Best Ways to Avoid Bacteria Contamination in Your Lab

Updated on August 5, 2020

There are two main types of contamination: Bacterial and chemical. Both have the potential to make cell cultures unusable, and, as such, ruin your experiment’s results. In a lab, this can set you back significantly.

Luckily, contamination is entirely avoidable.

Interestingly, laboratory personnel and procedural errors are the most common reasons for contamination. By simply adopting the correct techniques, contamination can be minimized or eliminated altogether.

In light of that, we’ve outlined a few ways to avoid bacteria contamination in your lab.

Let’s dive in!

What’s Bacteria Contamination?

Simply put, bacteria contamination is when bacteria end up in a location they weren’t supposed to be. This often refers to the contamination of food with bacteria that could cause disease.

As we’ve already hinted at, in a laboratory setting, unwanted bacteria can ruin an experiment and throw off pathology results. It can also confuse the researcher!

But worst of all, bacteria can also rampage through labs if surfaces and/or equipment aren’t sterilized. That said, most forms of contamination are preventable with the right procedures.

Sterilize Your Equipment

The simplest and most effective measure against contamination is sterilization through autoclaving. In this process, intense heat and pressure apply to lab equipment and tools to destroy any surface bacteria.

Sterilization should frequently occur, even at the bench. Researchers can use a solution of 70% ethanol sprayed over the counter and inside biosafety cabinets. This will remove almost all fungal and bacterial contaminants.

A diluted concentration of bleach will also disinfect surfaces and tools effectively. Consumables and equipment should be given a few minutes to off-gas before returning them to bio-safety cabinets. Ethanol can otherwise linger in the air.

Consider Contamination in Your Lab Design

Each lab should have a dedicated area for cell culture. This should be separate from other high-traffic areas in the lab, and only accessible to essential personnel.

It’s also important to consider the placement of water and HVAC units carefully. Tap water can be a source of microbial contamination. As such, sinks and water baths need situating far enough to avoid splashing onto sterile workstations.

You should also avoid installing HVAC units right above incubators. Mold spores and other contaminants can enter through the air diffusers.

Check Water and Air Quality

If you want to avoid hassle later on it’s worth checking the quality of air and water in your lab regularly. Systems are available to track possible contaminants in the air and incubators.

This alerts you instantly when something unusual appears. Your air should meet the requirements set out by USP 797, which is the national standard of practice.

For baths and incubators, it is also essential to use autoclaved water. This should be changed once a week. You can also apply several antibiotic solutions to the water, which will prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi.

Fluorescence-based kits can detect the contaminant if you suspect contamination in the water. Mycoplasma especially is difficult to catch by eye or even microscope. So it’s important to consider other methods of regular detection.

Frequently using test samples of all of your cell lines could save you the hassle later on. You might be able to identify contamination early and adjust your procedures.

Organization is Key

Contamination is only preventable if you carefully plan ahead when you prepare for an experiment, set aside everything that needs decontaminating beforehand.

Nothing should be left to be cleaned last-minute, as this risks contamination and ruins the timing of your assay. Organizing your stocks also prevents dust from building up, which can spread bacteria and fungi onto your samples.

The best way to stay organized is to use a laboratory information management system (LIMS). LIMS can help you track laboratory inventory and decontamination schedules and protocols.

For this to work most efficiently, it’s essential to identify important samples with reagents and label them correctly. This lets all your personnel know which samples can or can’t be kept on the bench.

It works wonders for managing all the tasks that need completing to ensure sterile working conditions.

Best Practices

Researchers are always in close contact with samples. So, if they’re not careful, there’s a high chance of contaminating the results (albeit accidentally).

Overarching laboratory procedures are crucial. But it’s also vital that each team member practices common sense.

For instance, you should always use proper protective equipment. This includes gloves and lab coats when you’re working in sterile conditions. Long hair should be tied back. You should wear lab glasses when appropriate.

This avoids particles like keratin and bacteria to fall from your skin or hair into the samples.

Once you’re finished at a bench, you should always clean up. Traces of cell lines can cross-contaminate your samples. The same goes for chemicals like formaldehyde. Never leave powder around the measuring scale as this can contaminate the lab’s air supply.

To be safe, always inspect equipment and media for visible contamination before use. Keep tubes, plates, and bottles closed as much as possible to avoid spillages or any gas escaping into the air.

Proper Procedures and Organization Can Avoid Most Bacteria Contamination in Your Lab

Bacteria contamination is a frustrating issue for any researcher and can wreck samples for entire labs. Luckily, the risks are manageable, and all bacteria contamination should be easily avoidable.

Human error is the leading cause of contamination in labs. Follow the above best practices and provide training for your staff to help avoid contamination.

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