In food processing environments, quality pest control is a must. A pest infestation can put your product and your business’ reputation at risk because nobody wants to find something in the product that’s not on the label. But pest management in such environments is also very sensitive. Special precautions must be taken to keep pest control treatments from threatening food safety. To better control pests while respecting a food plant’s sensitive environmental needs, you need to apply the principles of integrated pest management (IPM).
IPM programs are successful for a simple reason. They recognize that pest management is a process, not a one-time event, and that relying solely on chemical controls when so many other tools are available is never the best solution. By addressing the underlying causes of pest infestations – access to food, water and shelter – IPM can prevent infestation before pesticides are even considered. In practice, IPM is an ongoing cycle of seven critical steps:
Step 1: Inspection
The cornerstone of an effective IPM program is a schedule of regular inspections. For food processors weekly inspections are common, and some plants inspect even more frequently. These routine inspections should focus on areas where pests are most likely to appear – receiving docks, storage areas, employee break rooms, sites of recent ingredient spills, etc. – and identify any potential entry points, food and water sources, or harborage zones that might encourage pest problems.
Step 2: Preventive Action
As regular inspections reveal vulnerabilities in your pest management program, take steps to address them before they cause a real problem. One of the most effective prevention measures is exclusion, i.e., performing structural maintenance to close potential entry points revealed during inspection. By physically keeping pests out, you can reduce the need for chemical countermeasures. Likewise, sanitation and housekeeping will eliminate potential food and water sources, thereby reducing pest pressure.
Step 3: Identification
Different pests have different behaviors. By identifying the problematic species, pests can be eliminated more efficiently and with the least risk of harm to other organisms. Professional pest management always starts with the correct identification of the pest in question. Make sure your pest control provider undergoes rigorous training in pest identification and behavior.
Step 4: Analysis
Once you have properly identified the pest, you need to figure out why the pest is in your facility. Is there food debris or moisture accumulation that may be attracting it? What about odors? How are the pests finding their way in – perhaps through the floors or walls? Could incoming shipments be infested? The answers to these questions will lead to the best choice of control techniques.
Step 5: Treatment Selection
IPM stresses the use of non-chemical control methods, such as exclusion or trapping, before chemical options. When other control methods have failed or are inappropriate for the situation, chemicals may be used in least volatile formulations in targeted areas to treat the specific pest. In other words, use the right treatments in the right places, and only as much as you need to get the job done. Often, the “right treatment” will consist of a combination of responses, from chemical treatments to baiting to trapping. But by focusing on non-chemical options first, you can ensure that your pest management program is effectively eliminating pests at the least risk to your food safety program, non-target organisms and the environment. You’ll also see higher pest control scores at audit time.
Step 6: Monitoring
Since pest management is an ongoing process, constantly monitoring your facility for pest activity and facility and operational changes can protect against infestation and help eliminate existing ones. Since your pest management professional most likely visits your facility on a bi-weekly or weekly basis, your staff needs to be the daily eyes and ears of the IPM program. Employees should be cognizant of sanitation issues that affect the program and should report any signs of pest activity. You don’t want to lose a day when it comes to reacting to an actual pest presence.
Step 7: Documentation
Let’s face it, the food safety auditor’s visit can make or break your business. Since pest control can account for up to 20 percent of your total score, it’s imperative that your IPM program is ready to showcase come audit time. Up-to-date pest control documentation is one of the first signs to an auditor that your facility takes pest control seriously. Important documents include a scope of service, pest activity reports, service reports, corrective action reports, trap layout maps, lists of approved pesticides, pesticide usage reports and applicator licenses.
To ensure that your IPM program reaches its potential, approach your relationship with your pest management professional as a partnership. Open communication and cooperation between you, your staff and your provider makes for a winning IPM program. The benefits are fewer headaches, safer products and better audit scores.
Dr. Zia Siddiqi is quality assurance director for Orkin, Inc. and a board certified entomologist with more than 30 years in the industry. Reach him at email@example.com.