Copper Surfaces More Effective than Stainless Steel at Fighting Spread of Germs

January 13, 2005


ORLANDO, FL— New research indicates that a copper surface is more effective at preventing the spread of germs than stainless steel, according to the Copper Development Association (CDA).

Recent studies suggest that copper, not stainless steel, is a better surface to protect against the bacteria that can make us sick from improper food handling at home, such as E. coli and Listeria, as well as from more severe infections resulting from bacteria found in many hospital and healthcare settings, according to Ken Geremia, CDA's manager of communications.

Hospital Health Threat

The spread of infectious and often deadly diseases in hospitals has become a major threat to patient safety, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which estimates that infections acquired in healthcare facilities now result in some 88,000 deaths each year in the USA. One of the deadliest bacteria found in hospitals today is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a so-called "superbug" that does not respond to conventional antibiotics.

At the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in May, scientists at the University of Southampton in England reported that untreated copper and certain copper-alloy surfaces effectively stop the spread of MRSA by limiting the time the bacteria are able to live on its surface.

Officials with the CDA in New York describe the Southampton study as "a significant breakthrough that may help to prevent a crisis in our healthcare system." The study, conducted by Drs. C. William Keevil and J.O. Noyce, determined that MRSA can survive for a maximum of 90 minutes on a surface made from 99% copper, while the bacteria stay alive for 72 hours or more on stainless steel - the most common metal used in healthcare facilities today.

Other Bacteria Also Eliminated

Similar studies show that copper is equally effective at eliminating the often deadly E. Coli (O157:H7) as well as Listeria monocytogenes - a bacterium that originates in soil and water and is spread during food handling.

Some 500 people die from Listeria contamination every year, according to the CDC, and approximately 2,500 become seriously ill. Eliminating bacteria such as Listeria is one of the reasons we rinse raw vegetables and fruits before eating and are instructed to cook all meat and poultry thoroughly.

When Listeria bacteria are placed on selected copper-based surfaces, they survive only 60-90 minutes, the study found. However, the bacteria can survive up to several days on stainless steel, the predominant work surface used in most food-service establishments, including meatpacking plants and restaurants.

Research is continuing, but according to the CDA these and other studies suggest that a better choice for food handling, hospital and healthcare facilities would be doorknobs and handles, push plates, work surfaces and other touchable hardware products made from durable, cost-competitive copper alloys.

For more information on copper's antimicrobial properties, visit our Copper and Human Health section.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Download a high-resolution image to go with this story from Discover Copper Edition #2.