Safe Touch – Disinfecting Surfaces at Retail with UV Light
Okay, so we shared a story about using touchless technology on in-store interactives to make shoppers feel safer. But a totally touch-free store is hard to imagine. And let’s face it, touching stuff while shopping is often part of the fun.
And since promising to routinely spray your store with disinfectant may be a good backup plan, its only natural that retailers would search for easier and more credible ways of disinfecting. That’s why there has also been a huge burst of interest in ultraviolet germicidal irradiation – or UV light – as a way to disinfect or sterilize surfaces and other materials at retail. Imagine a UV hand sanitizer by the front door, a UV light bar over a retail interactive touchscreen or even a UV light-emitting robot that patrols the store after hours (see photo of a hospital version). But UV’s efficacy in certain situations is questionable and so are some of the products being brought to market that use it. Let’s start with a few basics.
How UV Light Works to Kills Germs
Ultraviolet irradiation has been a standard disinfection method for a long time. At its most effective, it uses short-wavelength UV light or “UVC” to kill or disable microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA. This technique is often used to purify food, air and water. In fact, it’s been used to purify water since 1910. While UVC’s efficacy against Coronavirus may not yet be fully understood, it is fully expected that UVC light will effectively destroy the Coronavirus just as it does the flu virus and many other microorganisms.
But that same UVC light is also extremely dangerous to people. Depending on exposure length it can cause everything from sunburn and corneal damage to skin-cell mutation in humans. So, unless UVC light is completely contained, it’s not something you can use around people and a no go at retail.
That takes us to other forms of UV light. One called far-UVC light touted as having similar germicidal powers as UVC but with minimal risk to skin and eyes. And then two more longer spectrum forms – UVA and UVB. These too can be germicidal, but efficacy depends on the length of time a microorganism is exposed, the intensity and wavelength of the UV radiation and of course the microorganism’s ability to withstand UV light during its exposure. And UVA and UVB can be dangerous – or safe – to humans based on the same factors. Longer wavelength UV light is used in a lot of consumer products including water coolers, air purifiers and hand, toothbrush and cell phone disinfecting devices. These tend to make people believe things are safe, but logic says that when sterilization is dependent on so many factors – not least of which are exposure length, what’s actually being exposed to the light and what you’re trying to kill – it can’t always be true. In short, a UV device that can kill 99.9% of germs but takes an hour to do it might be great for your toothbrush, but its false security in a busy retail store.
What We’re Doing
We’re currently doing proprietary research with our lighting partner Innotec Group on a number of possible UV devices that can be built into new displays or retrofitted into existing displays. Our goal is to learn what it takes to effectively sterilize targeted surfaces, and/or what claims can truthfully be made about efficacy. And we are already working on a project for one of our customers to create a self-cleaning electronics display for Best Buy.
Interested in learning more, or seeing how we can help you? We’re here. In the meantime, check out this video demoing a new far-UVC light based self-disinfecting airplane bathroom (also in photos) which turns on only when unoccupied. It promises to kill 99.99% of germs, and even make the bathroom smell better. About time. You can also check out this story about a UV emitting robot (similar to the one for hospitals shown in the photos) that patrols grocery stores being tested by Amazon.