Recent Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate, Katie Kirsch, a recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program for summer 2011, took her opportunity head on.
Sparking a collaborative effort between two additional schools, Purdue University and the University of South Carolina, Kirsch and a researcher from each school sampled swabs from various surfaces in hotel rooms in South Carolina, Indiana and Texas.
According to the study, one hotel was sampled from each state, while three hotel rooms were sampled from within the particular hotel, ending with a sample size of nine.
The hotel rooms were all average-sized, containing two queen beds, and in each hotel room, samples were taken from 19 areas.
Kirsch became highly interested in potentially starting this project after taking a food, safety and sanitation class at UH, taught by assistant professor Jay Neal.
Neal was also the professor to oversee Kirsch’s research for the SURF program. Initially, Kirsch became a part of an ongoing project in the Food Science Lab at UH and decided to expand into her own research.
The study was on methods to develop better practices for housekeepers in hotels by using a model used by the food industry known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points which identifies and eliminates the risk for biological, physical and chemical hazards that could potentially exist.
Kirsch and Neal believe this would be an ideal system to apply to hotel rooms and would recommend this principle to hotels for the future.
“The research wasn’t done with the consumer in mind. It was to validate the housekeeping methods that are being done by hotels,” Neal said.
“There are tens of thousands of hotel housekeepers that are doing a great job.”
By using a environmental sampling kit, researchers were able to discover that high-touch areas like hotel remotes and light switches were among the areas where bacteria was more apparent in the 19 areas sampled. Researchers also found that the highest levels of contamination came from housekeepers’ cleaning carts, particularly from the mop, sponge, and towels, which may be used to clean multiple rooms. However, with such a small sample size, it must be noted that this is simply a preliminary study.
“It’s a very good preliminary study. I am very proud of the research because it was funded by the SURF program. This shows that an undergraduate research can get international recognition for her work,” Neal said. “(Kirsch) got calls from Paris, Mexico City, Chile and has an interview with a group out of Canada on Tuesday. With getting international recognition, we need to make sure we are being diligent in promoting what the original objectives were.”
Kirsch was able to present her findings Sunday at the American Society for Microbiologists ASM Conference, in San Francisco, Calif. and will be attending Texas A&M in the fall for her masters in food science and technology and said she is excited to have a stronger base of microbiology.