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Hive Equipment Irradiation for American Foul Brood (AFB) is scheduled for Monday, March 18th, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Please note that MCBAPA has American Foul Brood Test Kits available. If you need some, contact Scott Famous by email at famous55@verizon.net.

New Instructions!

If you plan to irradiate boxes with honey in them, you must wrap them securely. Click here to see the new instructions.

Plan now to irradiate your American Foul Brood (AFB) infected or potentially infected equipment. The processing is typically scheduled for early March each year in order to have equipment ready prior to the arrival of spring packages. Please contact Mark Antunes to confirm your spot at (484) 955-0768 or by email at honeyhillfarm@verizon.net. See below for details and costs to participate. For a printable version, click here.

Mark Antunes and Brian Marcy are the coordinators of an emerging program that allows PA and regional beekeepers to sterilize their hive wooden ware and other contaminated equipment using gamma irradiation. The program goals are to provide a viable, sustainable and cost effective alternative to burning hive equipment to control AFB and to allow the safe use of contaminated or otherwise suspect supers, frames and honeycomb after treatment.

New Video!

Check out the new MCBAPA video about Hive Irradiation.

What is American Foul Brood (AFB)?

AFB is a bacterial contamination of the hive that destroys the brood. The spore-forming bacteria Paenibacillus larvae ssp. larvae are ingested by larvae under 3 days old through the ingestion of bacterial spores in their food. The bacterial spores germinate in the guts of the larvae and the vegetative form of the bacteria feed on the larvae, killing them. The vegetative bacteria also die, but not before releasing as many as 100 million spores per larvae. Bees cleaning the contaminated cells spread the spores throughout the hive, and contaminate brood food, thus spreading the bacteria quickly throughout the hive. As the hive weakens, the hive may be robbed by invading bees, thus spreading the contamination to other hives. Similarly, beekeepers can spread the disease through their tools or transfer of hive components to other hives, or through feeding bees contaminated honey. In the spore form, the bacteria can survive for more than 40 years in honey and beekeeping equipment. Although pharmaceuticals have been developed for AFB, there is controversy for their use, as some bacterial resistance has been observed. Other methods such as scorching the interior of the hive, dipping in bleach or paraffin have also been tried, but rely heavily on adequate coverage and penetration of the affected surfaces. Therefore, prior to the advent of irradiation, the only sure control mechanism had been burning the hive and equipment.

What is gamma irradiation?

Gamma irradiation is a physical means of decontamination – it kills bacteria by breaking down bacterial DNA, inhibiting bacterial division, using high-energy photons that are emitted from an isotope source (Cobalt 60). Energy (gamma rays) passes through hive equipment, disrupting the pathogens that cause contamination. These photon-induced changes at the molecular level cause the death of contaminating organisms or render such organisms incapable of reproduction. The gamma irradiation process does not create residuals or impart radioactivity in the processed hive equipment. The process has been used for years to sterilize imported leather goods, spices, wine corks, medical dressings and devices, pharmaceuticals, etc.

What are the advantages and benefits of gamma irradiation?

ALL hive components can be sterilized using gamma irradiation – boxes, frames, comb and honey. Hive equipment is ready for immediate use after processing. The process is clean; no chemical residues are produced. Most importantly, gamma irradiation destroys, not just suppresses, the pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that may contribute to CCD and other biological threats that contaminate hive equipment. The process also eliminates the need to replace equipment or comb contaminated by American Foul Brood (AFB). There is also some evidence that gamma irradiation reduces levels of toxins (i.e., pesticides) present in honeycomb by modifying their chemical structures.

Gamma irradiation is a proven strategy – Long-standing gamma irradiation programs for hive equipment have been operating in Massachusetts, California, Florida, Canada and in Australia. While in Florida, Dave Hackenberg, one of Pennsylvania’s largest commercial beekeepers, used gamma irradiation to sterilize selected hive equipment. During Spring 2008, Penn State University cooperated with MCBAPA in the successful processing of hive equipment that was known or thought to be contaminated with AFB, IAPV and other honey bee pathogens. Subsequent testing of the processed equipment proved it to be completely clear of all biological contaminants that could have threatened our honey bees!

Where will my equipment be irradiated?

The commercial facility for gamma irradiation in our area is the Sterigenics Corporation, 75 Tilbury Road, Salem, NJ 08079. This location offers beekeepers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware the opportunity to clean their known and suspect contaminated equipment.

How do I prepare my equipment for irradiation?

If you are interested in participating in our irradiation program, you will need to prepare your equipment as follows:

  • It is the responsibility of each beekeeper to deliver his/her equipment to the irradiation facility or make arrangements to have it done by someone else.
  • Groups or multiple individuals should select a regional staging site located away from known apiaries to load the equipment on whatever common carrier they have selected.
  • Print your full name and phone number on each piece of equipment — if you are wrapping your equipment because it contains honey, label it on the outside of the wrapping.
  • Thoroughly clean and repair all hive boxes.

**DO NOT send equipment with ants, insects, mouse nests or other loose debris. It will be rejected from the load.**

  • Extract honey or be prepared to bag supers individually (to bag supers, see the attached instructions).
  • Pack frames in their respective hive boxes.
  • Use standard 4-way pallets (40” X 48”).
  • Pallets must be in good repair and free of stones, soil and debris.

Stacking & Wrapping Pallets
Sterigenics will allow hive equipment to be stacked and wrapped on site. Therefore, you can haul hive equipment in pickup trucks and low bed trailers that is not palletized and shrink wrapped. For processing, all collected equipment must be stacked onto standard 48″ x 40″ pallets, shrink wrapped, with a top and bottom sheet of 4 mil plastic before processing by Sterigenics can occur. Please follow these necessary steps to prepare your equipment for processing:

  • Cover pallet top with cardboard sheet.
  • Cover cardboard with enough 4 mil clear plastic sheeting to extend 12” up each side of your stack.
  • Stack the hive boxes in a 6-column configuration. Supers may overhang the 48″ dimension by 1/2 inch. There can be no overhang in the 40″ dimension at all. If that occurs, the pallet cannot be processed.
  • The total height of the stacked hive equipment including the pallet cannot exceed 6 feet.
  • Top-sheet stack with enough 4 mil clear plastic sheeting to extend 12” down each side of your stack.
  • Shrink-wrap stacked hive boxes from top to bottom before wrapping the top and bottom sheet plastic.
  • Extend bottom sheet of plastic up the stack on the outside of the first layer of shrink wrap.
  • Shrink-wrap stack again, making sure that the top and bottom sheets of plastic are sealed under the second layer of shrink wrap.
  • IMPORTANT: DO NOT EXCEED 1,500 POUNDS TOTAL WEIGHT PER PALLET due to the carriers used in the irradiation chamber.
  • Your hive equipment and pallet may not have any live insects or mice in it. If so, it will be rejected and not processed and it will cause the entire run to be rejected.

Transporting Equipment to Sterigenics
A sufficient quantity of equipment is needed to make an irradiation “run” practical and economical. Persons who will be responsible for consolidating prepared equipment and delivering it to Sterigenics must follow these preparation and shipping rules:

  • Clearly label and ID all equipment on each side of the stack with a full 8.5″ x 11″ paper that has bold print on it. Tape this label to the equipment at eye level before it is shrink wrapped. (Note: If you are hauling in rain or bad weather, have extra labels on hand to insert at the loading dock in case the first set is illegible or place the labels in clear plastic sleeves before use.)
  • Label each box with first and last name on any pallets with multiple beekeeper’s equipment.
  • Maximum allowable height of stack, including pallet, is 6 feet.
  • Advise Mark Antunes that a shipment is planned so that a shipment/processing date can be confirmed.
  • Loading dock height trucks unload in the rear of the building, low trucks and trailers unload in front of the building. You may also stack and wrap equipment there as well.
  • Line delivery vehicles with plastic or cardboard to prevent contamination – destroy liner after delivery.
  • Arrive at the agreed time at Sterigenics Corporation, 75 Tilbury Road, Salem, NJ 08079.

How long does it take to process the hive equipment?

Time required for irradiating.  Sterigenics offers three different fee structures for the irradiation of materials all based on how soon the material needs to be irradiated.  This program uses the least expensive turnaround time which usually takes 3 – 5 days. Same day service is three times as expensive and 48 hour service is twice as expensive.

When the hive equipment is ready to be picked up, Sterigenics will notify Mark Antunes and he will then send out an e-mail to everyone who delivered equipment in the run that it is available to be picked up. Fortunately, picking up the processed equipment does not require the same unified critical timing that delivering the equipment does, so you can pick up your pallets of equipment on any week day for the next few days after it is ready.

What are the costs and who do I contact?

Please contact Mark Antunes if you have hive equipment that you wish to process at Sterigenics. Without exception, all expected processing costs for prepared pallets must be prepaid before equipment is transported to Sterigenics. A certified bank check or money order made out to Sterigenics International, Inc. is required as payment.

  • $186.67/pallet 2019 pricing (full or partial) based on a full capacity equipment run of 7 or more pallets (standard pallet is 40″x48″)
  • 1 pallet can accommodate 42 deeps @ $4.45 per box and 6 mediums on top all with frames and comb @ $3.89 per box or 66 mediums on a pallet for $2.83 per box.
  • Payment in full for all pallets you deliver must be with a certified bank check or money order made out to “Sterigenics International Inc”. This is required before or upon drop off of pallets at Sterigenics.

Contact Information:
Mark Antunes
E-mail: honeyhillfarm@verizon.net
Cell: (484) 955-0768

Help yourself and your fellow beekeepers by spreading the word about hive equipment sterilization!


Serving Montgomery, Bucks and surrounding counties in Pennsylvania, the MCBAPA is an association of hobbyist and professional beekeepers. Our mission is to provide education, hands-on training, support and fellowship in all aspects of beekeeping. Both experienced beekeepers and novices participate in our monthly meetings, field trips and social events.

Our meetings are held at:

Montgomery County 4-H Center
1015 Bridge Road (Route 113)
Skippack, PA 19426

General membership meetings are usually held the 4th Thursday of the month at 7 pm, but please check our calendar.

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