Refillable reservoir dispensers used to be the standard way to provide soap in washrooms – and many companies in the food manufacturing sector continue to hold on to these so-called bulk systems. Paul Jakeway explains that there are inherent risks of bacterial contamination with these dispensers, making sealed cartridge dispensers the safer, more efficient choice

There used to be nothing but bulk. Soap dispensers holding their product in a refillable reservoir were the only alternative to a bar of soap or a lotion from a bottle. For good reasons: bulk dispensers left less mess than bar soaps and were inexpensive. This made them a natural choice for health and safety/facility managers in the food manufacturing sector too. But budget-driven decisions in favour of bulk systems did not always take into a consideration an issue that we now recognise as extremely problematic: bacterial contamination.

Bulk systems are ‘open’: because they are not sealed they are potentially vulnerable to contamination from the environment (bacteria fungi or moulds), or from the hands of the person refilling the system and handling the dispenser.

The widely-applied practice of ‘topping off’ dispensers – refilling them before they have been emptied out completely and cleaned properly – means that the old soap in the reservoir, which may have been contaminated by germs, can cause the new soap to be contaminated.

And even where the equipment is cleaned frequently, using aggressive products such as bleach, researchers have identified a high risk of recontamination, due to biofilms – microorganisms that stick to each other and adhere to surfaces.

Extensive research leaves no doubt about the seriousness of the problem: in one study, 25 per cent of bulk dispensers were found to be excessively contaminated. A separate study, conducted in Japan, found no fewer than 17 different types of bacteria in soaps that came from bulk dispensers. Further research came to the conclusion that bulk dispensers can leave hands with 25 times more bacteria after washing.

Shockingly, experts have linked the use of bulk dispensers to infection outbreaks in healthcare settings. They might be easy to refill and inexpensive, but they are most certainly not the hygienic, safe choice.

Better solutions are widely available. Sealed dispenser systems are ‘closed’: they are refilled by inserting into the dispenser a sealed cartridge of soap. There is no contact between the product and the environment before the product is being used to wash hands. The risk of contamination is reduced to a minimum.

In the study ‘Bacterial Hand Contamination and Transfer after Use of Contaminated Bulk-Soap-Refillable Dispensers’ the authors come to the conclusion that ‘extrinsic contamination of hand soap can be eliminated or considerably reduced through the use of sealed-soap-dispensing systems’.

In contrast to the often messy re-filling procedure of bulk dispensers, sealed cartridges are quick and easy to change. Spills are no longer an issue, and sealed cartridge dispensers require minimal cleaning. Maintenance is extremely low – saving both time and money.

Multiple benefits
Modern dispensers have been designed to deliver exactly the right amount of a specific product at any given time – whereas bulk dispensers tend to deliver the same quantity whatever product they are filled with. This alone makes sealed cartridge dispensers the more economical option.

What’s more: sealed cartridge dispensers make it possible to use highly effective foam soaps instead of lotion products. Less foam soap is needed compared to lotion soap, with a standard one-litre cartridge yielding over 1400 hand washes.

Foam soaps can also contribute to significant water and energy savings. It has been estimated that their use can reduce water consumption by up to 45 per cent. A range of foam formulations also carry the European Union Ecolabel Certificate, which means that they are considered to carry a reduced environmental impact, whilst retaining their primary purpose of being effective and pleasant to use.

Using less product also means that the amount of packaging waste is reduced. Unlike bulk systems, which, thanks to frequent opening and cleaning requirements, could break easily, many sealed cartridge dispensers are built to last, with some manufacturers offering a guarantee for life.

There are aesthetic considerations too: some manufacturers offer customers the opportunity to customise the equipment according to their individual wishes. Organisations can incorporate texts and logos, furthering their brand identity in an unusual location.

A stylish, easy to use, clean sealed cartridge dispenser system can also make a significant contribution to increasing hand hygiene compliance. Washroom users are much more likely to wash their hands with soap if the product is available from pleasant looking, clean and tidy dispensing systems.

To further this, skin care experts can offer training and education materials. When should hands be washed, and what is the correct technique? Experts can also provide health and safety/facility managers with advice on which products to choose for a particular environment.

Stylish-looking, efficient, and both easy to use and maintain – sealed cartridge dispensers are safer and more hygienic than their bulk counterparts; they minimise the risk of bacterial contamination and help to prevent infections; they save companies time and money; and they ease the burden on the environment. If you take all these advantages together, they really make bulk dispensers look like a relic from a by-gone era – it’s time to bin them.

(For a list of sources for research in this article, please email the editor).

Paul Jakeway is Marketing Director at skin care expert Deb. For over 80 years, Deb Group has been establishing skin care regimes for all types of workplace and public environments, spanning industrial, automotive, healthcare, commercial, hotels, restaurants, catering and leisure, food manufacturing and retail sectors. Drawing on deep technical expertise and extensive field sales support, Deb provides employers with innovative skin care programmes that maximise employee participation through carefully devised, reliable skin care systems, supported by quality products that are both pleasant-to-use and cost effective.