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Animal Health, Biosecurity

The “Dirt” on Cleaner Trailers

Science Helps to Scrub Out PED

The “Dirt” on Cleaner Trailers

The pork sector is full of acronyms: ADG (average daily gain); FCR (feed conversion ratio); and of course, BYOB. For producers, the one they could do without is PED. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, which causes vomiting, diarrhea and often mortality, has wreaked havoc on pigs around the world, and science is helping to combat it on a number of fronts. Most recently, researchers targeted a common mode of disease transmission – trailers – as they strove to improve cleaning methods and boost biosecurity in the Canadian swine transport industry.

What started as an effort to save time and money when cleaning hog trailers took on added meaning in early 2014. That was when the federal agriculture minister called industry with a chilling pronouncement: “PED is now in Canada”. The disease that first hit North America in the United States, costing their pork sector billions of dollars, was here, and producers were in panic mode.

PED prevention partners

For guidance on how to proceed, the federal government and pork producers asked the University of Saskatchewan to lead efforts to stop the transmission of PED and other diseases that can result from transporting animals.  Researchers consulted with a PED advisory committee comprised of members from across the country, including transport companies, provincial pork associations, packers, producers and swine veterinarians.

Together, the parties identified priorities around PED prevention, starting with how to clean trailers thoroughly enough that no trace of the virus remained on board. Working with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, scientists devised a high-pressure washer and vacuum system that would reach every corner of a trailer and blast out clumps of manure or any other material that might harbour PED.

The washer was a good start, so the next step was developing a remotely controlled system that would allow complete cleaning of trucks without the need for human workers entering the trailer. This involved trying different technologies, including a small robot vehicle used by the military to pick up explosive packages and safely detonate them. Eventually, the project partnered with Truck Wash Technologies Inc. in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to advance its gantry-style wash system for their purposes. This system moves across the length of the vehicle in multiple passes, simultaneously cleaning the exterior and interior of swine transport trailers.

Feeling the heat

Researchers were also tasked with finding the optimal level at which to heat trailers, so that if any trace of the pathogen remained after washing, it would be deactivated. Collaborating with VIDO-InterVac in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the research team concluded that heating the trucks at 75°C for 20 minutes would be sufficient to kill the threat.


The challenge with heating was that some areas of a hog trailer, such as behind gates and walls, can be harder to warm sufficiently. In response, the team looked for sensors that could be installed in trailer trouble spots and monitor temperatures. Though they found a company that specialized in sensors to assist in this effort, it overlooked one small detail: pigs eat sensors.

Undeterred, the University of Saskatchewan engineers collaborated with the sensor company, Transport Genie in Burlington, Ontario, to develop sensors and insulate them properly to protect against curious snouts. The new sensors deliver GPS traceability of swine transport trailers, continuously measure environmental conditions during transport of animals and verify that trailer trouble spots reach the required time and temperature during heat treatment.

Idle threats? Not a chance

Though the early panic from PED in Canada has subsided, it and other diseases continue to threaten the swine sector. Thanks to this project, the risk of transmitting pathogens during transport has been drastically reduced, saving producers millions of dollars per year from illness and death loss. Findings from the study have raised the biosecurity bar, and heating trailers at 75°C for 20 minutes is now the industry standard.

Based on this project, Prairie Swine Centre has developed guidelines to assist designers in considering animal welfare and biosecurity with new trailers.

As a further benefit, scientists are working with trucking companies to install their sensors, not only for biosecurity, but to warn drivers when the temperature and humidity levels are endangering their pig passengers. Apart from enhancing animal welfare, this move will aid both trucking companies and packers, as each is responsible for the pigs once in their possession.

Driven by the project lead, Dr. Terry Fonstad, Associate Vice-President Research (Ethics and Infrastructure) at the University of Saskatchewan, this study drew on funding from Swine Innovation Porc (SIP) and expertise from several corners: Prairie Swine Centre, PAMI, Truck Wash Technologies Inc., Transport Genie Ltd, the PED advisory committee and VIDO-InterVac.

Arms race

As the world learned the hard way from COVID-19, we must always stay a step ahead of the enemy. In that spirit, researchers are addressing what happens if a trace amount of virus survives washing and heating of the trailer and imbeds itself in a biofilm for self-protection. A biofilm is a thick layer of organisms that gather to form a colony.

With the attention garnered by their findings, researchers are now fielding calls from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about other diseases of concern, such as African Swine Fever (ASF), and how to defend against them.


Project Title:  Improving Biosecurity in the Canadian Swine Transport Industry

Lead(s)/Co-Lead(s): Dr. Terry Fonstad (University of Saskatchewan)

Budget: $1.46 Million

Research Methods

Working with the lab at the VIDO-InterVac research facility, scientists had them test the seven most common viruses, and seven most common bacteria, in the Canadian pork sector. 

All 14 were tested at various heat levels – ranging from 50-80°C - for different periods of time to gauge the optimal conditions to neutralize the bacteria.

While heat eventually destroyed them all, certain ones succumbed at 45-50°C, others needed 65°C, and PED was the hardiest of all at 75°C for at least 15 minutes.

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