It is a known fact that microbes can cause serious damage to many products, and can have a negative effect on many industrial processes. They can also be of great help, if controlled, and should be approached with caution and knowledge. But apart from having the know-how to use or eliminate various microorganisms in your specific line of work, one should also have the appropriate tools for the job.
And, boy, oh boy, does a microbiological laboratory need a lot of equipment. With so many things that require analyzing it is hard to have everything needed if you are working with a small team or in a small laboratory. Luckily, some things, both chemical and mechanical, can be used for many different purposes, and here you will see which few things can help sterilize a variety of contaminated surfaces and items.
Sterilizing With Chemicals
The easiest approach is to use something easily transportable and simple to use. Various chemicals in liquid form fit this description perfectly, and as many people know – alcohol, which is usually ethanol, is a favorite in many fields. From medicine to restaurants, it is the most common type of disinfectant on the market. It works through denaturation, where the alcohol destroys the proteins in the cell causing it to die.
It works best at a concentration of about 70%, though there are several drawbacks. It is a highly volatile substance which means it needs to be kept in a closed container or it will evaporate rather quickly. It can not sterilize but rather only disinfect, as spores of bacteria are mostly immune to it. The vegetable form is more prone to denaturation, but even then it is usually not a 100% kill rate.
Heat, and Its Application
A bit more technically challenging, yet much more effective is killing off microorganisms with heat. For this, one can use an oven, a lighter, but professionals will be using autoclaves for disinfection. Heat is something that, given enough time and energy, will penetrate through everything and can surely sterilize any surface or material.
Dry heat, that is heated dry air – is the less effective form of using heat but is very straightforward. Putting any piece of thermostable equipment (glass, metal) in an oven at a relatively high temperature, 160 °C, for two hours, or 170 °C for an hour will make them sterilized. The drawback is that this method is relatively slow and cannot be applied to thermoplastic materials, nor those substances that must not reach such a high temperature.
Wet heat, on the other hand, is where things get interesting. Pure water vapor has a higher energy density than dry air alone and is, therefore, a much better candidate for quick sterilization. As can be seen in many labs and factories, applying wet heat to sterilize, either in a closed container like an autoclave or with a steam gun, is the norm.
Autoclaves work by heating pressurized water vapor, that is – you work with pressure and time. At a bit more than 2 atm of pressure you have a completely sterilized surface in about 20 minutes.
Better Safe Than Sorry
It is never too much to emphasize the importance of microbiological control, especially in businesses that depend on it, such as the food or pharmaceutical industry. Famous examples such as the case of Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can be sometimes found in meat products that produce the neurotoxin botulinum – very dangerous for humans.
To avoid that, and to help maintain a stable production process with no loss of time or resources due to unwanted microorganisms – sterilization is probably required in several stages during the process. Every lab technician should be familiar with all possible techniques for sterilization, but it is up to the head of the production to determine whether it should be a necessary step and what equipment should be used.
Once a microbiological infiltration occurs in a factory or other closed system it can be relatively hard to get rid of it – so good practice is of the utmost importance.
Working with microorganisms is similar to working with fire – it makes a good servant but a bad master. And keeping it in line can be easy once you know what you’re doing and have all the tools available – be it the very best professional equipment or the DIY toolset.
In this case, choosing the top sterilizer depends mostly on the production capacity and experience of workers, and the choice should not be made hastily but made so the solution fits the need.