The ability to remotely monitor a wide variety of food safety-related processes is not new. Food companies can remotely monitor everything from door closures to food storage temperatures using this technology. There have even been several attempts in recent years to use similar technology for pest management purposes. Current remote monitoring systems primarily focus on rodent monitoring with the hopes of expanding to a variety of non-rodent monitoring devices in the future. Eventually, the industry envisions to be able to utilize these remote monitoring systems for other types of pests, including adaptations for insect light traps and pheromone traps. These developments will allow pest management professionals (PMPs) to actively control food facilities 24/7 in order to keep all sites free of a variety of pests.
While many food processors are excited for the opportunity to incorporate remote monitoring systems into their facilities, understanding these systems, along with their advantages and disadvantages, is crucial.
How Do They Work?
Remote monitors provide 24/7 monitoring coverage of rodent control devices. At a minimum, remote monitoring systems will have a sensor to detect the pest, as well as a method of sending a message to the PMP when a rodent is detected. Although features will vary by manufacturer, all systems will use three electronic devices: a sensor, a hub, and a mobile device. The sensor is placed in or on the rodent device, like a trap or station. The sensor communicates with an onsite hub, which communicates with an off-site data center. In turn, the hub is responsible for communicating the sensor’s messages to the PMP via a text or email on a mobile device.
The types of sensors used in pest management programs vary depending on the manufacturer. Sensors currently on the market measure either motion, infrared, or a combination of both. It is important to note that units incorporating motion sensors can be subject to more false positive alerts, especially in high-traffic areas. For this reason, it is vital to consider the impact of human disturbance and vibrations when determining proper placement of remote monitoring systems with motion detectors.
The amount of back-end support offered with remote monitoring systems varies depending on the manufacturer. For example, some manufacturers offer mapping software, which records placements alongside tracking and trending capabilities. Others offer more basic software, which includes only sensor alerting support.
Sites Most Conducive to Remote Monitoring
Some of the earliest adopters of remote monitoring technology are those performing wildlife removal using live traps. To ensure trapped animals are treated humanely, PMPs are required to visit the sites daily. This process can be labor intensive and costly with no guarantee of a capture. This is where remote monitoring systems are the most beneficial—since some systems utilize motion to signal activity, areas with less human disturbance and vibrations tend to be better locations for these types of sensors. PMPs should search for areas less subject to disturbance, as they are often shadowy, protected areas that are more likely to be visited by pests. It is important to avoid areas with the potential for movement-related issues as this can prompt false positive reports due to station or trap movement, and can offset the value of the systems. These false positives can also cause PMPs to monitor an area more frequently, causing an increase in labor costs.
Food processing plants, pharmaceutical plants, and other sensitive facilities are excellent candidates for remote monitoring systems because they can expedite the analysis of a rodent’s presence. These types of sites can benefit from niche uses, like monitoring the upper ledges of a processing plant that require assessing for roof rats caused by exterior pressures.
Monitoring systems also hold promise for use in intensive trapping programs where service follow-ups can be determined based on sensor alerts. For example, in facilities with an elusive rat that is not visiting the control devices, remote monitoring systems can be particularly helpful. The pest management company will still need to assess equipment and strategize but daily visits may no longer be required.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The main advantages of remote monitoring systems are the ability to have 24/7 coverage and the opportunity to reduce routine inspection of equipment. McCloud Services data reveals that on average 3 percent of interior rodent equipment is showing activity in any one month, which requires weekly inspections to maintain those monitors. Additionally, 24/7 coverage creates an opportunity to gather more data and better understand the cause of the rodent activity. When the sensor sends an alert, a PMP can investigate and determine the “why” behind the capture right away, reviewing potential causes like a door left open, a certain product on the receiving dock, etc.
Through continuous use and tests, McCloud has learned how quickly a trap may become ineffective. In one test, snap traps were triggered within hours of a visit. Once a snap trap is triggered, it is unable to capture additional animals. Learning this information has allowed PMPs to readjust their service visits to increase capture potential.
There are also niche uses where monitoring for rodents in the past was difficult, including trapping rooflines, interstitial areas, false ceilings, safety sensitive areas where access is restricted, chronically blocked sanitation aisles, and roofs. With the advent of remote monitoring systems, these niche areas are now treatable. In fact, with the use of remote monitoring systems, McCloud used a sensor equipped multi-catch trap to prop open an exterior door on a site. When the trap caught a mouse, a service specialist was dispatched and uncovered certain employee behaviors that contributed to a potential pest problem.
While the benefits of remote monitoring systems outweigh the detriments, the disadvantages include continuous technological advancements, as the development and launch of these systems have come with challenges. This may explain the reasons why it has taken so long to establish systems on the commercial market. Even manufacturers with products currently on the market continue to tweak their systems to perfect the devices. It is like the regular changes seen in other areas of technology, such as mobile phones.
In addition to the systems themselves, costs associated with employee training need to be considered before implementing a system into a facility.
Remote monitoring systems provide a host of opportunities to learn more about rodents and increase the ability to effectively respond to pest intrusions. Professionals should become skilled in sensor placement to protect from damage, false positives, and inaccurate detecting activity. And be prepared for the time required to manage and analyze the data each trap receives. This includes further analysis of trends and root causes.
Hottel is a technical director at McCloud Services with close to 40 years of pest management experience. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.