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Tucson startup pairs disinfecting service, education to keep businesses running
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Tucson startup pairs disinfecting service, education to keep businesses running

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Men donning protective gear descended upon Daniel Scordato’s Vivace restaurant in the foothills of Tucson in September.

They wiped down, steamed, disinfected, treated and tested surfaces for contaminants.

It wasn’t in response to a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the upscale eatery. Instead, it was Scordato’s preemptive strike on the highly contagious virus that has crippled businesses across the country.

“We want our customers to feel secure and we thought it would be good for our employees, too,” Scordato said. “Some of my employees have health issues — one has had underlying health issues for 10 years and if he got COVID, it would be a lot worse for him. One waitress has asthma.”

GermFree, a venture launched by Tucsonans Doug Airulla and James Titone, also completed their preventive GermSafe service at Scordato’s fast casual concept Posto Sano.

The service involves the use of an antimicrobial inhibitor designed to extend the effectiveness of the disinfection up to 90 days, which Scordato was most interested in as a way to bolster their efforts to keep high-touch areas clean.

The preventive service is just as much of an educational process as it is a disinfecting service.

GermFree evaluates the efficacy of businesses’ cleaning efforts before sharing best practices for infection prevention including personal responsibility and advanced cleaning techniques.

GermFree also offers a Germ-Clear service in the event of an exposure. The deep clean, which involves a dry-fog process that eradicates COVID-19 on all surfaces and is safe for electronics and food, allows businesses to quickly reopen.

The ultimate goal is to keep patrons and staffers safe by going the extra mile, certified with a lime green sticker on business windows visible to the community.

A COMMUNITY SERVICE

Airulla, a former bank executive, and Titone, a health-care provider, had been looking to join forces before the coronavirus hit.

Despite businesses shutting their doors in response to the coronavirus, Airulla and Titone launched the venture in June, fit for the times, with the belief that it will continue to be in demand beyond COVID-19 and as a way to serve the community.

“COVID changed all of our lives profoundly — in many ways negative,” Airulla said. “But for me, it created something positive. I could easily go back into finance and make a lot of money but I wanted to do something I’m passionate about and give back to others in some way shape or form.”

They teamed up with Akrum Tamimi, an assistant professor of practice at the University of Arizona’s Department of Biosystems Engineering, who developed and validated GermFree’s disinfecting processes. He also holds a patent in the area of microbe disinfection.

Thus far, in addition to restaurants, GermFree has serviced office buildings and is talking with a local school district about utilizing its services as more schools prepare to reopen to students.

The startup is not without competition. Commercial cleaning services and even some pest-control companies quickly began offering disinfection services along with their regular offerings after the pandemic hit.

GermFree sees potential clients in places of worship, commercial buildings, day cares, assisted living facilities, entertainment venues and fitness centers — any place with high density populations that may be transient in nature.

“COVID created awareness of pathogens in our environments but schools and health-care providers have understood this for a long time,” Airulla said.

Now that the threat of pathogenic bacteria is at the forefront, the founders of GermFree don’t anticipate the discussion letting down. They expect the discussion to extend to how businesses can protect customers from other contagious illnesses like influenza, norovirus, and MRSA.

“We’re trying to cultivate awareness among businesses and organizations about what can be done to mitigate the risk of these threats,” Airulla said.

For Titone, having spent 25 years in health care, pouring his time into getting this startup off the ground has been fulfilling.

“I’ve dealt with all of this in a personal setting for so long, but with this business, we can help the community at large and have a much bigger impact,” he said.

For more information about GermFree, visit germfreedisinfecting.com.

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