Almost all the food consumed in America—from fruits and vegetables to meats and processed products—passes through the food industry before making it into the homes, and onto the plates, of families nationwide. This food can greatly impact the health and wellness of the American public, providing nutritional value as well as a gateway to foodborne illnesses when food processing and handling facilities are not properly maintained and sanitized.
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One of the most prevalent, yet easily overlooked causes of food contamination is the presence of pests, such as rodents, cockroaches, and birds. Many pests are attracted to food processing and handling facilities as these environments provide everything pests need to thrive— food, water, and shelter. Pests not only carry harmful bacteria, Salmonella and E. coli, they can also contribute to food rotting and their mere presence can affect business profits and negatively impact reputation.
The implementation of a proper pest management program is essential to not only increasing the sanitation level of the facility, but also to adhering to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) standards. If facilities do not have a proper pest management program in place, unsanitary conditions coupled with disease-carrying pests can cause widespread outbreaks and lead to severe consequences. These programs can be highly customized to meet the specific needs and pest concerns of a food facility. To help food facilities develop a comprehensive pest management program and comply with the sanitation regulations set forth by FSMA, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) developed a guideline specific to food facilities.
NPMA has taken the initiative to develop, and regularly update, its own set of standards that specifically address pest management needs for food facilities. And, as food facilities each have their own unique set of pest concerns and requirements, it is absolutely essential that pest management programs are customized and continually maintained.
The NPMA standards serve as a tool or benchmark for what pest management practices should be employed and what results should be achieved in food processing and handling facilities. The standards recommend an approach to pest management based largely on trends, inspection, and observation. Simply put, pest control professionals and food facility managers need to consider any past experience with pests, current pest problems, and areas of risk for potential future infestations.
The pest management program developed for food facilities should include a monthly interior and exterior property survey based on building maintenance, employee practices, incoming materials, process, and shipping as a way to identify pests and the potential for infestation. On the exterior of the facility, the guidelines recommend managing vegetation against the building to minimize risk for a pest infestation indoors. Vegetation and plant life need to be 18 inches from the foundation perimeter, grass should be cut low and bushes and shrubs should be closely trimmed to prevent hideouts for pests such as rodents.
Additionally, the NPMA guidelines offer insight into ways to survey, design, implement, and monitor for rodents, insects, birds, and wildlife that can be personalized for each food facility. As some food facilities will face issues with certain pests over others, it is key that pest control professionals understand the past pest problems experienced by food facilities in order to best prevent future pest behavior. In some situations where this historical knowledge of pest behavior is unavailable, the 2016 updated standards provides some baseline guidance on how to still develop a comprehensive program that will comply with FSMA regulations.
Not only do pest management programs need to adhere to FSMA, but some facilities also need to comply with specific food allergen control programs or the requirements of USDA organic. Pest management programs should take any and all programs and facility guidelines into consideration during program development. This need for personalized care and attention to pest management was more intensely expressed in the most recent version of the NPMA guidelines, published in late 2016.
Integrated Pest Management
While establishing a pest management program may seem like a daunting task, it is very important to have a proactive plan in place to not only comply with FSMA, but to minimize contamination risk. An effective program will likely incorporate a customized integrated pest management (IPM) approach, which focuses on pest prevention by eliminating entry points and sources of food, water, and shelter for pests. An IPM program is a way to customize pest control for the various types of facilities handling food products each and every day.
As FSMA also continues to enforce new rules that address ongoing contamination concerns, food facilities need to be diligent in staying abreast of these updates to ensure they are following proper protocol. To help prevent foodborne illnesses spread by pests, it is essential to work with a pest management professional who can develop a customized IPM program. IPM programs are the best method of pest control in food facilities as facility managers and pest management professionals work together in the identification of pest hot spots, proper sanitation practices, and pest prevention procedures, and implementation of technology advancements, as necessary. IPM programs needs to be nurtured, checked, on and updated on a regular basis to ensure it meets the current pest concerns of the facility.
Each food facility will not only have its own unique risks for attracting pests, but they will also have their own specific facility rules that pest management professionals must adhere to when servicing these sites. The use of IPM allows for pest management professionals to take site-specific circumstances into consideration and balance them against FSMA standards to develop a comprehensive program that will work to prevent pest problems and therefore food contamination. As pests are known to spread many foodborne illnesses, pest control is one the most important aspects of the FSMA sanitation requirements and one of the best programs to put in place to help prevent food contamination.
Working with a pest management professional is the only way to ensure food processing and handling facilities are acting in accordance with the sanitation standards set forth by FSMA. This is a critical component of food safety programs in facilities nationwide, and one that can be easily overlooked.
Dr. Fredericks is chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org