Biosecurity: Difference between cleaning and sanitizing

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Biosecurity: Difference between cleaning and sanitizing

Biosecurity for your flock means both cleaning AND sanitizing. But a lot of people don't necessarily realize there's a difference, or why you should be doing both. So let's talk the basics of biosecurity. CLEANING is simply removing the gunk. When your chickens kick up dirt, bedding or other detritus into their waterers or feeders,  you clean it back out, maybe with a scrub brush or an old washcloth. But even when thoroughly cleaned of gunk, unless you sanitize your equipment, there will be some bacteria, viruses and spores still living on the surface of the equipment. This is why you'll need to take another step for biosecurity.

Think about it: imagine, for example, that you thoroughly clean the dried up food off your dishes... with your toilet brush. Or maybe your mop. You can make your dishes shiny and pretty, and stick them in the cabinet. When you take them out, do you want to eat on them? No? Absolutely ugh, right? You need to do more than just clean off the surface gunk to achieve good biosecurity.

SANITIZING by contrast actually kills those viruses, bacteria, and spores that can be on a clean-looking surface. But you can't just sanitize; you still have to clean, too. Think about it: imagine, for example, that you hate washing the dishes. Instead, you decide to just soak your food-caked-on plates in a bleach solution to kill all the germs. You soak them long enough to really penetrate every bit of crusty, stuck-on egg yolk or sausage gravy... then take them out, shake them off and let them dry, with those streaks of yolk and flecks of meat still stuck on. That dirt has been sanitized, right? You put them in your cabinet and take them out later... do you want to eat on them? No? Yeah, you don't. You can't just clean.

You can't just sanitize, either. You really need to be doing both cleaning and sanitizing. The big reason is that it's a lot easier, and more effective, to sanitize a thoroughly clean surface. And even were you to have dishes (or equipment) covered with gunk that has been effectively sanitized, it's probably not going to stay that way very long. That gunk can provide a good place for germs, spores and whatnot to begin growing again, or places for it to hide. Plus, when we're talking about some sorts of food poisoning, it's not actually the live bacteria that causes the problem. Botulism, for example, is caused by a bacteria, but really it is the toxins given off by the bacteria that make you sick, not the direct action of the bacteria itself. Some fungi work the same way: while some can cause illness because they infect lungs or other tissues (thrush, for example), others produce mycotoxins... more or less poisons produced by fungi. Think ergot. So we've determined that you need to clean and sanitize, both. But what do you need to be cleaning and sanitizing? Well... everything. Okay, not everything exactly, but if your chickens are using it or coming into contact with it, clean and sanitize it. 

Feeders, waterers, dishes used for oyster shell or grit. Occasionally, clean and sanitize things like roosts and nests (nests, particularly if you've had an egg break). And yourself: wash your hands after handling your birds or equipment, just like you would when changing the cat litter or when your dog demonstrates his slobbery doggy love all over your fingers. Also? Your shoes. Keep a pair of boots, shoes, or overshoes for working in your coop area, and use a brush and a sanitizing bath to keep them clean. 

Additionally, consider your tires. We said it! Now, we're not suggesting you need to make sure your tires are clean and shiny all the time... but when driving to a feed store (or to the home of a friend who also keeps chickens), consider spraying them with a sanitizer before and after--and clean/sanitize your shoes before and after. You do this before, so you don't bring anything in, and after in case someone else does. But here's some good news for biosecurity: there is a bird flu vaccine that the USDA finds is 100% effective on chickens. Awesome, right? They're now testing it on turkeys, too. Even so, biosecurity for birds is generally about avoiding bringing illnesses into your flock, or taking them out... and it's also about making sure you don't transfer germs from droppings into your mouth and so on. It's not just about avian influenza alone. So, AI vaccine or not, always make sure to practice good biosecurity.

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