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AAA Adds New Sanitization Standard To Hotel Inspections

Man swabs a TV remote in a hotel room. A device sits on the counter next to a phone and a pad and paper.
AAA inspectors will use the Charm Sciences device to test swabs that take samples of the cleanliness of objects in hotel rooms.

A night’s stay at a hotel comes with a certain set of expectations — including a clean room. Hotel guests can expect a new set of standards for some rooms to be held to, and one not quite so visible.

AAA regularly evaluates hotels on their comfort, service, and cleanliness. Part of that evaluation will now include the sanitation levels of high-touch surfaces.

The move was inspired by the wave of hotels adjusting their operations, including cleaning procedures, during the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to make people comfortable.

“One of the things that [hotels] changed was that they wanted to enhance their sanitation levels on a lot of high-touch surfaces,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. “With that said, AAA does conduct on-site in person inspections on hotels, so we wanted to ensure that we make those high-touch surface testing part of our routine inspections.”

The cleanliness of surfaces like door handles, light switches, and television remotes will be measured using a portable, cellphone-sized device manufactured by the biotechnology company Charm Sciences.

Man holding blue tablet sized AAA sanitization test device
Man holding blue AAA sanitization test device

The device won’t directly identify the presence of a virus on a surface.

Instead, it analyzes a swab of a surface for a level of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — a molecule found in living cells that would cause filth invisible to the eye.

ATP can come from human skin cells, mold, bacteria, or other kinds of biological substances, including ones found in respiratory droplets.

To test for ATP, inspectors swab a surface and insert the swab into the testing machine. Eight different surfaces in a hotel room, including the bathroom, will be tested. Multiple rooms will also be tested at each hotel.

“ATP monitoring is recognized by the Center for Disease Control, it is used in healthcare, food service, education, and other environments that require effective sanitation monitoring programs,” said Jenkins.

The sanitization test is another component of the cleanliness evaluation that anonymous AAA inspectors routinely conduct at hotels. It will go into effect later this month.

“AAA conducts thousands of hotel inspections every single year,” said Jenkins. “Part of that is just by an inspector booking a hotel room, sometimes under an alias name and bringing in their suitcases. Then once they get into the room, they unpack that suitcase and start their test.”

If sanitation levels are up to standard, hotels will be designated AAA “Diamond,” which is only given to hotels and restaurants that pass the in-person inspections.

“Now that we're coming out of the pandemic, travelers are looking for peace of mind. Obviously, we've learned a lot of new habits during the past year, and a lot of that is based on cleanliness — washing our hands, sanitizing things, including surfaces,” said Jenkins. “So I think that a lot of travelers have those heightened expectations for the hotels they're staying in.”

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.
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