Sunday 2 June 2024

Innovations in Preventing Cross-Contamination in Microbiological Studies

Microbiology lab: Image designed by Tim Sandle


Cross-contamination issues in microbiology labs can waste people’s time and necessitate discarding samples. Fortunately, people have many innovative options for preventing these problems. 

By Ellie Gabel 

Use Data Analytics to Understand Problematic Trends

People group cross-contamination issues into several categories, including biological, physical and chemical.


  • Yeasts
  • Molds 
  • Viruses
  • Bacteria


  • Glass fragments
  • Packaging residue
  • Hair
  • Fibers


  • Gas impurities
  • Pesticide residue
  • Endotoxins
  • Detergents

Biological contaminants are particularly concerning because airborne microorganisms transferred into cell cultures can multiply and quickly outgrow what’s already there. 

Whatever caused the cross-contamination, lab managers should maintain information about every incident. Once they’ve created a database, the next proactive thing to do is feed the data into an analysis platform that helps them find concerning trends. People running microbiology lab experiments canuse microbiome tools to determine the microbes in a specific environment. These options have gradually improved, giving users more granular information.

Lab managers should take a similar approach when identifying and preventing cross-contamination in their facilities. One approach might be to pull data about all the cross-contamination events that affected an organization’s microbiological studies during a given year. Then, people should drill down further to look for commonalities. 

Did a lab employee make a mistake while simultaneously working on several lines on their sterile lab benches? Did the error occur because the worker was under too much pressure to finish things on time? Issues can also happen if a CO2 incubator is too close to a wash basin, particularly if fragranced soap remnants end up causing the cross-contamination issue. 

Once the team finds several clear trends, they should consider the extent to which the causes are within the affected party’s control. Those are the first areas to focus on as people gradually work to prevent future incidents. 

Take Advantage of Databases and Maintenance Tools

Information-gathering practices are only useful if people can make sense of the collected material. Lab managers should create and stick to processes that make the content as well-organized and useful as possible. 

Consider that a single environmental monitoring tool couldgenerate hundreds of data points every week. People should ideally have thoughtful plans for managing that content. Otherwise, it could be too easy to miss a cross-contamination cause that people could address through better internal processes. 

Decision-makers should strongly consider using purposeful tools to maintain their databases. Alternatively, hiring an external consultant to recommend and establish data usage practices can allow people to avoid pitfalls. 

Another tip is to periodically review data maintenance practices to determine what’s working well and what needs improvement. Those brief checks can help people address minor problems early before they get out of control and interfere with the data’s quality. 

Schedule Online Learning Programs to Refresh Knowledge

People involved in microbiological studies must follow aseptic techniques during their work. Best practices include: 

  • Disinfecting their bench tops before and after each use
  • Refraining from eating, drinking or smoking in the lab
  • Handling cultures while wearing safety goggles
  • Protecting the hands with disposable gloves
  • Using proper sterilization techniques for bacteria transfers
  • Partially lifting plate covers to prevent airborne bacteria contamination

Even those who have worked in labs for decades can make occasional mistakes resulting in cross-contamination. However, periodic reinforcement of best practices is a great way to reduce those mishaps. 

Lab managers should consider investing in online training programs that work in the cloud. Then, a person can complete them from anywhere with an internet connection. That’s an important advantage since not all workers have dedicated office spaces for training.

Use E-Commerce Sites to Avoid Supply Shortages

Over the years, product designers have progressively found newer options that work well for particular groups or use cases. For example, latex gloves were once popular choices due to their tear-resistant qualities and elasticity. However, companies had to broaden their options since some people have latex allergies.

Now, many microbiology lab workers use nitrile options. This material reduces cross-contamination in many ways. For example, they won’t break down due to harsh chemical exposure and some have sufficient tensile strength to tolerate at least 18.0 megapascals of force.

The right hand-protectant options that give people appropriate coverage without tearing, breaking or limiting the wearer’s dexterity are important for preventing cross-contamination. Otherwise, problems could occur by accident — due to sudden breakage — or if a person momentarily removes a glove to address a limitation it causes. 

People running microbiological studies also need appropriate disinfectant products. One best practice is to apply 10%-15% bleach and then70% ethanol when cleaning the workspace. However, the ideal method varies depending on specifics associated with individual microbiology labs.

Whatever products people use most frequently to prevent cross-contamination in their labs, they should consider using e-commerce sites to browse for products, find the best prices and learn about available order fulfillment speeds.

Additionally, many e-commerce suppliers offer subscriptions that result in the desired products getting periodically delivered so customers will never run out. That’s a simple but practical way to ensure microbiology labs have essential supplies for preventing cross-contamination. 

Cross-Contamination Strategies Require Dedication

People must stay committed to successfully stopping cross-contamination problems when conducting microbiological studies. However, these examples show there are numerous innovations to pursue during these efforts. 

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