As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, terms like “disinfection” and “infection
prevention” are now firmly lodged in our vocabularies. Along with this, the pandemic has
also brought an explosion in new disinfectant products on the market, each claiming to
offer unique benefits in the fight against infection. Electrolyzed water, also known as
ECA Water or ECA Sanitizer (Electro-Chemical Activation) has been around for some time,
but has caught a new wave of interest in light of our increased focus on infection
prevention within cannabis-licensed producer facilities. Your best weapon to cut through
the noise and properly evaluate these products is your ability to think critically and
understand the basic criteria for choosing the right disinfectant to optimize your
sanitation program.
Electrolyzed water uses electricity to convert salt water, sometimes with the addition of
an acid, into a hypochlorous acid solution, which releases chlorine to destroy pathogens.
The major difference between the chemistry of electrolyzed water and bleach is the pH;
however, both use chlorine-based active ingredients, which have been used for dozens of
years in disinfectants. Electrolyzed water often involves using a machine to prepare the
disinfectant solution on demand from the base ingredients, but can also be sold as a
ready-to-use product. With the resurgence of this technology in recent times, here are
some questions you can ask to think critically:
All disinfectants must be registered with Health Canada or the EPA in the United
States. Whenever researching a disinfectant, you can use Health Canada’s
Drug Product Database or the EPA’s
Pesticide Product Label System to ensure that
the product is appropriately registered. If the product doesn’t appear, this is a red
flag and can indicate that the product’s claims are not supported by the appropriate
government agency.
Whatever disinfectant you choose should be non-toxic and non-irritating to the eyes
and skin when used properly. Electrolyzed water products might be advertised as safe
or as a “chemical-free” solution because the starting product is salt water, but this
is misleading; the in-use solution has been changed chemically to make it effective
against pathogens, in turn making the solution more toxic. Chlorine-based products,
especially when used at higher concentrations, have been associated with eye, skin,
and respiratory irritation, and often have a harsh chemical odour. Make sure to
reference the product label and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to understand any safety
precautions associated with both the raw materials as well as the in-use solution.
Some disinfectants are formulated with detergents, which gives them
cleaning capabilities. These types of
products can be used as one-step disinfectants, meaning that surfaces do not need to
be pre-cleaned with a separate detergent prior to disinfection. Electrolyzed water
does not contain any detergents, and has been shown to be significantly less effective
in the presence of dirt.1 The need for a separate pre-cleaning step with electrolyzed
water can add a lot of time and effort to your protocols when compared to using a
one-step product.
When researching a new disinfectant, one of the most important things to consider is
its efficacy profile. The disinfectant you choose should be effective against a broad
spectrum of pathogens that are relevant to your facility, including harder-to-kill
viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and should have label claims to support this. However,
this isn’t enough – it also needs to work in a realistic contact time, which is the length of
time that the liquid must stay wet on the surface to be fully effective. Some
electrolyzed water products have contact times as long as 10 minutes, which is
difficult to achieve in realistic conditions.
Technologies such as electrolyzed water often involve a significant upfront investment
in the equipment, along with regular maintenance, and involve complicated processes to
produce the correct concentration. Furthermore, electrolyzed water is naturally
unstable, with the concentration of available chlorine rapidly dropping when exposed
to light or open air.2 This can result in solutions having a short shelf life, and
needing to be replaced on a regular basis, driving up costs. Another aspect to
consider is compatibility with the surfaces and equipment throughout your facility:
chlorine-based products are known to corrode metals, which can lead to massive costs
if expensive equipment needs to be replaced.
Electrolyzed water is just one example of the many new technologies that are likely to
emerge as we make our way out of COVID-19. By
asking a few key questions, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge to think
critically about how we clean and disinfect.
REFERENCES: 1. Fertelli D, Cadmun JL,
Nerandzic MM, et al. Effectiveness of an electrochemically activated saline
solution for disinfection of hospital equipment.
Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2013;34(5):543-4.
2. Xuan XT, Wang MM, Ahn J, et al
. Storage and stability of slightly acidic electrolyzed water and circulating
electrolyzed water and their property changes after application.
J Food Sci  2016 Mar;81(3):E610-7.

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