Hive Body Irradiation

The crew: Steve Finke, Larry Mutti, Katy Evans,Steve Berner and Robyn Underwood

Our honey bee packages for the Project COMB are scheduled to arrive this coming April and we are getting ready for their arrival! Because used equipment can carry on microorganisms to new colonies, we are irradiating older equipment for disease prevention. Irradiation is a sterilization procedure that kills microorganisms present on the equipment using gamma radiation powered by Cobalt-60, which penetrate bacteria cells and kills them by breaking down their DNA. This procedure is commonly used in the medical field to sterilize equipment, and it is also used to improve the safety of food for humans and animals, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. This irradiation technology is very safe: it does not leave behind residual radiation and it does not use any chemicals. Although irradiation can be expensive, it is commonly used by many beekeepers to prevent an array of bee diseases including American foulbrood, European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood, and nosema. 

This pallet of bee boxes is ready to ship for irradiation

The PSBA (Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association) has a sterilization program that gives local beekeepers access to this sterilization technology each spring (typically March) for approximately $180 per pallet. The equipment is properly packed and shipped to the nearest commercial facility for gamma irradiation in Pennsylvania which is the Sterigenics Corporation in Salem, NJ. If you are interested in having your equipment sterilized, you can find details about the program at PSBA Hive Equipment Standardization protocol. This spring’s event is coming up soon (March 12th, 2018), so don’t miss out and contact PSBA!

Last week at the Willey – Penn State apiary, we prepped 380 hive bodies for irradiation. It was a long day of organizing over 2,000 frames and properly stacking the equipment on pallets. Preparing the equipment for transport and irradiation requires some effort and it is important to follow instructions for the successful completion of this protocol. See below a detailed procedure that one must follow in order to send equipment for irradiation. 

By Robyn Underwood, Assistant Research Professor, López-Uribe Lab

How to prep equipment for irradiation

If you are interested in participating in the irradiation program,please follow the outlined steps below and contact the PSBA or your local beekeeping club.

  1. Equipment: Standard pallet, large piece of cardboard, shrink wrap, 4 mil plastic sheeting, identification sheet.

2. A layer of thick paper or cardboard is laid on a standard 40 x 48″ wood pallet.

3. Cover the cardboard with enough 4 mil plastic sheeting to extend 12” up each side of your stack. This will prevent honey or other substances from dripping outside the boxes.

4.  The boxes are stacked one atop the other in a 6-column configuration. They can be either stacked full of frames or they can be nested if they are empty.

5. The total height of the stacked hive equipment including the pallet cannot exceed 6 ft.

6. Once the hive boxes are stacked, there are two layers of shrink wrap that must be applied. The first layer is wrapped around the stacked hive boxes from top to bottom without wrapping the top and bottom plastic sheeting.

Another sheet of 4 mil plastic sheet is draped over the top

6. Another sheet of 4 mil plastic is draped over the top, overhanging 12″ on each side.

7. The second layer of shrink wrap is applied, making sure that the top and bottom plastic sheets are fully sealed.

9.  The pallet must be labeled with the Owner’s name and contact information so that it can be properly returned.

10.  The pallet is loaded into the truck and ready for travel to  Sterigenics Corporation in Salem, NJ.

11.  Final product!

Pictures by Nick Sloff

Available resources on this topic

PSBA protocol: Hive Equipment Irradiation Standardization protocol. Please note that the hive equipment irradiation is scheduled for Monday, March 12th 2018 for Montgomery County Beekeepers [link]

de Guzman LI, Frake AM, Simone-Finstrom M. (2017). Comparative Flight Activities and Pathogen Load of Two Stocks of Honey Bees Reared in Gamma-Irradiated Combs. Insects8(4), 127 [link]