Pests and the contaminants they transmit pose a threat to every food operation and a facility can face enormous losses from recalls or bad publicity associated with a product’s quality or a safety issue.
Keeping plant and products free of pests and contaminants is critical to the success of your organization. When a pest problem occurs, most businesses implement reactionary measures immediately to ensure the infestation is managed and ends quickly. However, food processing, storage, and handling sites must also place emphasis on pest management prevention and have an existing plan in place in case an infestation occurs.
To avoid costly problems and meet or exceed the requirements of internal and external pest management audits, it is important to employ proactive sanitation and maintenance strategies.
Top 10 Pest Control Strategies
Here are the top 10 strategies your food processing plant should already be implementing.
1. Make sure your master sanitation schedule is adequate and up to date. Food processing facilities are continually remodeling and changing equipment and processes, which can make it challenging to keep the Master Sanitation Schedule up to date and followed. However, master sanitation schedules are fundamental components of sanitation programs and chronic pest infestations can often be linked to sanitation deficiencies.
Having a schedule in place helps eliminate pest food and harborages, while cleaning schedules disrupt pest developmental cycles. Sanitation schedules also address microbiological risks and general housekeeping. Create and follow an updated ideal master sanitation schedule and be prepared to explain the potential risks if it cannot be followed. Pest management barcode software, periodic dashboard reports, and corporate sanitarians can successfully push critical communications up the management ladder. Also, capital funding can be made available for facility improvements when the need and risks are clearly communicated to the right people.
2. Make the business case for sanitation and pest management. Sanitation touches every department in a plant—invite managers from each department to participate in periodic inspections to show and share their needs. When making the business case, it is important to highlight that some operator cleanup or disassembly is more efficient than sanitation staff doing the work and creates less delays in startup. Also, emergency shutdowns with lines full of product are costlier than planned shutdowns, which can be managed more efficiently and can assure more sustainable product safety and quality.
3. Avoid product spillage and storing dead equipment and hardware supplies. Equipment “bone yards,” litter, vegetation, waste management, and production spillage are great harborages for insects and rodents. Store hardware and equipment in an orderly manner and off the floor or ground. Reducing and managing product spillage improves pest management and operational efficiencies.
And remember the roof. Product leaks on the roof become attractive to many insect, rodent, and bird pests. Also consider methods that may be available to reduce bird harborages and roosting opportunities on rooftops.
4. Manage waste. Processing is often well-designed, but livestock feed byproduct (waste) sits in open bins or accumulates in waste load-out areas that are pest hotspots. Lingering waste residue, leakage, and waste collection sites outdoors can quickly become problematic if not managed properly.
5. Close the door and fix the gaps. A tremendous number of insect and rodent issues can be traced to simple outdoor openings. Indoor rodent activity or trapping history often points to doors that stand open, leave gaps, or do not close properly. Correct exclusion issues, including door thresholds and side gaps, fans, air intakes, and other openings.
6. Seal cracks. Pests can spend their lives in cracks and crevices. These may be expansion joints in concrete floors, floor-wall junction cracks, or cracks at the edges of various panels or sheeting materials. Clean cracks out as well as possible, treat them with residual insecticide and fill them with sealant.
7. Inspect. Strive to improve access to equipment that is difficult to reach for regular inspection, opening, and cleaning.
8. Manage landscaping. Landscaping has definite negative impacts. Lush vegetation, ground covers, fruiting or nut trees, vegetation too close to buildings (actual contact equals ant bridges), and bark mulch on ornamental planting beds near entrances are common issues. Ideally a plant site should be “attractively barren” with well-maintained grounds, a gravel sanitation border surrounding the buildings, and gravel mulch if there must be bushes near an office entrance. Bark mulch is a perfect rodent harborage, and harborage for a number of insect invaders. The only place for a rodent to hide around the exterior of a food plant should be a bait box or trap!
9. Work closely with the maintenance department. Some of the greatest pest management success stories hinge on the involvement of maintenance departments understanding the value of exclusion and harborage elimination. The backdoor to maintenance shops is often the worst offender for letting pests in due to being propped open. Maintenance storage areas are often hotspots for rodents because they are cluttered, dimly lit, and quiet. Avoid pests by keeping the maintenance storage areas neat and well lit, keeping materials and hardware off the floor and capping pipes and wrap items so openings do not become dirty harborages.
Training and explanations of the process for identifying deficiencies and tracking corrective actions are very helpful. Working with a maintenance person to fix miscellaneous gaps, leaks, and entries into harborages could have a much better return on investment than many pesticide applications. Prioritize the corrective actions where maintenance needs to be involved.
10. Do the right thing. Food safety is deadly serious, and a company can face enormous losses from recalls or bad publicity associated with a product quality or safety issue. Sanitarians have the insight to recognize conditions and practices that cannot be tolerated, or products that may not be fit to be shipped. Be brave and do the right thing. It may not be popular to squelch production or somebody’s shortcut but report potential food safety problems to higher management and do your part to protect the brand.
The Outside Influences
In addition to these tactics, there are other outside influences that can increase your chances of experiencing a pest infestation.
- Avoid standing water. It provides essential needs for mosquitoes, rats, flying insects, and moisture conditions favorable to pests.
- Waste containers and handling systems near doors often present irresistible attractions to many pest species, and it is no wonder a certain number gain entry, even if only by accident. Wastes need to be adequately contained away from buildings, and waste receptacles should be closed tightly and/or cleaned of waste and spillage.
- Outdoor storage areas need to be managed properly. Store dead equipment in sanitary conditions—off the ground, cleaned, capped pipes, etc. Make sure that contractors’ supplies are stored in a manner they will not be vehicles for pest introduction. Also, avoid trash or junk directly outside your facility.
- Neighboring facilities and environments contribute to pest pressure too. Junkyards can harbor rodents; farms and livestock facilities can be the source of fly pressure; various pests might be associated with neighboring woodlands, wetlands, and aquatic habitats; several neighbors could contribute to roach pressure; and grain elevators, railroad facilities, and other food processors could contribute their own pest complexes.
Another proactive approach to preventative and pest management is to work with a pest management professional (PMP) who is knowledgeable about food processing. A PMP can identify the most critical risks to a particular facility and the most feasible management approach. Working with a skilled PMP is a key asset in today’s audit-rich environment—they can easily provide the necessary documentation and communications to help you meet or exceed standards. Having a trained set of eyes will be valuable for ongoing inspections, monitoring for conducive conditions, and developing pest situations.
Implementing these strategies and tactics, working with a skilled PMP, and solving pest problems as early as possible will make pest management easier and less expensive. Be continuously on the lookout for conducive conditions that attract pests and make corrections immediately. It’s also important to be prepared with plans for inevitable occurrences. For example, have a protocol in place for when a bird gets into the building, or a mouse is sighted. Having materials and plans for your own immediate response can save your organization lots of time and money and may even save your brand’s reputation.
Heath is a board-certified entomologist at Industrial Fumigant Co. Reach him at JHeath@INDFUMCO.COM.