the possibility in tourist hotspots that this might come even sooner, given the desire of many to jet away to the sun this summer. Vaccine passports are actively being developed as we go to press; these will certainly be accompanied by demands from hotels and restaurants for some justified assurances that laundered textiles do not simply look clean and smell sweet. They will want to know that bugs from the occasional infected guest are being effectively killed or rendered harmless. The chemical supply industry has risen to the challenge and there are now a wide range of wash processes which adequately decontaminate both healthcare textiles and those used for other purposes such as hospitality and workwear. These processes are affordable, many work at lowtemperature (typically 40C) and they are designed to deal with the entire range of bugs which guests could carry, including Covid-19. This by itself is not enough. Shrewd hotel operators, restaurant owners and cruise laundry managers want guarantees that clean linen is delivered in a thoroughly decontaminated state. This means control of cross-contamination after the wash process itself, avoidance of risk from the odd batch which has not been properly processed and so on. They are looking for an appropriate RABC (Risk Analysis and Biocontamination Control) system. This month we look at how to set about developing this in your laundry.
Achievements to date
Much work has already been done to provide a straightforward and low-cost solution to the questions now being raised. Those laundries serving the food industry workwear sector have developed superb systems based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). They have, in conjunction with their demanding customers, identified the actual microbiological and allergen hazards relevant to them and then decided where and how these will be controlled down to the very low level required. They have pinpointed the stages in the laundry cycle where they need to measure or monitor what they are doing or achieving (these are the Critical Control Points) and decided how they are going to recognise and react when things go wrong. For example, many launderers serving the healthcare sector will monitor the bug count or bioburden on the clean linen immediately at the conclusion of the washing machine process. They might do this in-house using dip-slides on a weekly or daily basis, or less frequently using the services of an outside laboratory.
Most healthcare customers have their own specifications for hygienic cleanliness as regards viruses and bacteria. Historically many of these relied on implied thermal disinfection (maintaining 71C for three minutes plus mixing time in the main wash stage). Modern systems might rely on achieving a 5 log10 reduction in bacterial count, monitored and proved using a simple DES controller. Several countries, principally in Europe, have got together and developed a common standard. This has been published as a European Norme (EN 14065), updated in 2016. The document itself is beautifully simple (as standards documents go)! In just 15 pages it sets out the basic principles of a simple but comprehensive system for laundries and supports this with some helpful annexes containing useful illustrative examples. The over-riding principle is that individual customer requirements are first identified, the laundry agrees with the customer how these are to be achieved and then monitored to ensure they can be delivered with justified assurance. This means that decontamination must not only be achieved to the levels agreed, it is also necessary for the launderer to be able to demonstrate a system that gives reasonable confidence that every batch of textiles is as good as the ones that are actually checked.
Launderers and textile rental operators worldwide did well to respond to the early and urgent demand from healthcare providers for rapid and effective decontamination of re-usable personal protective equipment (PPE). Chemical suppliers responded equally quickly with a variety of processes to deal not only with the whole range of healthcare pathogens, but also Covid-19. This involved consideration and testing of thermal disinfection systems, agents which could break down the outer wall of the virus and surfactant chemistry which could emulsify the fatty ‘envelope’ surrounding the main virus itself and so render it inactive. They were successful in a variety of ways and were able to offer the textile care industry a range of different processes to meet local requirements. This technology is now being built into individual systems which meet the demanding criteria for certification of the laundry to EN 14065.
How difficult is it to achieve certification to EN 14065?
Certification to the standard is fast becoming a pre-requisite to surviving in the marketplace, both for contract laundering and for textile rental. Laundries that were already satisfying the food industry workwear markets in western economies and had already installed systems based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) have found it relatively easy to expand this to meet current EN 14065 criteria. Typically, this is only taking them around six to eight weeks!
However, for the average hospitality laundry processing hotel and restaurant work, the changes have been much greater and taken longer. The fastest adoption has come in those organisations which have taken on board the cultural change needed at every level. This must be driven at director and general manager level, with strong input from the laundry engineer and enthusiastic response from the production manager and production team. Training is needed and time must be allowed for this and for individual coaching. For example, the instruments on which reliance is placed for decontamination performance may need to be calibrated and their calibration checked regularly. Chemical supply systems must be able to cope with ‘barrel empty’ alarms without risk of accidentally processing even a single batch with no chemical injection of one ingredient.
The system by which decontamination of the textiles is to be achieved must be written down and it may be necessary for the effectiveness of the process to be certified by the chemical supplier or their laboratory. Records must be kept for inspection detailing calibration, key staff training, measurements of bug counts and so on. None of this needs to be superfluous but it must be the minimum adequate to satisfy an intelligent and discerning customer. The time is rapidly approaching when every significant customer is going to expect the professional launderer to be able to prove professional competence with appropriate certification. The brunt of the new approach is probably the routine work required on regular monitoring of surviving micro-organisms and developing the ability to analyse and deal with these results systematically.
These new requirements might act as a barrier to entry into the commercial and industrial laundry market and it may precipitate the demise of some very low-cost operators for whom this is just not practicable. Only time will tell.
As the laundry sector emerges from the painful consequences of the pandemic, it has to face changing demands of the market and the speed with which they must be accommodated. Laundering has never been an occupation for the fainthearted, but the present challenges are set test even the strongest. Good luck!
- If you have a problem that you think LTC Worldwide can help with, or that you feel would make a good subject for Material Solutions, please call T: 00 44 (0) 816545
Glossary of abbreviations
British Standard and European Norme.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points – this is the bedrock of bug control on food industry workwear.
Risk Analysis and Biocontamination Control – this is the basis for assurance in the laundry sector and elsewhere. The system described in BS EN 14065 is one good example of how to achieve this relatively simply and cost-effectively. This includes the seven principles applied to the capable and crucial process steps that are termed Critical Control Points (CCPs).
Personal Protective Equipment, which includes the large market by which the healthcare sector is kept supplied with re-usable workwear/PPE which is assuredly decontaminated.
1. EN 14065:2016 Textiles – Laundry processed textiles – Biocontamination control system (available from national standards bodies worldwide or downloadable from www.shop.bsigroup.com).