COVID Surface testing or ATP monitoring?

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ATP Testing and Viral Detection

The importance of environmental monitoring, specifically SARS-CoV-2 testing, to verify the effectiveness of sanitation programs and minimize/prevent pathogen contamination is well recognized. For various industries, it is critical not only for employee safety, but for regulatory compliance as well. In the food industry, the FDA (1) and USDA (2) expect businesses to have a hygienic zoning and effective environmental monitoring program designed to reduce the potential for contamination. In healthcare settings, the CDC has issued specific guidelines (3) addressing methods for evaluating environmental hygiene and safety as well.



ATP Based Testing

Many factors -such as ease of use, cost, reagents, consumables, need for training, availability of technical support, and regulatory acceptance- influence the

types of methods businesses will use when evaluating environmental safety. In regards to surface testing, there are many types —and the two most commonly used are ATP based testing and viral detection of specific pathogens. ATP testing measures the presence/absence of any organic matter, and is relatively simple to use. Commonly done on surfaces to measure cleanliness and effectiveness of disinfection procedures, a positive ATP test indicates that the surface tested is not adequately clean because something (living cells) is still present on the surface. Costs and speed can greatly vary depending on the systems used (4). It is not specific to any type of living cells, and does not distinguish between disease-causing bacteria or harmless ones. It also cannot be used to detect presence/absence of viruses, since viruses do not produce ATP (5).


Viral Detection

Viral detection tests identify the presence/absence (and some may quantify viral loads) of specific 


A positive result to a viral detection test indicates that the surface tested is not adequately clean because a specific virus (ex: SARS-CoV-2) is still present on the surface. Effective control of outbreaks depends in part on the identification of the specific virus, and location of contamination, which viral detection tests can easily provide. Viral tests for surfaces can come in many forms, 

but swab sampling is the most commonly implemented (6) (for ease of use, speed, and cost).


When do I use which test?

The decision of when to use which test will depend on individual business owners and regulatory guidance. ATP-based testing is a standard method for a first step in assessing environmental safety, but depending on individual needs, will not be sufficient for a successful environmental monitoring program as a whole. Especially as environmental safety concerns over COVID-19 are high, a comprehensive environmental monitoring program is a must for any essential or non-essential business or organization. If you need to be able to identify the specific viral contamination --because of regulatory compliance, general company-specific policies, and/or virus-specific disinfection protocols in case of a positive result-- viral detection tests would be required. If you’re looking to evaluate that your disinfecting procedures eliminate all traces of organic matter because of concerns over COVID-19, ATP based testing in combination with a SARS-COV-2 viral detection test could be your best toolkit.

An effective contamination prevention program will involve planning and evaluation for effectiveness. As both essential and non-essential organizations around the world build processes to protect their employees, customers, and patients, consistent testing and over-sampling will provide the best data possible for making critical decisions. Enviral Tech is here to guide you and provide you with the tools you’ll need to provide peace-of-mind. If you’d like to learn more about our Partnerships Program and how you can incorporate surface testing into your environmental monitoring program, feel free to reach out.


Summary Infographic




  1. FDA Guidance for Environmental Sampling
  2. USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) safeguards
  3. CDC Toolkit for Evaluating Environmental Cleaning
  4. Efficacy and Limitations of an ATP-Based Monitoring System
  5. Use of ATP Readings to Predict a Successful Hygiene Intervention in the Workplace to Reduce the Spread of Viruses on Fomites
  6. Swabs as a Tool for Monitoring the Presence of Norovirus on Environmental Surfaces in the Food Industry


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