Swabbing Techniques for Microbial Testing of Industrial Equipment

Testing industrial equipment for microbes curbs the spread of disease.
Testing industrial equipment for microbes curbs the spread of disease. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Industrial equipment, especially in the food-processing industry, requires immaculate cleaning. The simple addition of one microbe, or bacterium, to a food assembly line can potentially sicken hundreds of consumers. Businesses test for microbes periodically through swabbing techniques. However, the type of swab stick and bud must be specifically designed for collecting the most accurate microbe sample.

Swabbing Function

Swabbing is the simple absorption of a microbe specimen into a material, such as a cotton bud, for analysis. People must operate industrial equipment, and many businesses rotate multiple employees for covering all shifts. The equipment is constantly exposed to human microbes from breathing, coughing, sneezing or touching. Microbe detection is essential for a sterile food product, as well as public health.

Swabbing Methodology

A swab must remain sterile within its packaging container immediately before use for avoiding false readings during analysis. Swipe the swab across the intended surface and promptly return it to its designated packaging container. The container typically holds a medium for preventing the microbes from multiplying. Any distortion of the original specimen count can lead to incorrect analysis of the industrial equipment's microbe population.

Swab Types

A common swab bud is the packed cotton tip. However, cotton's composition is detrimental to the microbes' health. The cotton's fatty acids destroy microbes before they can be analyzed by an authorized microbiologist. Sponge or foam buds are specifically designed for industrial microbe detecting needs. The specimen is safe from toxicity, allowing an accurate view of the microbe's growth extent on the equipment.

Stick Types

Amazingly, the swab's stick affects the swabbing technique. Typical wood shafts contain the same fatty acids associated with cotton buds. The wood will react with the microbes as it rests within its packaging container after specimen collection. Plastic sticks are a viable option, as they do not react with the microbes but can splinter during specimen collection or transport. New technology allows the use of aluminum wire, and even rayon, for a safe stick construction. Neither material affects the microbe's health or quantity, providing an accurate specimen sample.

Microbe Release

Another concern regarding swabbing techniques is the quantity of microbes released from the swab. CLSI (Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute) designates standards for swabs, and their particular application, for avoiding incorrect analysis from unreleased microbes. The sponge or foam bud is not tightly wound like a cotton bud. Microbes become trapped within tightly wound buds, causing only 30 to 50 percent of the specimen to be released, states Rapid Microbiology.

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