COVID-19 cleaning protocols will be part of the new normal for restaurants 

Positive contact

click to enlarge The BioCide fogger - COURTESY BIOCLEAN COLORADO
  • Courtesy BioClean Colorado
  • The BioCide fogger

Whatever it’s going to look like when restaurants and bars eventually get back to full strength, we know that cleaning protocols will be top of mind. If you’ve noticed the recent hubbub on social media when establishments have (in some patrons’ opinions) failed to live up to expectations for tidy pickup and curbside service — precautions like gloves, touchless payment, masks — many people are going to spend their dollars where they feel safest and they perceive the business as being proactive.

“If we don’t get this right, our industry isn’t going to be able to open back up as quickly as it could,” says co-owner of Picnic Basket Catering Michelle Talarico. “I feel like it’s my duty as a business owner, having been around the block for 30 years, to take this seriously. I feel an incredible responsibility to get it right for the safety of the people that work for me and for our customers.”

That in mind, the cleaning services industry will likely see a boom as restaurateurs look to supplement their own efforts and gain consumer confidence. One person counting on this is Ryan Darilek, who’s behind the new business BioClean Colorado. It offers bio-decontamination services like subsurface sterilization, electrostatic spraying and disinfectant fogging, plus air purification and monitoring systems. I didn’t know exactly what half of those things were until I talked with Darilek, who was patient with the tone of my reporterly skepticism as we unpacked the claims BioClean makes on its website. 

click to enlarge screen_shot_2020-05-19_at_1.58.24_pm.png

They say their chemical treatment is EPA-approved — which doesn’t always go far in my book, given the neutered agency’s continued allowance of pesticides shown to be detrimental to bees —  and that it kills 99.9 percent of COVID-19- and SARS-associated coronavirus, bird flu strains and much more. (You know, like President Trump’s favorite mouthwash ... bleach.) But where the story really gets interesting is on the claim of their treatments being “proven to combat viral pathogens for up to 7-14 days after treatment (depending on surface traffic).” 

I’m gonna let you stew over that for a moment, before we dive deep into it below. Warning: Big words like “quantum ammonium reaction” will be used and I’d be lying if I told you I understood them in any precise way. Darilek was in the same boat when he began looking for solutions for this pandemic. “I failed out of AP Chemistry into regular,” he says, “it’s been a lot to wrap my brain around. I’ve been studying this since January almost full time, 16 to 18 hours a day. My wife is about to kill me.”

Prior to launching BioClean Colorado in late April, Darilek was a general contractor, operating Bright Construction and Development (which remains open but not active as he focuses on this new venture). The 35-year-old also serves on the board of ComCor and says he’s a part of several joint-venture partnerships. Bright mainly did commercial work, such as tenant finishes on restaurants, but also handled hazmat jobs such as asbestos removal and site cleanings, which has provided some experience with suppliers and products related to sanitation services.    “BioClean Colorado was created to deal with solutions for what we’re facing now,” he says, noting that after living through the 2008 downturn, which pummeled the construction industry, he’d been tracking news on COVID-19 early on, with an eye toward implications for his work.

Darilek began his research by seeking the right biocide to fight COVID-19, quickly realizing that many hospital-grade disinfectants would be prohibitively expensive for potential clients like schools, office buildings and churches, beyond restaurants and bars. He priced them out at about 55 cents a square foot, and says he’s aiming to deliver services for closer to 10 cents a square foot.

What the products tend to have in common, though, is the central ingredient n-Alkyl: dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. “It’s been used as a disinfectant since the early 1700s in Spain,” he says, “The way it works is incredible. Not only when applied does it combat and kill, but when applied in a certain way it acts as a surface protectant for anywhere from seven days to four months.” 

His research eventually led him to a product called BioCide 100, made by Georgia-based BioCide Labs. VP Cley Dorfman confirms that the 15-ish-year-old product is safe to use in hospitals, day cares, senior living facilities and restaurants. He also cites the company’s good standing with clients like the military, FEMA and the Red Cross, and says business has picked up since more people concerned with COVID-19 have found the company on the EPA registry. 

Dorfman says BioCide 100’s efficacy against COVID-19 is proven, with a proprietary blend of 99.79 percent inert ingredients, but he clarifies he wouldn’t call it a “green” product; after all, it’s still a chemical substance. He also cautions against making claims related to how long the product will remain effective, “because there’s so many variables,” from the amount of traffic an area sees to factors like temperature. But he says he likes the way BioClean Colorado plans to follow up with testing after their cleanings to generate their own data. From his conversations with Darilek, he says “They’re one of the best I’ve seen, and I deal with people around the country all the time.” (Quite a ringing endorsement for a startup that’s yet to prove itself.)Anyway, about that certain application Darilek mentions, that’s where the electrostatic spraying comes in. He explains the premise to me but I Google that shit anyway and here’s my best paraphrase: An electrode in the sprayer atomizes the chemical as it exits, giving the chemical a positive electrical charge, which causes it to cling “aggressively” to surfaces ­— so aggressively you don’t even have to hit all four sides of, say, a chair leg, as the positive charge causes the chemicals to wrap around evenly. The positively charged chemical droplets then are attracted to all negatively charged particles. (It’s like the dating world ... ahem.) So, explains Darilek, when a virus or bacterium comes in range, the particles detach and attack; think about a microscopic mist that neutralizes a sneeze before it lands droplets on a surface. You know ... the “quantum ammonium reaction.” (OK, I Googled this too but got bored, so either he’s right or we’re going to get comments on this article from know-it-alls.)

click to enlarge Electrostatic spraying at Happy Belly Tacos. - COURTESY BIOCLEAN COLORADO
  • Courtesy BioClean Colorado
  • Electrostatic spraying at Happy Belly Tacos.

So, difficult-to-reach places can be sprayed with this aggro n-Alkyl inherent to BioCide 100, while a separate fog machine can simultaneously blanket a space. That’s where the subsurface sterilization comes in, reaching cracks and crevices we aren’t seeing. The fog’s meant to kill any current contaminants, while the electrostatic spraying lays down the protective barrier for what’s to come. Installation of commercial-grade air scrubbers with special filters can continue to treat the atmosphere, and a special antimicrobial film — that Darilek likens to a smartphone’s screen protector — can be applied with heat guns onto high-traffic surfaces such as credit card processing machines or grocery cart handles. They too kill viruses on contact, and you can even get your company’s logo etched into them. (Man, we have definitely arrived at The Future.)

Yeah, but me with my questions, still. 

Me: “How do we know this n-Alkyl substance isn’t just another cancer-causer?” 

Darilek: “We have all the paperwork dating back from ’95 to 2010. It’s uncontested to be in direct contact with food — guaranteed safe.”  

Me: “But what about when you wipe a cleaning rag over a bar top? Aren’t you just gonna pick up the n-Alkyl or spend up all the positive particles?

Darilek: “You still clean as you would normally, as long as it’s not straight bleach or muriatic or sulfuric acid.” [Yeah, those last two aren’t under my sink at home, dude.] “Even 50-50 diluted bleach isn’t abrasive enough to affect the proteins.” 

This sounds too good to be true, and Darilek concedes a lot of it’s hearsay to him too, but it’s what the product manufacturers are saying. That’s why he plans to do testing and gather his own data to prove it. 

I phone Kim Metzler, the Director of ATP Biostrategies Division at Sanitation Strategies, a Michigan-based company that sells life sciences and eco-friendly sanitation products as well as testing materials, particularly to the biomedical research field. Metzler specializes in risk assessments — offering support services nationwide — which she explains as going into a facility and assessing strong and weak points and making recommendations for optimal cleanliness. 

Darilek met her by phone when he called into Sanitation Strategies’ corporate office, basically saying that he was looking to verify the efficacy of the sanitation methods BioClean Colorado is using. 

“Everyone’s rushing to find solutions on how to clean during this pandemic,” she says. “But what most people haven’t considered yet, is how do we know that what we are doing is working? How do we know the products work and that people are trained properly to use them?” On that note, Metzler clarifies that she can only speak to conversations she’s had with Darilek and guidance she’s thus far provided him, but not to his actual implementation. In other words, she’s not endorsing the company other than to vouch for the products she’s now selling them. 

Ready for your next science lesson? (Too bad, you’re getting it anyway.) Metzler has set Darilek up with some handy UltraSnap swabs, which are an ATP test. ATP stands for Adenosine triphosphate, which is found in all living matter, basically a “molecular unit of currency,” the energy needed for everything from muscle firing to energy-consuming and -releasing reactions. On each Q-Tip-sized swab, explains Metzler, the tip has an extractant, similar to a medical-grade mouthwash. The bulb of the container contains a substance called luciferin, which seems less evil when you learn it’s what makes lightning bugs light up. (This is a synthetic version — go science!) Anyway, an incoming substance gets its cell broken open by the extractant, and the luciferin hits the broken cell and gives off light, which is read by a luminometer. The more light, the more ATP, which means the more possible contaminants, says Metzler.  

“It’s a clean/dirty test,” she says. “It will detect bacteria, urine, blood, fecal matter, skin cells, anything organic.” She says the test has been around for more than 30 years, originally developed for the food and beverage industry, specifically for food manufacturing plants. They must adhere to government regulations and validate their cleanings in order to ensure that, for example, people with peanut allergies aren’t exposed to peanut residue on machinery. Other industries picked up the testing method, including pharmaceutical companies,  health care and biomedical research.  “ATP will show if a cleaning product works or not. You’ll see the numeric value,” she says. “If I was one of Ryan’s customers, I’d ask for a summary of results.”

  • Courtesy BioClean Colorado

I, still playing journalist skeptic, ask: “But could he fudge the results?”

“When he takes the reading, that result is locked in,” she says. “He can’t change the value, date or time... It has to be secure because auditors rely on these reports. There’s lots of security in the software so that can’t happen.”

Metzler recommends that, for a new restaurant account, BioClean Colorado do a wide testing of as many as 10, 20 or 30 high-touch surfaces to create a pre-cleaning baseline essentially. Then, randomly test between those areas over time post-treatment(s) to monitor the cleaning agent’s longevity/efficacy. 

Darilek says he’s built the price of the testing into the overall cost of his cleaning services, so weekly testing won’t be an upcharge to clients. Even if data are showing great results consistently, he foresees clients wanting to track the data. If the county health department or some agency ever inquired, they’d be able to produce good records that show their cleaning efforts. Plus, if a business grew, for example, and foot traffic followed suit, eventually treatments might need to be more frequent; only regular testing would show it.

Darilek projects he’ll have to spray roughly a million square feet monthly to reach profitability, but he also believes restaurateurs will have an appetite for the service if it’s roughly $150 a week to take the extra steps to protect both staff and clientele to the best of their ability.  He’s already hired six employees.

BioClean Colorado’s initial clients include Wobbly Olive, Happy Belly Tacos and Rooster’s House of Ramen, plus
Picnic Basket Catering Company and all the IHOPs in Colorado Springs. Sean Fitzgerald, a co-owner of those first three businesses (who tipped me off to BioClean Colorado’s existence), says after consulting multiple sanitation companies, Darilek’s  provided the most information and answered his questions most satisfactorily. “We’ll never know if we protect or save someone,” he says, “we won’t know if we did enough, but we’re going to exhaust every option out there.” 

Picnic Basket’s Michelle Talarico says she too consulted other cleaning companies, but was quickly won over by BioClean Colorado after their staff came for a site visit; she says she loved their transparency and how they insisted on completing a first round of testing before accepting payment for the initial treatment. Talarico says she did her own research on the cleaning agents BioClean is using, and was satisfied. “They were very honest with me about what they know and don’t and what they’re learning ... there’s no COVID playbook.”

El Paso County Public Health Retail Food Program Manager Sammi Jo Lawson provided the following statement, given that Public Health won’t endorse a specific business for cleaning and disinfecting: “Public Health provides clear guidance to retail food establishments on proper cleaning and disinfecting by directing them to the resources on our website and other approved resources. An establishment is approved to perform cleaning and disinfecting for COVID-19 on their own so long as they follow our provided guidance. If a facility chooses to hire a company to perform their cleaning, we advise that they review that company’s procedures and disinfectants to ensure they meet our guidelines.”

A lot of companies are offering cleaning services and more will pop up as COVID-19 forces proof-of-cleanliness as a standard for doing business. I ask Darilek what differentiates BioClean Colorado from the rest, given widely available products and services. 

“I think instead of reinventing the wheel, we stopped it, took a close look at it, and started it back up again,” he says. “A lot of companies might be doing what we’re doing, but they’re not doing the follow-up, the testing and the monitoring. We’re not just taking the manufacturer’s word. We’re going to go back in and test and adjust as needed... We want our own data to prove it.”

Ending on a hopeful note, he says: “I feel like this business isn’t just for me. It’s a long-term solution; that’s what’s most important.” 


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