Pest Threats: Keeping the Enemy Out

Managers of food processing facilities know all too well that proper pest management is among the most important and often the most challenging health requirement they must meet. The FDA quite clearly and understandably states that no pests shall be allowed in any area of a food plant and that effective measures shall be taken to exclude pests from the processing areas to protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests (21CFR110.35). However, that is much easier said than done as these types of food facilities provide perfect conditions for a variety of pests by offering readily available food, water, and shelter for nesting. For example, raw food items and packaging materials may serve as pest harborage sites; the type of lighting used on the exterior and the loading docks of the facility may actually be attracting pests; dust, grease, high temperatures, and excessive moisture often present in food processing facilities can also render pest eliminating products ineffective. These are just a few of the many challenges facility managers face.

To help mitigate these pitfalls, it is crucial that facility managers work in close partnership with qualified pest control companies that have commercial experience. Any pest-proofing measures put in place should also be clearly communicated to employees to ensure they help the facility remain in compliance. Simple steps like identifying key entry points and establishing clear lines of communication among all employees can go a long way in minimizing pest infestations and the associated consequences.

Loading docks are one of the main entry points and most vulnerable areas that attract pests in a food processing facility. Managers can reinforce these areas by installing either metal flashing, inflatable dock cushions, or folding dock covers to prevent pest entry.

If facility managers are going to be successful in their battle against pests, not only do they need to be aware of proper prevention and detection techniques, but most importantly, they must know their enemy. Here are the most common pests found in and around food processing plants:

The Enemy—Rodents: Rodents, including mice, Norway and roof rats, present the biggest problem in food processing and storage facilities. The frequency with which mice and rats urinate and defecate allows for accumulation of excrement, which easily spreads bacteria and contaminates food. These rodent droppings are known to transmit pathogens that cause diseases such as Salmonellosis. In addition to numerous health risks, rodents can chew through wallboard, cardboard, wood, and even electrical wiring, causing expensive damage and posing a fire hazard. Each year, rats contaminate and destroy enough food worldwide to feed 200 million people.

The Control: Eliminate harborage areas by creating open areas whenever possible, inside and outside the facility. Fill in all cracks, fan, and vent openings and install or repair door seals and sweeps as necessary. Ensure the loading dock area is not used for storage and that facility doors are kept closed. Install a gravel or rock perimeter around the facility to discourage vegetation growth to prevent rodent harborage areas. Pest professionals may employ a variety of methods such as traps, glue boards, and baits to control and eliminate rodent infestations.

The Enemy—Flies: The common house fly has been found to carry more than 100 kinds of disease-causing germs, including Salmonella and Listeria. The house fly and other filth flies, breed in moist or decaying garbage or excrement. By moving from garbage and excrement to fresh food, processing equipment, and other surfaces, flies have ample opportunities to transmit disease-causing bacteria and contaminate everything they come into contact with.

The Control: The single best way to control flies is by removing and eliminating their breeding sites—i.e. garbage. Keep garbage areas away from the building and ensure it is removed frequently. Institute a “no-prop” door policy for employees and install air curtains and/or screens to keep flying insects out. Professionals will employ insect light traps placed strategically to provide multiple lines of defense against flies and other flying insects.

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