The one phrase you’ll never hear an experienced pest management professional utter is, “Now, I’ve seen it all.” Nothing can be further from the truth when it comes to eliminating pests from food processing, storage, and distribution facilities.
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Explore This IssueFebruary/March 2020
Why is that phrase so far-fetched? It’s simple: pests. Rodents, cockroaches, flies, and stored product pests are animals and their behavior can be unpredictable. When you add the human element to the mix, you need to be prepared for anything when it comes to pests.
An experienced pest management technician will see evidence of pests in areas of a food processing facility that no one ever thought possible, or uncover structural, cultural, or sanitary conditions that no one would think could contribute to a pest infestation.
The bottom line is that, when it comes to designing, implementing, and measuring the effectiveness of a pest management program, nothing is off the table. Anything is possible, so expect the unexpected.
Be Awake to All Possibilities
It may sound like a daunting task to prepare your facility for every possible pest, and the reality is, that it isn’t possible. No QA manager, plant sanitarian, or facility manager can think of everything when it comes to pests.
That’s why developing strong partnerships with your pest management service provider and outside vendors (e.g., cleaning crews, transportation companies, etc.) is essential to safeguarding your facility, products, employees, and customers from pests and the harmful bacteria they can transfer to food products.
A collaborative and proactive approach to establishing consistent cleaning, sanitation, inventory management, product and ingredient inspection, and maintenance protocols is the first step toward effective pest management. Learning from experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to pest prevention and management is a critical part of the process. With these protocols in place, the chances of coming across an unwelcomed pest surprise are mitigated, but never eliminated.
Here is a collection of real-world tales that illustrate the point that effective pest management involves expecting the unexpected, being proactive and innovative, and leveraging all your intellectual and technical assets to arrive at a solution.
Tale No. 1: Digging Deep to Solve a Phorid Fly Infestation
A technician was having a problem getting an intense phorid fly infestation under control at a new food plant. The problem had been going on for a few months and the client was getting impatient.
The technician and technical staff met with the plant’s management team to explain the biology of the species and point out that the flies are usually associated with compromised drains, but management did not want to listen. They wanted a bioremediation treatment performed, pesticide injections in the drains, and weekly fogging treatments to eliminate the flies.
Even though it was explained that these approaches would only provide short-term relief, the technician did what was asked. The plant’s maintenance staff even filled the facility’s hollow block walls with foam and called another pest control company to drill into the slab floor and perform a termite treatment, both of which did not solve the problem.
The client finally followed the original recommendation and had the drains scoped by a plumber. It was discovered that the drainpipes were not connected, and water was accumulating underneath the building slab, providing ideal conditions for a fly infestation.
The Takeaway: When it comes to pests and drains, have a plumber scope the drains to see what’s really going on down there. Yes, drain repairs can be costly, but what’s the price of a product recall or a failed audit? If the client had followed the initial recommendation, the problem would have been solved much faster and at a lower cost.
Tale No. 2: That Sucks—Fungus Gnats in a Food Plant
A production factory was experiencing an intense fungus gnat infestation in its employee break room. The infestation was so severe that it started to migrate to the plant’s production area where it potentially could contaminate product.
A technician conducted a thorough inspection of the facility. Since he understood the behavior and biology of the fungus gnat, he took the time to look at the air intake on the plant’s roof. Sure enough, the filter was so full it was collapsing, allowing small flies to be sucked into the building.
Adding to the misery, it was the dead of summer and there was extensive security lighting on the exterior of the building. These lights, which were located above the entrance and loading dock doors, shined brightly and attracted small flies to the building.
The Takeaway: Staying on top of basic maintenance practices is a critical element in any pest management program. If your maintenance crew has too much on their plate, consider outsourcing certain tasks; it’s worth the investment. Additionally, when conducting an inspection, make sure it covers all areas, from the roof to the basement. When it comes to building lighting, switch to low sodium vapor bulbs and determine which lights must be on for safety and security. Consider putting lights on poles in the parking lot and shining them on the building to draw pests away from the building while still meeting security needs.
Tale No. 3: A Fly in the Soup—Cheese Soup
A large manufacturer was experiencing a drain fly problem, something it had never faced before. After several weeks, the problem intensified and, during a follow-up inspection, the primary culprit was identified: a missing p-trap on a drain.
The drain was in an area on the production floor that was very difficult to access. There was large machinery in the way and the area was very warm and wet from the constant use of water in production. The missing p-trap was lying on the gravel under the slab and water was falling freely to the ground.
Repairing the drain was a challenge, as the floor in the older plant needed to be jacked up to safely allow workers to get underneath to perform the work. In the interim, a bioremediation treatment was performed to knock down the fly infestation. It took several weeks from initial identification until the pipe was fixed.
An interesting aside to this situation is that a few days following the inspection, the city’s wastewater department called and said gravel was showing up in their facility about a mile away from the plant. So much water was being put down the broken drain that it was washing gravel all the way to the wastewater building!
The Takeaway: Drains must be cleaned on a consistent basis and on a specific schedule. If that had been done in this case, the broken drain would have been noticed sooner and a solution would have been reached more quickly. The type of food you are producing should dictate the frequency for drain cleaning. For example, dairy and beverage facilities are at the highest risk as they use a lot of water in production. For that type of product, monthly drain cleanings are recommended.
Tale No. 4: Don’t Get Snake Bitten
An employee at a food processing plant kept pet snakes in his office (a non-production area). One day he put too many feeder mice into the snake’s aquarium enclosure and needed to remove some.
To safely remove the mice, one of the plant’s multi-catch rodent devices was placed into the enclosure. The trap caught several of the mice, but instead of keeping them for a future feeding he put the trap—with the mice in it—back where he found it inside the plant.
You can probably imagine the technician’s surprise when he opened the trap while performing the next scheduled service and found four dead white mice in the trap. The employee shared his mistake and the technician explained the importance of not keeping any pet animals in a food plant.
The Takeaway: Just when you think you’ve “seen it all,” a story like this comes along. While not a typical example of pests in a food plant, it illustrates the need to be prepared for any possibility. What if an auditor had discovered the mice first? It wouldn’t have mattered that they were feeder mice instead of a sign of an infestation. It would have led to a failed audit and a real headache for the plant.
McCoy is director of quality and technical training for Wil-Kil Pest Control in Menomonee Falls, Wisc. Reach him at email@example.com. Wil-Kil is a member of Copesan Services, a national network of pest management professionals specializing in commercial pest control and food safety services.
A Pest’s Worst Nightmare: A Clean Facility
Sanitation is pest management, plain and simple. If your facility has strong cleaning and sanitation protocols in place, you have taken a significant step toward mitigating the chances of a pest infestation.
Why do pests want to gain access to food processing, storage, and distribution facilities? It’s not because they’re interested in applying for a job—it’s because there’s food, water, and shelter inside.
Good cleaning and sanitation protocols take care of spills and food waste in drains, on floors, on food preparation countertops, and under and inside processing equipment. And, when food waste and spills are eliminated, so is the attraction for pests.
Investing in cleaning and sanitation practices pays for itself. When an auditor makes a visit to your facility, they’ll note conducive conditions related to sanitation practices and if they aren’t up to speed, you’ll know.
Well-designed cleaning and sanitation programs not only lessen a rodent’s or cockroach’s interest in your facility, they also instill confidence in your workforce. It tells them they work for a company that cares about producing a world-class product that is safe for consumers.
What does a good cleaning and sanitation program entail and where should it be applied? The following is a list of areas inside and outside your facility that should be regularly monitored and included on any master cleaning schedule:
- Exterior areas—garbage disposal areas, drainage, weed control, and pest breeding and harborage areas.
- Building exteriors—pest-proofing/exclusion and lighting.
- Building interior—walls, floors, ceilings, floor drains, plumbing, ventilation, and lighting.
- Food storage:
- Packaged and dry food storage—proper storage practices and good sanitation.
- Damaged goods storage—segregation, repackaging, and good sanitation.
- Returned goods.
- Refrigerated areas—condensation and cleaning.
- Food preparation areas—access to enclosed areas, under equipment, and surface areas.
- Dishwashing areas.
- Garbage and recycling areas—proper containers and containers covered.
- Toilet and locker rooms—lockers regularly cleaned and emptied.
- Lunch/break room—cleaned and trash taken out regularly.
- Vending machines—accessible for cleaning.
- Utility areas—accessible for cleaning and no pest-conducive conditions.
- Office areas—trash removed regularly and no food stored in desks.
Source: Portions of this information are adapted from Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations