Picture this: A dad hands his daughter a box of morning cereal, which she rips opens in excitement. While grabbing the toy out of the box, she drops it and screams, spilling cereal all over the floor—there are bugs in the cereal!
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Explore This IssueFebruary/March 2019
It’s easy to see how pest problems in a food processing facility can turn into a big problem. Pests can directly hurt your bottom line by contaminating products or equipment, causing you to either throw out and/or replace costly shipments. If products make it all the way to the consumer with pests, it could have a devastating impact on your brand, especially with today’s social media connectedness.
Instead of waiting for pest issues to occur, plan ahead. The Food Safety Modernization Act mandates a proactive approach to food safety, so sitting back and waiting for issues to occur is no longer an option. Aside from the legal implications, being proactive will help you protect your facility and bottom line from pests. In today’s globalized world, food processing facilities now have to pay attention to their supply chain too.
The Basics of Pest Control
Every food business should have an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to mitigate the risk of pest issues. These programs—which emphasize customized, proactive, integrated solutions whenever possible—require a strong partnership between the facility manager, employees, and the pest management professional to implement and continue to improve over time. Traceability is also an integral part of a strong IPM program, as it can help prevent pests internally and externally and ensure pest issues are resolved promptly.
Every IPM program will have some form of documentation to record pest issues, and many pest management companies offer extensive data tracking to see how pest populations are trending over time to identify areas for improvement. Careful documentation is crucial for demonstrating compliance to an auditor, and it can help trace pest issues back to the source. Talk to partners throughout the supply chain to establish documentation protocols as well, since determining the source of an infestation is an important first step in resolving a pest problem. Make it a point to notify supply chain partners when pest issues are traced back to them, as they might not be aware of these issues at their own facility.
Traceability is a big part of food safety, especially as more global supply chains are formed, but it can be confusing to determine which documents are most important to maintain to create visibility and be prepared for an audit. The following documents are a great place to start.
Food safety plan. The food safety plan is the most important piece of documentation. Because this is a larger, overarching document, focus on the pest management portion and what can be done to update and improve it for now. While a food safety plan should cover all aspects of the facility and products, for pest management specifically the plan should include details about all activities done to proactively ensure products are protected from pests. Make sure to incorporate all potential hazards, preventive controls, and corrective actions implemented to reduce risk. It’s also important to include monitoring and verification procedures. If possible, include information about suppliers and their programs. A crucial part of ensuring pest issues are traceable is to show that incoming and outgoing shipments are being inspected, as this will help catch pest issues before they get further down the supply chain.
List of service changes. Every IPM program needs to adapt and change as pest pressure does. No two facilities are the same, and pest pressure can shift from year to year depending on a variety of external factors, like nearby construction driving rodents from their homes. Anytime changes are made to the program, note how and why the changes have been made. At a minimum, review the plan at least once per year.
Monitoring devices/traps. The best food safety plans include a map noting monitoring equipment, traps, and any other devices used in and around the facility to minimize pest populations. For each device, record the locations and activity levels. The trend report from the collected data will give insight as to what issues need to be addressed immediately, helping to make management decisions. Pest management professionals should note activity each time they come out, and many already have systems in place that can pull together trend reports. Including this information will show any inquisitive auditor you mean business when it comes to proactive food safety.
Annual assessments. Review your IPM program and how it relates to the food safety plan every year. Specifically, look at the facility’s pest problems and talk through how to resolve and prevent them with a pest management provider. These annual assessments will help uncover recurring problem areas and hot spots around the facility, allowing you to better target the plan to address those concerns. Also, auditors will be looking for these yearly assessments.
Sighting reports. Pests and evidence of pests spotted within the facility should be recorded in a logbook. Typically referred to as a “pest sighting log,” this will help a pest management professional refine their investigation and better target the areas most plagued. The report should include information about the location of the pest problem within the facility, who found it, and the number of pests spotted. Capturing the pest is ideal, but it’s not always feasible to do so. In that case, photo evidence helps with identification, so obtain a close-up picture of the pest(s) if possible. Usually, employees will be the first to see pest problems, so make sure they know what to do when it happens!
It takes team effort to have a traceable, proactive IPM program. Typically, it’s recommended that employees keep an eye out for pests in areas most relevant to their job title and where they work. Don’t make it too difficult for employees to complete assigned inspections or else they won’t do it.
These documents can help trace when and where pest issues began so businesses can work on a customized solution to resolve problems. Openly sharing news about documented pest issues with supply chain partners can prevent pests from sneaking into shipments and contaminating product.
Making It Work
To make this all work in reality, first, hold a training session in partnership with the pest management professional and get as many employees there as possible. Discuss the most common pests around the facility and where they’re most likely to be found. Then, arm employees with an action plan they should use when a sighting does occur. Everything should be recorded in the logbook, which will help ensure issues are resolved quickly. Make sure employees know where to find it, and consider having a few logbooks at different, convenient locations around the facility.
Next, give some basic assignments to employees. For example, the forklift operator in charge of moving products into a warehouse could keep an eye out for stored product pests. Meanwhile, the employees working around the assembly line could be tasked with inspecting and wiping down equipment at the end of each day, which will help minimize attractants.
There are a lot of ways to diversify roles and make sure employees keep an eye out for pests. If unsure about how to go about this, talk to the pest management professional. For starters, employees need to know the signs of pests.
Stored product pests. Although there are many different species of stored product pests that can affect a food processing facility, all are adept at thriving in and around products undetected. The Indian meal moth, for example, has small, cream-colored larvae that will eat just about anything. Tiny and right at home in product packaging, these pests will wreck a batch of products and then move on to the next. Pheromone traps can help with detection, so make sure employees know what they are and why they are there.
Rodents. Rats and mice can carry disease-causing pathogens, which can rub off onto any surface the rodent comes into contact with. Both rats and mice are capable of fitting through tiny gaps (mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime, while rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter), so any gaps on the exterior of a building serve as a doorway. If rodents are suspected but haven’t yet been spotted, look for droppings and yellowish-brown grease marks around corners and along baseboards. Search for gnaw marks around gaps and openings in walls and on products too. Remember, rodents want to be out of sight. That’s why they skitter along walls and stay away from humans as much as possible.
Cockroaches. One of the most resilient and persistent pests around, cockroaches can get through miniscule gaps and will feed on just about anything, quickly becoming a terror for food processing facilities. If they’re not promptly removed, cockroaches can reproduce rapidly. A few cockroaches can create an infestation in a matter of months, especially with an abundant food supply. If a cockroach is seen during the day, it’s a good sign it’s time to act quickly. Cockroaches are most active at night, so spotting one during the day likely means others are lurking behind the scenes.
To obtain this trend data and see the hot spots around a facility, monitoring devices are likely necessary. Whether using pheromone traps to reduce stored product pest populations, bait stations to trap rodents, or fly lights to capture flying pests, these tools identify what types of pests and how many are lurking behind the scenes.
Pests are resilient and persistent. They’ll do whatever it takes to get to the food, water, and shelter needed to survive.
Pest pressure doesn’t just disappear overnight. Consistent improvement and effort are necessary to reduce it. But keeping track of pest population trends around the facility can help you and your pest management professional keep a pulse on the pests plaguing your business.
If your facility is affected by pests and you haven’t implemented proactive, traceable policies, you’re going to have a tough time finding and removing pests. Protect your brand from negative publicity and your facility from costly shutdowns by keeping tabs on the pest populations and then do everything you can to keep them out.
The best time to implement a proactive approach to food safety was yesterday. The second-best time is now.
Hartzer, a technical services manager for Orkin LLC, is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of operations, marketing, and training. Reach her at email@example.com.