Food First Blog | Tip of the Week: What is ATP Swabbing?

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Tip of the Week: What is ATP Swabbing?
Tip of the Week: What is ATP Swabbing?
The ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is a rapid testing method to assess the cleanliness of a food contact surface.
What is the principle of ATP assay?

It makes use of the fact that every living cell (e.g., animal, plant, bacteria, yeast, and mold) contains ATP for energy. It is based on the firefly’s ATP luminescent reaction. Firefly has two chemical compounds, Luciferin and Luciferase, that react with the insect’s ATP to produce bioluminescence light.

How it works?

ATP collected from a contact surface reacts with Luciferin & Luciferase compounds present in the swab sample to create bioluminescence light. The amount of bioluminescence light is measured by the Luminometer and is expressed in RLUs (Relative Light Units).

Does a higher level of RLU mean more microbes?

Yes, the higher RLU indicates improper cleaning and the presence of contamination in the form of high microbes or high food residue. It also indicates the need for immediate corrective actions.

When should I test ATP swab?

ATP testing should be done after the cleaning, but before sanitization.


  • Quick (real-time) verification of food contact surface cleanliness in ~20 seconds.


  • The ATP bioluminescence assay does not distinguish ATP from microorganisms, animals, and plants.
  • The ATP assay will not detect viruses which do not contain ATP.

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Avatar  Joseph Sanchez last yearReply


Avatar  Oommen Kappil last yearReply

The article is quite insightful. One question: why is it important to perform the ATP swab test before sanitization?

Avatar  Salena last yearReply

It is important to test and customize RLU limits for your testing program. Any score of 10 RLU or less is a Pass. Any score greater than 10 RLU is a Fail. The greater the ATP, the higher the RLU. These default limits are based on years of experience in the food and beverage industry. Thank you for your question!

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