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Proper pest management plays an important role in ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply, especially inside food processing and storage facilities. In fact, several recent cases of food contamination have been traced back to facilities with pest problems. Although FDA regulations allow for a trace amount of insect parts in processed food, active pest infestations in facilities can easily result in contamination of food products.
One of the largest and most expensive food recalls in the U.S. occurred in 2009, when FDA officials discovered that the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) had been distributing shipments of peanut-based products that were contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.
Inspections of the PCA plant revealed clear violations of basic Good Manufacturing Practices, or GMPs, including damage to the roof, which allowed rainwater to leak into the production area; mold growing on the ceilings; large gaps throughout the structure, allowing rodents easy access to the plant; and cockroaches throughout the facility.
During their investigation, federal officers also unearthed emails between PCA executives, which showed they had knowledge of the conditions in this plant and were also aware that the products had tested positive for Salmonella over a two-year period. Because of PCA’s lack of pest prevention and action in resolving infestations, the contaminated products led to a major national outbreak of Salmonella poisoning, affecting 700 people in 46 states. Nine of those cases were fatal.
PCA filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors amid a series of lawsuits. However, the case continues, as former PCA executives are scheduled to go on trial for a 76-count indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In PCA’s case, structural issues and extreme pest infestations led to both serious harm of customers and the eventual shutdown of the company. Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA has the authority to shut down facilities in which they find these types of safety violations. For this reason, proper and specific documentation of periodic pest inspections and proper sanitation practices will become increasingly important in determining compliance with the facility’s food defense plan.
Implementing a Plan
Applying a pest management plan into a standard operating procedure is the only way to make sure that facilities will consistently pass inspections and continue to manufacture safe products for consumers.
An effective pest management plan will vary by company and by facility, due to factors such as the type of food stored and manufactured, building structure, surrounding environment, and weather conditions.
To best comply with new regulations under FSMA, facility managers in decision-making positions should begin by consulting with their pest control company of record. If a specialized plan is already in place, the discussion can involve possible updates to the existing plan, as well as improved procedures for implementation, reporting, and recordkeeping.
If a preventative pest management plan is not already in place, facility managers are encouraged to work together with their pest control company to identify potential threats and how to best address them. The main elements of a good pest management plan are prevention, compliance, and response. By working through these steps, plant managers can be sure they are protecting their products and abiding by FDA regulations.
Prevention involves regular inspections and reporting of potential threats at a facility, implementing preventative treatments designed for the facility in question, and creating a set of procedures to maintain proper cleaning and sanitation of production areas. By scheduling, at minimum, monthly inspections, operators and their pest control partners will be able to quickly recognize and treat any potential pest problems.
The risks of ignoring even one sign of a pest infestation are higher than any company can afford.