It’s no surprise that one small pest issue in a food processing facility can quickly become a major issue for an entire supply chain. Not only can pests threaten your bottom line and employee well-being, but they can also tarnish your reputation and delay operations. All of this can become costly, which is why it’s important to follow industry regulations and prioritize food safety.
Pests can hitchhike across borders in transportation vehicles and travel in and out of your facility unnoticed via packaging. These critters need food, water, and shelter to survive and, unfortunately, food processing facilities provide ample amounts of these attractants. Unlike some other industries, food processing plants have continued to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, making them a prime target for pests.
And while you may be taking all the right steps to ensure that a safe, quality product reaches consumers, you can’t always guarantee that your suppliers’ pest management programs are as effective as yours.
An integrated pest management (IPM) plan takes a proactive approach to pest control by implementing preventive measures, rather than reactive actions, to help keep pests away. Infestations can be costly and wreak havoc on your facility operations, bottom line, and reputation. Being proactive about pest management will help ensure that all food products leaving your facility make it to their next stop in the best condition.
Traceability is a key part of an effective IPM program; it can help keep pests out of your facility and, should they enter, help ensure they are taken care of promptly. As food supply chains become more connected, traceability and monitoring become more important.
To trace and monitor pests, you need to know what you’re up against. Here are some of the most common pests:
- Rodents. One of the filthiest pests that can crawl through your facility is a rodent. Mice and rats can squeeze through small spaces and gnaw through tough materials. In addition to causing structural damage, rodents can contaminate your food products and spread diseases via their urine and droppings, making it essential to always maintain a sanitary facility.
- Cockroaches. Cockroaches carry more than 45 pathogens on their bodies, including E. coli and Salmonella, and can spread these across your facility by simply crawling around in search of food. Because they feed on almost anything, they can easily escape notice as they contaminate your food supply. They can also cause discomfort for your employees and trigger allergy issues.
- Ants. These critters are so tiny that they can migrate in and out of your facility almost completely undetected. Don’t be fooled by their size, though; ants leave an invisible pheromone trail to notify other ants once they’ve found a food source.
Be sure to discuss hot spots so your employees know where to focus their efforts. From triple checking deliveries and shipments at the loading dock to disinfecting production floor equipment after each shift, little actions will go a long way in helping to prevent an introduction.
Tracking and Traceability Plans
Documentation is an important part of a food processing facility’s audit preparation and, if you have a reliable pest management partner, it’s likely that they have extensive pest tracking and trending information. This information can help you and your pest management partner find the source of pest issues.
Let’s discuss the documents you should have on hand.
Food safety plan. Your food safety plan is the most important part of your documentation. Included in your pest management section should be details about all proactive measures taken to ensure that your food products are safe from pests. All corrective actions, potential hazards, and other steps to reduce risk should also be included in this document. If you use monitoring and verification procedures and have information on your suppliers’ pest programs, you should include that as well. This shows you are monitoring incoming and outgoing shipments for pest activity and taking actions where necessary to prevent pests from infiltrating the supply chain.
Monitoring devices and traps. These are often used for tracking pests and minimizing their populations. Your pest control provider should have data for each device that details their location and pest activity levels. Some pest control providers even gather this information remotely and store it digitally for easy data visualization and record management. Make sure you work with your pest control provider to obtain the trend reports from these devices so you can use the insights to revise your current pest management plan, as needed, and prove to your auditors that you’re being proactive in your pest control efforts.
Annual assessments. Review your IPM plan with your provider annually, at a minimum. Make a note of pest problems that occurred and discuss resolutions for them accordingly. By performing these annual assessments, you’ll be able to spot recurring problems quickly and develop more targeted solutions.
Sighting reports. Your facility should have a logbook for recording pest sightings and, if your staff doesn’t already have access to it, they should. These will help your pest control provider perform thorough investigations of pest activity and make more accurate recommendations.
List of service changes. Your IPM program should change as your pest pressures do. No two food processing facilities are the same, and a variety of external factors can cause pest pressures to shift periodically. Whenever you make a change to your pest management program, be sure to note how you changed your program and why you implemented those changes.
Tracing and monitoring pests requires a team effort. In addition to staff training from your pest control provider, communicating with your supplier and distributors is important. It might seem as if it will damage your reputation to share news about documented pest issues with your supply chain, but it’s quite the opposite. Keeping your suppliers and distributors informed of pest issues within your facility can help protect the rest of the supply chain from pests.
Pests will go to any lengths to get food, water, and shelter—especially during a pandemic. If you aren’t already implementing traceable policies in your facility, now is the best time to start. In addition to a strong IPM program, finding and removing pests will be easier for you and your pest control provider with these traceability policies.
While pest pressures won’t stop immediately, these tactics will help uphold food safety regulations and protect your business in the long run.
Ramsey is a senior technical services manager for Orkin. He is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of training and education, operations, and marketing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.