Biofilms and water line biosecurity

One of the biggest obstacles to keeping animal production facilities clean sounds a lot more complicated than it really is: biofilm, a surface-coating layer of polymeric extracellular secretions and microorganisms that accumulate on a matrix over time.

In simpler terms, biofilms are layers of slime that make it difficult to entirely clean and disinfect a surface. They also make it easier for more microorganisms to grow.

“Biofilm is the number one biosecurity risk simply because it cannot be seen,” said Neogen’s Ricardo Muñoz. “Biofilm accumulation becomes critical when it limits the effect that disinfectants have on a surface.”

When sanitizing facilities, biofilms or no, there are two steps: cleaning, which removes 99% of organic matter on a surface; and disinfecting, which removes another 0.99% on top of that. Combined, the two steps should make a surface as decontaminated as possible.

Biofilms will limit the effect of disinfectants, so it’s essential to get rid of them during the cleaning stage. Muñoz notes a few considerations for effective cleaning:

  • Watch out for hard water with a high concentration of minerals like manganese, iron and calcium. “The mineral content might have a negative interaction with the cleaning product,” he said.
  • Make sure you administer the cleaner in the best way. “Is the proper equipment used? Is the pressure correct? What is the droplet size and coverage area? Producers need to have a reliable mechanical program in place; one that uses the appropriate equipment and personnel,” he said.

Water lines

We’ve written before about how much damage poor quality water can do to livestock productivity and health. Biofilms and other accumulations in water lines are a major cause of these issues.

“Water intake is an important part of production” said Muñoz. “If access to water is limited on a farm because the water’s taste or quality is poor due to biofilms, feed conversion will be affected, limiting production.”

In a piece written for Feedstuffs, Neogen’s Jesse McCoy highlights water line treatment, which he says often goes overlooked during routine maintenance. McCoy uses the example of a new cycle of pigs being brought to the barn after depopulation, when microorganisms have been allowed to fester in the water lines.

“The first drink a young pig gets is the worst drink it will get… the warmest, oldest and traditionally worst smelling/tasting water it will be exposed to in its life,” he says.

According to McCoy, this is where terminal line disinfection comes in — when disinfectants can be flushed through water lines to eliminate any life flourishing there, removing pathogens and anything that decreases water quality. Doing so also increases the volume the line can carry.

“Volume increase is especially important as we try to grow larger and larger finishing hogs with the same drinkers and drinker lines designed for market weight hogs 20% smaller,” said McCoy.

McCoy also cites research showing that terminal line cleaning improved production at one site. A disinfectant solution was pumped through the lines, allowed to sit overnight, and flushed the next morning with fresh water. The procedure was shown to have a positive effect on young pigs’ weights.

Muñoz agrees that water line disinfection is often skipped, but shouldn’t be.

“Biosecurity cannot stop at visible hard surfaces,” he said. “It must continue into water lines, which oftentimes go without disinfection by standard surface disinfectants.”

Neogen offers comprehensive products to ensure livestock safety and facility sanitation. For more information on our animal safety products, click here. For information on our sanitation testing products, click here.

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