By Chris Adams

For Dr. Shamus Brown, who helps manage a hog facility in southern Iowa, safety of the animals is job one – and cleanliness is one of the main ways to do that.

“We think of the inside of a pig barn as a surgery suite,” said Brown, a veterinarian at the Iowa Select Farms facility near the small town of Humeston. Brown and other Iowa Select workers led National Press Foundation fellows on a tour of the facility, which employs some of the most-advanced biosecurity procedures in the industry.

Hogs are big business in Iowa, a state that has 3 million people and 21 million pigs; the state is No. 1 in the nation in hog production.

It also means there a lot of hogs living cheek to jowl, making it easy for diseases to spread from one facility to another. One of those diseases is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, which can cause reproductive failure and other illnesses in young pigs. Known as PRRS, the disease can travel through the air for up to 2 miles.

That’s why the security procedures in the facility are so strict.

As employees and visitors enter, they need to remove their shoes at a certain location to leave bacteria and pathogens behind. Then they begin a showering-in procedure. On the other side of the showers are fresh clothes that must be worn inside the facility.

Equipment and other items – including employee lunches – need to go through an ultraviolet light chamber to kill pathogens. Guests who have been on another hog facility within the previous three days are not allowed in. Even the air is cleansed, with a massive wall of filters helping keep particles from the outside world from getting inside.

“A lot of our focus is prevention – we want to prevent diseases,” Brown said. “It probably seems like overkill, but we want to do everything we can to keep the animals healthy.”

Iowa Select produced 1 billion pounds of pork in 2016 from its 700 facilities.