Tag Archives: audit

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Stay Audit-Ready, Anytime with Integrated Pest Management

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

The unlimited supply of food sources that manufacturing facilities provide can make pest management a daunting task, especially with the scrutiny of third-party auditors, government regulators and customers. These high standards, along with yours, mean that diligence is a key ingredient in the recipe for pest management success.

Why is this important? The steps you take to prevent pests, and how issues are resolved if pest activity is detected, affects the overall credibility of your business. After all, pest management can account for up to 20% of an audit score.

Auditors look for an integrated pest management (IPM) plan, which includes prevention, monitoring, trend reports and corrective actions. If you want to stay audit-ready, all the time, implement the following five principles.

Open Lines of Communication

A successful pest management partnership is just that: A partnership. Create an open dialogue for ongoing communication with your pest management provider. Everyone has a role to play from sanitation to inspection to maintenance. For example, if there are any changes in your facility, such as alteration of a production line, let your provider know during their next service visit. During each visit, it’s important to set aside time to discuss what was found and done during the visit, including new pest sightings and concerns.

Communication shouldn’t be limited to the management team; your entire staff should be on board. During their day-to-day duties, employees should know what to look for, and most importantly, what to do if they notice pests or signs of pests. Reporting the issue right away can make a huge difference in solving a pest problem before it gets out of hand. Also, most pest management providers offer staff training sessions. These can be an overview of the basics during your next staff meeting or a specialized training on a pertinent issue.

Inspect Regularly

A thorough inspection can tell you a lot about your facility and the places most at risk for pests. Your pest management provider will be doing inspections every visit, but routine inspections should be done by site personnel as well. Everyone at the site has a set of eyes, so why not use them? This way, you can identify hot spots for pests and keep a closer eye on them. Pests are small and can get in through the tiniest of gaps, so some potential entry points to look out for are:
• Windows and doors. Leaving them propped open is an invitation for all sorts of pests. Don’t forget to check the bottom door seal and ensure it is sealed tight to the ground.

  • Floor drains. Sewers can serve as a freeway system for cockroaches, and drains can grant them food, water and shelter.
  • Dock plates. A great entry point for pests, as there are often gaps surrounding dock plates.
  • Ventilation intakes. These are a favorite spot for perching, roosting or nesting birds, as well as entry points for flying insects.
  • Roof. You can’t forget about the roof, as it serves as a common entry point for birds, rodents and other pests.

Another thing to look for is conducive conditions, such as sanitation issues and moisture problems. These are areas where there may not be pests yet, but they provide a perfect situation that pests could take advantage of if they aren’t dealt with. Make sure to take pictures of deficiencies so that can be shared with the maintenance department or third-party who can fix it. You can also take a picture of the work when it has been finished, showing the corrective action!

Keep It Clean

Proper sanitation is key to maintaining food safety and for preventing and reducing pests. You need a written sanitation plan to keep your cleaning routine organized and ensure no spots are left unattended for too long. The following are some additional steps consider:

  • Minimize and contain production waste. While it’s impossible to clean up all the food in a food processing site (you are producing said food!), it’s important to clean up spills quickly and regularly remove food waste.
  • Keep storage areas dry and organized.
  • Remember FIFO procedures (first in, first out) when it comes to raw ingredients and finished products.
  • Clean and maintain employee areas such as break rooms and locker rooms.
  • Ensure the outside of your facility stays clean and neat with all garbage going into trash cans with fitted lids.
  • Make sure dumpsters are emptied regularly and the area around them kept clean.

Monitoring

Monitoring devices for many pests will be placed strategically around your facility. Some common ones are insect light traps (ILTs), rodent traps and bait stations, insect pheromone traps and glue boards. It’s important to let employees know what these are there for and to respect the devices (try not to run them over with a fork lift or unplug them to charge a cell phone). These devices will be checked on a regular basis and the type of pest and the number of pests will be recorded. This data can then be analyzed over time to show trends, hot spots, and even seasonal issues. Review this with your pest management provider on a regular basis and establish thresholds and corrective actions to deal with the issues when they reach your threshold. The pest sighting log can also be considered a monitoring tool. Every time someone writes down an issue they have seen, this can be quickly checked and dealt with.

Maintain Proper Documentation

Pest management isn’t a one-time thing but a cycle of ongoing actions and reactions. Capturing the process is extremely important for many reasons. It allows you to analyze, refine and re-adjust for the best results. It’s a great way to identify issues early. Also, it’s a critical step for auditors. Appropriate documentation must be kept on hand and up-to-date. There’s lots of documentation to keep when it comes to pest management and your provider should be keeping all of that ready—from general documentation like your annual facility assessment and risk assessment to training and certification records, pest sighting reports, safety data sheets and more.

The documentation aspect may seem like a lot at first, but a pest management provider can break it down and make it easier. It’s absolutely necessary for food and product safety and will become second nature over time.

Shawna Wagner, DNV GL
FST Soapbox

How to Strengthen Your Audit Score

By Shawna Wagner
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Shawna Wagner, DNV GL

It is one week before your scheduled audit. Are you running around from department to department crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, or are you cool, calm and collected, as it is just another audit? More than likely you have been in both cases, but how does one finally get to the collected stage? It is not about being nervous—even as a lead auditor I get nervous (I am human, too)— it is about being ready!

Believe it or not, I can generally gage if the audit is going to flow well within the first hour of arrival. My questions from audit to audit of course change, but overall, I am asking for the same materials and results. If the team is getting baffled by questions in the beginning stages of the audit, I know I am in for a long ride. Why does this happen? If the situation has gone down hill rather quickly, I find that whomever at the plant is responsible for the implementation of the audit standard, has never taken the time to read or review it. That, my friends, is one of the most critical mistakes you can make. I know these standards are not world-class bestselling books that you are dying to binge read by the fireplace with a glass of wine—if this was your view, you would be an auditor already. HA! The standards are not always black and white as far as requirements, but just taking the time to read the standard will enhance your understanding of where the auditor is coming from.

Now you have read the standard, you understand it and are comfortable. You have a 200,000 square-foot facility, 200 employees and four different HACCP plans to watch over. How could you possibly score an excellent, “A”, pass, whatever the top score may be defined as? I am sure you have heard the expression, it is not all about you, and that holds true for audits. So many times I have witnessed that the quality manager (or equivalent) try to undertake the entire audit from start to finish and answer all the questions. This is not a best-practice approach. A good example here would be that many audits now talk about annual objectives and key performance indicators. As an auditor, I expect that your plant manager (or equivalent key person responsible) come talk about these with their senior management. Too often I see the quality department commit to answering these questions, but as an auditor, I am interested in your system and how it works throughout your entire facility. I do not just want to know about the quality department. Get all departments involved. They, too, then get firsthand experience of understanding what the audit requirements are, instead of just reading endless emails of what needs to be accomplished.

Teamwork and understanding are now established—great! How strong are your programs? There are a few programs I want to touch on here, including your internal audit program and procedures. I can not write this article and tell you “X” is the solution, as there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you are spending two hours on an annual internal audit for a facility like the one mentioned above, it is possible that your program is lacking robustness. When conducting an internal audit and a requirement is in compliance, do you write what made it in compliance, what you reviewed, and with whom you spoke? This is a great way for you to compare what you see in your plant versus what an auditor sees in your plant, especially if you built your internal audit from an audit standard. How about your sanitation program? I came from a background of meat inspection, so maybe I am a bit biased, but your sanitation is encompassed with other pre-requisite programs in the facility. If your facility has untidy locker rooms, cafeterias and bathrooms, what motivates the employees to be tidy on the production floor? Sometimes it is the small things that go a very long way. In talking about sanitation, I have observed that many site managers never go in to watch your pre-operational inspections that may take place very early in the morning. Just because it is not on first shift, does not mean it is not important, and it also does not mean that it will not be audited. Likely, it will be audited!

Lastly, take all nonconformities that you have found either through internal or external audits, respond to them in a timely fashion, and get the root causes and preventative actions in place! Nothing pains me more then to see sites repeat a nonconformance, just to possibly get a major conformity. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot and your audit score takes an unnecessary plunge that could have been avoided.

Audits are not a fad and are not going away. It does take way more time to get to the cool, calm and collected stage for audits, but in the end, being audit ready all the time looks good on you and your site!

Michael Koeris, Ph.D. and vice president of operations, Sample6, pathogen detection
FST Soapbox

Implement Six Changes This Week to Increase In-Plant Productivity

By Michael Koeris, Ph.D.
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Michael Koeris, Ph.D. and vice president of operations, Sample6, pathogen detection

The old adage coined by Benjamin Franklin nearly three centuries ago rings truer today than ever before: “Time is money.” For food plant managers, there are few greater job challenges than ensuring the kind of operational efficiency that fuels productivity and engenders real profitability for the company.

Every element of the manufacturing process—from supplier intake and product storage to processing, packaging, labeling and transporting—must run at peak performance in order to meet productivity expectations. Factor in the responsibilities of equipment maintenance, personnel management, resource allocation and food safety compliance, and you’re facing a torrent of barriers to increased plant productivity.

Even so, there are some practical changes you can make in order to meet your goals, and they’re not the kind that take months of planning and preparation (translation: more time out of your already busy schedule). The following are six expert recommendations you can roll out this week to increase plant productivity and rectify the inefficiencies that may be hindering your success.

Manufacturing productivity, efficiency
Every element of the manufacturing process—from supplier intake and product storage to processing, packaging, labeling and transporting—must run at peak performance in order to meet productivity expectations. Image courtesy of Sample6

1. Be Proactive

Here’s another valuable proverb to live by: “A stitch in time saves nine.” By proactively addressing quality control risks within the facility, you’re able to thwart more monumental issues down the line, like production halts, recalls and non-compliances. Outcomes like these epitomize inefficiency and often result in severe profitability consequences.

So, what change can you make this week to avert the fallout of a reactive approach? Focus on prevention. It may seem like speed is the ultimate goal, but not if it comes at the price of quality and safety, as oversights in these areas typically lead to damaging efficiency and profitability failures on the back end. Here are some simple steps to emphasize prevention right away:

  • Revise your HARPC to reflect any changes to date, like new employees or equipment sanitation hazards that have emerged; new ingredients that may pose allergen risks; the team’s pinpointing of ineffective control measures; production flow processes that deviate from the documented ones; and evolved compliance mandates or industry standards.
  • Optimize your documentation process by trading in outdated, manual processes for a more streamlined and reliable digital alternative—one that features automated reporting for extracting hidden insights and trends that can be leveraged to improve your prevention plan.
  • Designate a team or individual to revamp the training program, ensuring comprehensive education for employees spanning every department and level of the company. Direct them to develop initiatives that foster a culture of food quality and safety, with ongoing efforts to promote awareness and guidance.

2. Embrace the Value of Technology

It’s not easy to abandon the tried-and-true processes of yesterday and accept a new reality. This is why some plants struggle to meet the demands of today’s highly connected and technologically advanced society. In truth, technology has changed the industry, and the ability to increase productivity in your facility hinges on your willingness to learn the new rules and equip your team with the right tools.

Big data, agricultural tech, management software, augmented reality, digital reporting… the list goes on. These are the types of technology trends that are emerging in the food manufacturing industry and forging a path to immeasurable gains in quality and efficiency. Of course, you won’t be able to transform your entire operation in a week, but one thing you can do right away is open your mind to the potential that can be found in embracing technology. Come to an acceptance of the critical role that digitization and automation plays so that you can identify valuable opportunities to take advantage of them.

From the archives: Read our Q&A with Michael Koeris in “Food Safety Testing Must Live Up to Higher Expectations”3. Analyze Your Floor Plan

It’s impossible to effectively manage your productivity risks without first identifying them. You must be able to facilitate a historical view of disparities in your floor plan in order to determine the areas of greatest risk and/or loss. What factors within your facility are posing the greatest threats to productivity? Consider:

  • Are they food quality and safety deterrents, such as undeclared allergens, detected pathogens, residue contamination, lack of proper sanitation policies and enforcement, mismanaged temperature and moisture controls, etc.?
  • Are they related to equipment failures? Is there machinery that requires updates or replacement?
  • Are they employee elements, like insufficient staffing, human error, misappropriation of resources, subpar performance or lack of training?

The only way to answer these questions is to look at your floor plan holistically, and utilize historical data to identify potential causes of productivity lapses.

Let’s face it, no plant’s processes are perfect, and no organization runs a flawless operation. Non-conformances and inefficiencies will always occur. It’s the ability to focus on these problems and use the data to improve your process that makes the difference between a strong, productive operation and a weak, futile one. Data collection and analysis that highlight hot spots on your floor plan enable you to communicate effectively with your team and execute process iterations that advance quality, productivity and profitability.

4. Print Testing Labels with Sample Details

If your team is manually writing out labels for samples that are collected for testing, there are a number of efficiency challenges getting in the way of overall plant productivity. First and foremost, filling out testing labels by hand requires much more time from technicians and plant workers than is actually necessary. Over a duration, these minutes become hours, which turn into days, slowly eroding the profitability of your operations. What could you save in productivity losses if your workers no longer had to write out labels?

There’s also the issue of often-illegible handwriting and the heightened risk of human error. When the lab receives samples that are difficult to read, incomplete, inaccurately marked or smudged during transit, there are extra steps needed to inquire about and resolve the discrepancies. Otherwise, the lab is left to guess at what they’re seeing, and we can all agree there’s a hefty price to be paid for inaccuracies in this area.

This is a prime example of how food safety software can increase plant productivity. With the ability to utilize auto-labeling for testing samples, all of these productivity impediments disappear. You could begin saving precious time and closing the gap on errors immediately, just by using a smart software solution that enables you to print testing labels.

5. Automatically Assign Corrective Actions

As non-conformances arise in the production process, corrective action must follow. But even with the best intentions, corrective action goals can fall behind schedule or consume so much time and energy that they curtail operational productivity. Without an automated, streamlined approach, there’s likely to be confusion over who is expected to manage a particular action and what they need to do, which precipitates avoidable mistakes and a whole lot of wasted time.

With a food safety management system that allows you to automatically assign next steps to the appropriate individual for resolving a positive test result, there’s much to be gained in terms of efficiency. The right people are instantly notified of their corrective action assignments, with direction on how to proceed. This kind of powerful communication reaps big productivity returns. It also maintains a focus on proactive quality control, the benefits of which we’ve already explored.

6. Use a Food Safety Audit Template

Sometimes it feels like there’s no end to the cycle of preparation required for managing the plant’s continual food safety audits. On the one hand, you’ve got government regulators, like the FDA, USDA and CFIA, heightening compliance enforcement and performing regular inspections. On the other, you’re subject to client-administered audits intended to verify supplier food quality and safety. Then in between the two, you’re tasked with conducting a number of internal audits.

Amid all of this complex data acquisition and reporting, your operations are suffering from the effects of lost time and resources. As each food safety audit approaches, it can be a significant struggle to get everything in order—one that ultimately takes your productivity objectives off course. The key to avoiding this scenario is implementing an organized process, and one of the most effective tools you can use is a standard food safety audit template.

With a comprehensive checklist of categories and requirements, you’re able to systematically address each area of food safety responsibility, survey your team, assemble the necessary materials and pull relevant data. From compiling documents, logs and reports to making visual verifications, a template that facilitates the audit preparation process is a significant productivity booster. It helps you assimilate efforts to:

  • Verify the plant’s actions for analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards, from raw material production, procurement and handling to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of finished product
  • Methodically examine all aspects of the plant’s system for maintaining industry, company and government standards of practice for manufacturing, holding and distributing foods fit for human consumption
  • Review the elements of your supplier verification program to ensure completeness, accuracy and organization, as well as collect proof of your suppliers’ quality systems
  • Compile information that reflects the plant’s approach to enforcing an expedient and reliable recall process

There’s no reason to allow productivity to falter while handling everyday plant responsibilities. By executing some of these steps within the next few days, you can kick start better efficiency patterns and get your operations moving toward increased productivity. This is the direction in which you should be headed in order to develop greater control throughout the plant and turn time into money.

Audit

First Audit Stakeholders Meeting to Take Place at Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Audit

The Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals (AFSAP) announces the selection of the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference as the site for the first Audit Stakeholders meeting on June 13 in Rockville, MD. This historic event will bring together FDA, accreditation bodies (ABs), certification bodies (CBs) and other interested parties to outline the requirements for FDA’s Accredited Certification to better understand the AB/CB roles in FSMA’s use of audits to protect the U.S. food supply.

There are two objectives for this meeting: First, the gaps in the current program must be explained so that all understand the challenges ahead. Second, and even more critical, will be to explore solutions such as creating a Voluntary Scheme Owner that will address those gaps.

Patricia Wester, PA Wester Consulting
Patricia Wester, AFSAP founder, will lead the groundbreaking audit panel at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference.

AFSAP’s founder, Patricia Wester, spearheaded the meeting to address critical questions regarding implementation of FDA’s Third-Party Audit program and provide a platform to discuss potential solutions.

“FDA’s program involves certification of regulatory compliance, which is an entirely new approach for CB’s currently involved in the GFSI system,” says Wester. “As currently structured, the individual CB’s responsibilities will include activities such as audit checklist development and auditor training requirements that will negatively impact audit consistency and dramatically increase audit costs. Another key concern is maintaining the audit documents, because regulations do not change on a regular cycle like GFSI, further adding costs and variability to the program.”

Supported by AFSAP’s food safety partners, NEHA and ANSI, long-time supporters of AFSAP’s efforts to raise awareness of FSMA’s use of audits, the Food Safety Supply Chain event provided the ideal venue to hold the discussion.

About AFSAP

The Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals is a member driven association created to advance and support the professional development of food safety auditors globally. As a 501(c)(3) Trade Association, AFSAP provides a universal platform for individual auditors and the auditing community at large to harness their combined experience and knowledge into a powerful tool equal to the significant challenges that lie ahead. Working together, AFSAP members will have an unprecedented opportunity to engage regulatory agencies and external stakeholders with a unified voice, and collaborate on the development of creative solutions to the issues facing the food safety auditing industry.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech is an industry-specific eMagazine and Conference series serving the global food industry. Built on the platform of the next generation model for B2B publishing, Food Safety Tech delivers top quality content in a proactive manner through a weekly eNewsletter while maintaining a website, the eMagazine that stores the content providing easy accessibility. This hybrid model provides a two way street of digital communication to the global food industry. Food Safety Tech is published by Innovative Publishing, LLC.

Question mark

FSMA: What Does ‘Qualified’ Mean?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Question mark

The term “qualified” appears a few different ways in the FSMA rules. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Cathy Crawford, president of HACCP Consulting Group, was invited by DNV-GL to clear up some of the ways the term is used in the FSMA rules.

Food Safety Tech: Can you break down the difference what “qualified” means as it relates to a qualified individual, qualified auditor and qualified facility?

Cathy Crawford, HACCP Consulting Group
Cathy Crawford, president of HACCP Consulting Group

Cathy Crawford: Explaining the term happens all at once. I think it’s not clear in the preventive controls or sanitary transportation [FSMA] rules; they use the word in two different ways. “Qualified” sometimes means that you’re officially recognized as trained or suitable for something, but “qualified” can also mean modifications or limitations or exceptions. That’s why it is confusing, because it can seem like it has opposite meanings.

“Qualified” [means] trained or ready to do a certain job—that’s the most common meaning. The preventive controls rule talks about a qualified individual, as a person who has the training, education or combination of those needed to manufacture, process or hold food. That’s appropriate to their duties—meaning not everyone has to be qualified to do everything, but individuals have to be qualified when it comes to doing their job when it pertains to food safety.

The regulation goes on to say that it might be education and experience, but there is also some mandatory training. I think a lot of companies aren’t paying attention to this—that all qualified individuals have to be trained in food safety, hygiene and the specific duties of their job, and because that’s a regulatory requirement, they have to have documentation to support that they did this. The regulation also says that supervisors should have the education or experience necessary to supervise, so their training should demonstrate that it’s a little more in depth than what other qualified individuals would get.

Then there’s the PCQI, the preventive controls qualified individual. That’s someone with the education, experience or training to be able to perform specific functions that are called out in the preventive controls rule—meaning they can create a food safety plan, they can conduct or oversee verification, validation and corrective action, or they can reanalyze the food safety plan. The regulation specifically says the PCQI has to do those things. So that’s a different sort of qualified individual; it’s another step basically.

The other term is the qualified auditor. That definition starts with a qualified individual (QI) and elevates from QI to supervisor to PCQI and then to a qualified auditor. A qualified auditor is a QI who has the technical experience needed to conduct audits. That’s about as far as it goes in the regulation, except that they give examples such as that it could be a government employee or an agent of a certification body, but you have to take it in context. The regulation doesn’t say those are the only examples, so I think there’s some flexibility in those examples, and we have yet to see how FDA is going to implement the rule going forward.

When we talk about these qualified individuals, we mostly think about the preventive controls rule, but it also pops up in the sanitary transportation rule. In that rule, the term isn’t defined at all, so I suspect they would share the definition that’s in the preventive controls rule for a qualified individual. But under the sanitary transportation [rule], only the qualified individual can make decisions about what to do when there is an unusual circumstance in transportation such as an accident or a refrigeration unit that breaks down.

FST: Can a “qualified” person be company staff or is there an inclusion that someone can be brought in to take care of these duties, for example, on an outsourcing basis?

Crawford: That’s certainly an option. I haven’t experienced any companies that have chosen that option. I suspect maybe smaller companies or those that are members of a strong affiliation like a coop or trade association might reach out to get someone to play the role of PCQI. But it’s a very significant role, and there’s a certain level of responsibility and therefore liability associated with it, so I think it’s best that the person is a company employee.

I also highly recommend training. Although the two-and-a-half-day class on the preventive controls rule isn’t technically mandatory, it’s extraordinarily helpful.

At first when our company (as a consulting group) was teaching this course, many of the classes contained 50% or more of participants from FDA. It was interesting because industry and FDA were learning together. I think most companies are sending one or two people so they can get the information and share it when they come home.

FST: Discuss some of the confusion surrounding the term “qualified facilities”.

Crawford: This is where “qualified” has almost the opposite meaning. Here’s an analogy: There’s the concept of a lifeguard—you can be qualified to be a lifeguard like a person can be a qualified individual in a food facility, but you could also have a qualified lifeguard certificate, which means you’re limited and can only do lifeguarding when there’s no more than 25 people in the pool; versus someone who has more training and can do it anytime. It’s a limitation.

In the regulation, a facility is the qualified facility when it meets certain characteristics that don’t have to follow the entire rule, but can follow a smaller piece of it.

“Qualified” is based on size. If a facility is very small, with inventory less than $1 million in food assets and sales annually, then they are a qualified facility, so they don’t have to follow the entire preventive controls. They follow a modified version, which is primarily around having the GMPs in place but not necessarily having a food safety plan like the larger facilities must have.

FST: When a company is uncertain about their status, where can they go to get help?

Crawford: Many companies ask their own attorneys and FDA. The FDA has a website called the TAN (Technical Advisory Network) where companies or citizens can submit questions. It takes a bit of time but you will get an answer, and that’s a good way to go.

FST: With all the differences and nuances in these terms, what can companies do to better familiarize themselves with what these terms mean as they relate to FSMA so they can effectively execute required tasks?

Crawford: Number one: Either read the regulation on your own or attend the class that goes over the regulation like the two-and-a-half-day preventive controls course.
Second, companies need to document their training activities, because it’s required to demonstrate that someone is qualified. FDA has said they don’t intend to visit a facility and then document a 483 due to lack of a PCQI or a QI. That’s not the focus of their inspection—it’s an important part of the regulation, but they wouldn’t write a 483 just for missing training records. What they’re looking for is an effective system. If they visit and the system isn’t in place or it’s not documented, then they might back up and realize the reason it wasn’t done right is because they don’t have a QI or PCQI.

Finally, understand the terms, and make sure you have qualified people in place and that you can prove with records that they really are qualified.

Tim Husen, Rollins Technical Services
Bug Bytes

Sanitation Solutions for Pest Problems

By Tim Husen, Ph.D.
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Tim Husen, Rollins Technical Services

It’s no surprise that food manufacturing and processing environments are naturally vulnerable to food safety threats. Food processing environments have all the things a pest needs to thrive: Food, water and shelter. And if poor sanitation is added to the mix, pests can find your food processing plant absolutely irresistible.

An unkempt facility can attract flies, ants, cockroaches and other unwanted common pests such as rodents. All of these common pests could put you or your facility at risk during your next audit.

The good news is pest-related sanitation issues are preventable through proactive and holistic preventive treatment plans. It’s important to establish proper sanitation processes and procedures so that over time, you avoid or reduce the occurrence of pest problems that could cost you major points on an audit and potentially compromise your products.

Many food processing facilities employ integrated pest management (IPM), an approach that helps prevent pest activity before it occurs and uses chemical treatments only as a last resort. The goal with these types of treatments is to give facility managers tools to use in advance of their next audit to stay ahead of pests, to teach employees good practices and to avoid problems before they happen. A good IPM program includes careful documentation of pest issues and the conducive conditions relating to them, as well as any corrective actions taken to resolve them. This documentation is incredibly important not just in solving pest problems, but also in its relevance to FSMA regulations.

When talking to pest management providers, remember that a “one-size fits all” strategy often doesn’t work, so expect your pest control company to recommend a customized plan. Different environments have different “hot spots” (areas where pests typically are present if the conditions are right) and face different pest pressures. However, there are a few key best practices that can be applied to any facility to help protect against pests.

The following guidelines will help to minimize pest activity and prepare for your facility’s next audit.

1. Educate and Enlist Your Employees in the Fight Against Pests

The first step to establishing your sanitation plan is enlisting your staff. One of the strongest building blocks in your defense against pest activity is sanitation. This key component of your IPM plan begins with the vigilance of your employees. Sanitation and pest management aren’t one-and-done tasks. They’re ongoing and you’ll get the best results when the entire staff is on board.

How can they help? Your employees are often the first to notice any potential signs of existing problems, so it’s important to educate them on hot spots where pests could live, what signs they should look for, and what to do if they see a pest issue. Once your employees understand the importance of sanitation, set a zero-tolerance policy for spills, debris and waste. If employees spot a pest, make sure they understand the protocols for documenting its presence. Consider implementing daily, weekly and monthly sanitation routines in addition to an annual deep cleaning.

Finally, enlist your employees to help keep common areas clean, from break rooms to locker rooms. Establish processes to clean up dirty dishes and drink spills, and empty full trash bins immediately. Don’t forget about cleaning the bins themselves! Also, make sure that common refrigerators aren’t filled with past-expiration lunches or snacks. If you’re finding it tough to get employees to participate, most pest management providers will offer a free education program to make employees aware of potential risks and what they can do to help. Sometimes it can help employees to hear from the experts.

2. What’s on the Inside Counts

As the saying goes, what’s on the inside really matters. This is true for the interior sanitation of your processing facility, too. There are a few particularly vulnerable hotspots to be conscious of when putting together your sanitation plan, especially the production floor, the storage areas and the receiving areas.

For obvious reasons, the production floor is one of the most important areas of focus for your sanitation program. Any hygiene issue could directly impact and expose your food products to contamination. Pests love to make their homes in big equipment that is often difficult to access for cleaning. Improper sanitation may lead to bacteria growth on the production line, which poses a major food safety threat. Create a schedule so that all equipment and machinery are sanitized regularly, and don’t forget about paying extra attention to those out-of-sight areas.

Drain flies and other pests live around drains and drain lids. Both should be scrubbed and sanitized regularly to prevent buildup of grease and other gunk that can attract pests. Organic, professional cleaning solutions are a great option to break down tough stains and grime on floors and around drains. These organic cleaners use naturally occurring enzymes and beneficial bacteria to degrade stains, grime and other organic matter build up, which helps reduce the likelihood of drain flies and other pests.

Storage areas are also prone to attracting pests and the potential bacteria they harbor. These cluttered spaces can get filled with extra boxes and other debris, and are perfect locations for pests to hide. Keep these areas clean and clear of clutter so pests have fewer areas to seek shelter and reproduce.

Cockroaches especially love cardboard boxes, so take those to recycling facilities regularly. Remove any equipment that is not being used. If you have re-sealable containers, clean out all the containers before placing new products inside. All containers should be tightly sealed and kept six inches off the floor and 18 inches away from walls. You can also affix mops and other types of cleaning equipment to the wall. Keeping them off the ground will keep them dry and prevent them from sitting in standing water, which is a major hot spot for fly breeding and bacteria build up.

Don’t forget that pests are experts at squeezing under receiving doors and sneaking onto shipments. To prevent unwanted stowaways, ensure your exterior doors form a tight seal when closed and always give delivery trucks and incoming shipments a thorough inspection for pest activity. Pests love to sneak into any opening they can find, so keep building exits, loading docks and other entrances closed as much as possible. Install weather stripping and door sweeps to keep pests out by creating a tight seal around openings. Believe it or not, rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter, mice through a gap the size of a dime, and crawling insect pests through spaces barely noticeable to the human eye. For other cracks and crevices, use weather-resistant sealants to close any openings and consider installing metal mesh for an extra layer of protection against rodents that can gnaw openings to get inside.

3. Don’t Forget the Great Outdoors

To keep your exterior spic and span, create and maintain a regular sanitation schedule for your building’s exterior so it doesn’t become a haven for pests.

Regular pressure washings of sidewalks and walls will knock away any debris or build-up on exterior surfaces and could help remove any bird droppings around the property that could be brought inside by foot traffic. While it seems like a no-brainer, keep dumpsters and recycling collections as far away from facilities as possible, and make sure they are cleaned and sanitized frequently. And like interior cleaning best practices, don’t neglect areas above or out of the line of sight like gutters and rooftop ledges. Sometimes, leaves, standing water and other debris can build up over time, which provides breeding areas and shelter for pests—­especially mosquitoes.

Did you know that flies are not just attracted to food processing facilities because of food smells, but also for their exterior lighting? Flies and other flying insects are attracted to light and may use it for orientation. Mercury-vapor lighting is especially attractive to flies, so consider swapping mercury-vapor lamps next to entryways with sodium-vapor lights or LEDs. And to lure flies away from your building, place your facility’s mercury-vapor lighting at least 100 feet from entrances. It is often important to remember that the best option is always to direct lighting towards a building rather than mount lighting on it.

Good outdoor pest maintenance also includes landscaping. Trim your trees often and keep plants at least 12 inches away from your building. This decreases the chance of pests using vegetation as breeding or nesting grounds and the chances they’ll get access to your facility. Standing water often becomes a breeding site and moisture source that could provide pests like flies, mosquitoes and rodents with water necessary for survival. Remove any standing water around your building to prevent this and remove any reason for those pests to stick around. Look for stagnant water in gutters, ponds, birdbaths, water fountains and any other places that water could sit for more than a week without moving.

These proactive pest management tips will be useful in protecting your building and products from food safety threats. If there are any tasks that require additional help, consider talking to your pest management provider about creating an IPM plan. They will walk through your facility with you to identify any hotspots and suggest potential corrective actions—you’ll be glad you did when it’s time for your next audit.

Zia Siddiqi, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Stored Product Pests May Be Lurking in Your Facility

By Zia Siddiqi, Ph.D.
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Zia Siddiqi, Orkin

Pests can be sneaky. Many can compromise food products without anyone realizing they’re present. This is bad news for food processing facilities where an abundance of food products can translate into high pest pressure.

Beetles and moths are two of the main offenders in this environment and are referred to as stored product pests. These creatures can cause safety and legal concerns if they find their way into products, as they are quite adept at doing. They can damage packaging and cause product contamination or alter the taste of products when they secrete chemicals from their bodies, as many do.

This is not only a concern for your business’s reputation and bottom line, but could cost you major points on your next audit. Especially under the new FSMA regulations, prevention must be the emphasis in all U.S. facilities. This represents a shift from previous regulations as the new ones require risk-based preventive controls.

Integrate pest management
Does your company have an integrated pest management plan? Image courtesy of Orkin

The best way to prevent stored product pests and adhere to FSMA regulations is by implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) program. IPM programs focus on proactively preventing pests by inspection, monitoring and eliminating conditions that attract or harbor them using tactics like exclusion and sanitation, using chemicals only as a last resort. Under FSMA, you need to identify potential roadblocks and actively work to remove them. Showing constant improvement over time is an absolute must.

These programs also call for comprehensive documentation to monitor pest issues and ensure improvements are made over time. Auditors love to see documentation, as it shows that you are consciously working to strengthen your pest management efforts with continual improvement. If your facility doesn’t have an IPM program, it’s time to make a change sooner rather than later.

To successfully prevent stored product pests, you need to understand what they are and why they are attracted to your facility.

Types of Stored Product Pests

There are many different species of stored product pests, but they can be classified by four main categories based on their biology and habits:

  1. Scavengers: Eat just about anything, even if other pests have been there first. Pests in this category include the red flour beetle and sawtoothed grain beetle.
  2. External feeders: Feed on the exterior of cereal (grain) and kernel products and work their way inside. Pests in this category include Indian meal moths and cigarette beetles.
  3. Internal feeders: Lay eggs in the grain and feed on kernels from inside. Pests in this category include granary weevils, lesser grain borers and Angoumois grain moths.
  4. Secondary feeders: Eat from the outside in and consume moldy and damp food products. Pests in this category include spider beetles and fungus beetles.

How do you know if you have stored product pests? An infestation becomes apparent when the pests can be observed crawling or flying around. At this point, it’s important to identify the specific species that is plaguing your facility, as this will dictate the appropriate treatment method.  A trained professional can help correctly identify the species and recommend the best course of action to resolve the problem. Stored product pests reproduce quickly, so it’s critical to address any infestations before they have time to multiply and contaminate additional product.

The most common stored product pests are:

  • Sawtoothed Grain Beetle. Can burrow directly through boxes and packaging, so even sealed foods are at risk. They prefer processed food products like bran, chocolate, oatmeal, sugar and macaroni.
  • Indian Meal Moths. One of the most common pests for food processing facilities, the larva feeds on a large variety of different products. Some distinctive signs of an infestation are silk webbing and frass near the surface of the product.
  • Cigarette and Drugstore Beetles. Also able to chew through packaging, these beetles prefer pet food, spices, tobacco and any packaged food.
  • Granary and Rice Weevils. Prefer whole grains or seed products like popcorn, birdseed and nuts. They are recognizable by a snout protruding from their head and their reddish-brown bodies. Grains infested by weevils will be hollow and have small holes.
  • Spider Beetles. Similar to small spiders in appearance, they prefer grains, seeds, dried fruits and meats. They often accompany a rodent infestation because they prefer grain products that are old and moist.

Prevention Tactics

To help prevent stored product pests, incorporate the following tactics as part of your IPM program:

  • Closely inspect incoming shipments and packages. Look for the signs of stored product pests, like webbing, larvae and live adult insects. Check for signs of damage, especially for holes that can be caused by boring pests. To monitor for pests entering in this way, a quality assurance sample should be placed in a closed, labeled plastic container for later observations to see if any activity is noticed. This will give you a better idea if pests are present and what types may be being introduced via the incoming shipment.
  • Use of pheromone traps. These are the best tool to monitor the pest activity. These traps can also be placed in transportation vehicles to see if the trucks have a resident stored product pest population.
  • Use temperature as a repellant. Most stored product pests cannot live in extreme temperatures. If storage rooms can be maintained at 60°F or lower, stored product pests won’t be able to establish themselves inside.
  • Practice the first-in, first-out (FIFO) approach for products. Deteriorating products are an invitation to stored product pests, so make sure that older products go first and remove any with damages. It is also best to store products off the floor and more than 18 inches from walls, as it makes it easier to clean the surrounding area.
  • Create a sanitation schedule. Keeping a facility free of food debris will go a long way in eliminating attractants for pests. Clean up product spills immediately, and vacuum and wipe down everything on a regular basis. Don’t forget the cracks and crevices!

Keep in mind that being proactive is an important part of this entire process. If you see something, say something. Resolving pest issues as quickly as possible will be beneficial in the long run, as infestations are naturally more difficult to remove and could cost your facility dearly during an audit. A pest management professional will be able to point out the hot spots around a facility and can help to ensure that proactive prevention tactics are in place before anything gets out of hand. If any products are compromised, discard them immediately.

Pest Management: A Team Effort

The stakes are high in the food processing environment, which means pest control must be a priority. The most successful pest control programs are a team effort. Form a strong partnership with your pest management provider and work closely with them throughout the year to proactively prevent pest problems. Reach out to them early and often if you suspect any issues.

It’s also important that your entire staff is aware of pest management initiatives and tactics, which is why many pest management providers offer free staff training courses upon request. Take advantage of the resources available through your provider.

Working with a pest management provider to create a customized, IPM plan will help prevent pests and in turn protect the quality of your products and your business.

Bryan Armentrout, Food Leadership Group
FST Soapbox

Tips on Handling an FDA Audit

By Bryan Armentrout
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Bryan Armentrout, Food Leadership Group

Here’s a typical scenario.

You are the QA Manager for a dairy manufacturing facility in the Midwest. It’s been a long week and you decide to come in a little earlier than normal to catch up on paperwork. You find out when you arrive that product is on hold because the filling line is down. Maintenance is all over the machines, and orders are piling up; the paperwork will have to wait. You head out to the line to see what you can do to help.

This only happens when the plant manager is on vacation, you think to yourself.

As you walk out to the floor, your ears perk up as you hear your name paged over the intercom. The receptionist needs you in the front office—immediately.

What now?

You can’t think of anyone who is scheduled to visit today. You heart sinks a little. You don’t like surprises and this could be a bad one.

You come around the corner to the lobby to see exactly who you were hoping you wouldn’t see: An FDA investigator.

“My name is Investigator Brown,” he says as he flashes a badge. “We’ve had an allegation of an illness from your product. I am here to look into it.”

You smile politely and nod. He does not smile. You motion for him to follow you to a conference room.

Your day just got a whole lot longer.

How will this go?

The answer to that question is, in many ways, up to you.

FDA investigators are people and they take their job as seriously as you do. They are there because they need answers. Their boss expects answers. If people are getting sick, they need to find out quickly and take action. If this is truly the case, you need to know as well. So does your boss. No one wants people to get sick.

The absolute wrong thing to do in this situation is to not have a plan. You need to know how to handle a regulatory inspection. You need a plan to prevent a misunderstanding or create a situation where something minor gets blown out of proportion.

This is not the time to play it by ear. You need training and you need a plan.

An important point to remember is that your product may not have caused the illness. People often assume the last food they ate is the one that made them sick. In reality, incubation times may take significantly longer for symptoms to manifest. Samples of the product in question are rarely available to test. Dosage, health of the person, and other factors also come into play. You need to work with facts and not supposition—as does the FDA.

Tips for an FDA Inspection

  1. You are guilty until proven innocent
  2. You are not alone
  3. You are the company spokesperson
  4. Take lots of notes
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Answer the question being asked
  7. Know what is in scope and what is out of scope
  8. Don’t sign or initial anything

1. You are guilty until proven innocent

In general, you can assume that FDA thinks you are at fault; that is why they are there. You will have a hole to dig yourself out of before you can convince them otherwise. Don’t let that rattle you, they are only doing their job, and your job is to show them all the great food safety programs you have in place to prevent what they are concerned about. Keep this in mind as you go through the visit. If you are doing a good job, you should see their demeanor soften as they gain confidence in what you do.

2. You are not alone

Don’t be a hero, you need a team to help you in this situation. You need the people in the plant and you need people at corporate ready to back you up. You most likely also need access to outside counsel that specializes in food regulations. Your role in the room is to facilitate and work with FDA to get them what they need. You and FDA are on the same side of the table in this respect. Both of you are working to find out if the illness is real.

If you are not sure of an answer, say so! Call corporate QA and your legal counsel and discuss it. Find out what the answer is from someone who does know. If you still don’t have an answer, it’s better to admit it than to make something up. Tell them when they can expect an answer, even if it may be after the audit concludes. Never make stuff up.

3. You are the company spokesperson

The company should have only one voice (most likely, you) responding during the inspection. This avoids confusion and keeps you in control over the message being delivered. Other agencies, such as OSHA, have the right under the law to interview employees during an investigation. It is not that clear cut with FDA. Make sure you explain to FDA that you are the designated spokesperson for this inspection and that all questions need to be routed through you. The personnel in the facility need to understand this as well and defer to you if FDA questions them. If the question is out of the ordinary, it may need to be in writing. When on the floor, never leave the investigator alone, accompany them at all times (don’t go crazy, they can use the bathroom by themselves).

4. Take lots of notes

Have someone who can tag along with you to take written notes of the visit. Train them on what you expect. Time stamp the notes and use a stream of consciousness approach. Write down everything, more notes are preferred. You may need them in the future. Never take the notes yourself, you are going to be too busy to do that. Mark the notes confidential and do not give a copy to FDA. Also, make sure that you have a clear and explicit ‘no photography’ policy in place. Train your people and enforce it. FDA may want to take pictures and they will tell you that they have the right to do so. That is open to debate and the issue has yet to be resolved in court. In the meantime, your policy is clear, so insist that they do not take pictures. This is your plant and your proprietary process; even with the best care, your competitors might find out more than they should about what you do.

5. Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

This rule applies everywhere in life, and especially during an FDA inspection. Gather all the information you can. Are they going to take samples? If so, you need to prepare for that. Ask for the purpose of the visit and any supporting information you can get. Seek to first meet the needs to the investigator and to understand the exact context of the inquiry. The better you understand the purpose, the easier the day will be. Just like the investigator, you have a boss. You have limits to what you can and cannot do. Make sure the FDA understands that you are the representative, but the answer may need to come from other sources. Company policies are not written by you and cannot be altered. You are both on the same side of the table and rules need to be followed. They will understand and respect that.

Audit

Best Practices for ISO 17025 Accreditation: Preparing for a Food Laboratory Audit (Part I)

By Joy Dell’Aringa
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Audit

An increasing number of food testing laboratories are seeking accreditation to the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard. This growth is chiefly due to regulatory implications, customer requirements, and trade organization recommendations and is seen across laboratory segments: third-party contract laboratories, private in-house laboratories, and government laboratories. ISO 17025 is the most common standard in the food testing industry and sets the guideline for “Laboratories Performing Microbiological and Chemical Analysis of Food and Pharmaceuticals”. Accreditation is known generally as a third-party attestation related to a laboratory, which conveys formal demonstration of competency that implies a reliable and consistent level of quality across an operation for a well-defined parameter of tests, often referred to as the “Field of Testing”. There are several qualified organizations that accredit laboratories to the standard; these organizations are referred to as Accrediting Bodies and are responsible for assessing facilities for conformity to a given ISO standard.

Audit Preparation Guidance

Initial Accreditation: Considerations & Preparation

When a laboratory initially entertains applying for accreditation, several factors should be considered. The cost and time commitment required to become initially conformant, and the on-going resources required to maintain conformity should be thoroughly examined in an overall benefit analysis prior to applying for accreditation. Management should be fully aware of the investment and perpetual commitment of becoming an accredited facility. Accrediting Bodies (ABs) provide resources and literature that can help guide laboratories through the initial audit-preparation phase. However, creating the systematic application of these guidelines that balances the quality and operational objectives of the organization are unique from laboratory to laboratory. Simply put: There is no cookie-cutter approach to accreditation.

Consultant Considerations

Q Laboratories in Cincinnati, OH first embarked on the path to ISO 17025 accreditation in 2009. James Agin, director of regulatory compliance at Q Laboratories and member of the A2LA Laboratory Accreditation Council took the lead on preparing for the initial assessment eight years ago. Q Laboratories was initially unfamiliar with the process, so they hired a consultant who was also an assessor to walk them through the process. “We took about four to five months with a consultant,” says Agin,. “In addition to creating the necessary systems, we gathered the troops and did a deep training on what ISO 17025 is, why we were pursuing it, and why it was important to our business.” The Q Laboratory team created a deep sense of ownership during the education and training process from the supervisors to the bench analysts, which they credit to their ongoing success years later. Erin Crowley, chief scientific officer at Q Laboratories suggests new labs consider hiring a consultant to ease them through the process and get them audit-ready. “If you’re not accustomed to having certain systems in place, a consultant can provide clarity and help initiate processes,” says Crowley. “Having an open forum with an expert helped give our entire team confidence.”

A consultant can streamline the initial process and help avoid some of the pitfalls in creating a robust quality management system for the first time. Tim Osborne, senior director of training services at A2LA offers advice for organizations when vetting a consultant. “While certainly not required, a qualified consultant may be a good asset to have in your quiver,” says Osborne. “Look for industry references and pay close attention to involvement in the industry outside of its own laboratory. Does this person work for an accrediting body? What are the areas of analytical expertise? Does this person also provide training for an accrediting body? If so, it is likely the consultant will offer the quality of services you need to be successful.” It is important to note that assessors and consultants should be upfront with the accrediting body to avoid conflict of interest issues during the actual assessment. Impartiality is critical within the assessment process.

Application Process

Accrediting bodies publish their own “readiness” documents. Laboratories seeking accreditation should request an itemized guide that walks the organization through each phase of the process. The following is a general outline:

  • Obtain copy of ISO standard (17025, 17065, 17020, etc.). Review any specific requirements relevant to your field; these are generally available in a checklist format allowing the laboratory to prepare through an internal audit process.
  • Determine estimated costs with the accrediting body
  • Obtain a copy of the accrediting body s assessor checklist. This usually has to be completed as part of application process
  • Prepare the intended draft scope of accreditation (outlining, specific tests/test methods, calibration parameters/ranges, certification schemes)
  • Implement the management system, and ensure personnel are aware and accept the content
  • Perform an internal audit to verify compliance with the conformity assessment standard requirements, accrediting body requirements, your own management system requirements, and applicable technical requirements
  • Perform a management review
  • Foreign applicants may need to translate supporting application documents to English
  • Identify one specific individual to be responsible for accreditation efforts and interactions with the accrediting body. Identify the “quality manager” who is in charge of the management system
  • Obtain, prepare, and submit the application for accreditation to the accrediting body

Once the initial assessment is complete and the final response and corrections to any deficiencies is in, the laboratory will be reviewed and considered for accreditation through the accrediting body. When the decision is made in favor of accreditation, the laboratory will receive their accreditation certificate, which will correspond to a specific location and set of tests (commonly referred to as a Scope of Accreditation (“Scope”) for the Field of Testing (“FOT”) for which they were assessed). Depending on the accrediting body, the certificate may be valid for one to two years, and will require re-assessment and surveillance at defined frequencies. The laboratory is responsible to maintain conformance to the ISO 17025 standard in between assessments.

Continue to page 2 below.

Zia Siddiqi, Orkin
Bug Bytes

How to Find the Right Pest Management Partner

By Zia Siddiqi, Ph.D.
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Zia Siddiqi, Orkin

When you choose a new vendor to partner with you, the decision is always important. Every vendor plays a role in your business and bottom line.

Some vendors, like pest control providers, can protect your brand and even help boost your reputation in the industry. When you factor in everything your pest control program can affect, it’s clear that picking the right pest management provider is one of the most important vendor decisions you’ll have to make.

Under FSMA, food processing facilities must execute proactive pest control programs and documentation efforts that not only follow and but also implement a risk-based prevention program to protect their product and consumer base
Under FSMA, food processing facilities must implement proactive pest control programs  and a risk-based prevention program to protect their product and consumer base. Image courtesy of Orkin.

Consider how pest management can impact your audit scores, especially when you’re expected to be audit-ready at any time. The success of your third-party audit hinges on documentation, and the pest management portion can make all the difference in your score, accounting for up to 20%. FSMA requires food processing facilities to execute proactive pest control programs and documentation efforts that not only follow and but also implement a risk-based prevention program to protect their product and consumer base. Just one low score can cause your customers to lose trust in your business—and if they pull their support, you could see a major impact on your balance sheet.

The safety of your products and even the health of your employees are also at stake. Cockroaches and ants can pick up and transfer harmful bacteria. Flies can spread disease-causing organisms when they land—and they land frequently, it can lead to them leaving their traces in an abundance of places.

Then there are rodents, which can also cause serious health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rats and mice are known to spread bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli, as well as more than 35 diseases worldwide, such as Hantavirus.

A Blueprint for Success

From its impact on audit scores to its role in abating health concerns to brand protection, pest control should be a priority for any food processing facility. There are several best practices to follow, most of them falling under the umbrella of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is the preferred proactive pest management practice in the food processing business, and it can help meet and exceed the requirements of industry auditors.

IPM programs are ongoing, comprehensive and well-documented, focusing on risk-based preventive strategies like sanitation and facility maintenance to help prevent pest activity. They’re also customizable based on your property and the pests you face.

It’s essential to find the right, licensed and experienced pest management professional who will partner with you and your staff to implement a customized IPM program for your facility and help keep pest problems away. When starting your search for a pest management partner, be sure to ask about IPM. One-size-fits-all pest management solutions are simply not effective, so look for a provider who can tailor an IPM program specifically to your needs.

When searching for a pest management partner, look for one that stands out with the following guidelines.

Talk to your peers. If you’re looking for pest management recommendations, start by talking to your industry colleagues about the successes—or challenges—they’ve had with their vendors. If you’re a member of a larger network or GPO, you may have a preferred provider in which to start your search.

Start with an inspection. Once you have a list of options to check out, it’s time to put them to the test. As IPM programs are customizable, insist that your prospects inspect your facility to determine the challenges you face and the services you need.

Get the details in writing. Remember, FSMA requires written risk-based preventive food safety plans that detail likely hazards, corrective actions and results. With this in mind, your pest management professional should thoroughly document any service visits and corrective actions.

Documenting your pest management plan does more than fulfill the FSMA requirement. The best pest management providers will document their every move, using the information to determine pest trends, which can aid in decisions about how to best manage pest activity going forward. These records should be kept on-site for any surprise audits.

Ask for audit help. In addition to documentation, your pest management professional should work with you to ensure all documents are in proper order and audit-ready at any time. Look for a provider that can help you prepare for the third-party auditor and food safety standards with which your facility is required to comply, and even provide on-site support the day of your audit.

Think about your entire staff. One of the most overlooked variables when choosing a pest management provider isn’t how the company works in your facility, it’s how it works with your staff. For your new pest management program to be effective, your staff has to buy in—and your new provider can help.

Your employees play an important role in reporting pest sightings and keeping your facility clean. With this in mind, make sure to ask about resources that your pest management professional can offer your staff. Many offer staff training and educational resources like tip sheets and checklists, and often at no extra cost.

Add accountability, establish thresholds. You may pick an outstanding pest management partner, but ideal results won’t happen overnight. Depending on your facility, creating a pest-free environment can be difficult, even with the best of help.

Progress is achievable and quantifiable when you have pest thresholds. Thresholds dictate how much and what kind of pest activity is acceptable before corrective actions need to be taken, and they are best set by working with your pest control professional because several factors can come into play.

Older facilities or buildings in environments more conducive to pest activity, such as areas near water, locales in warm environments or heavily wooded spaces, may face more pest pressures than newer establishments. Your pest management professional may want to counter these challenges with exclusion recommendations that can include extensive building maintenance and repairs.

If you’re in a newer building and don’t currently battle any present pest issues, it may be perfectly reasonable to move forward with a “one pest is one too many” threshold. To make sure your program stays this effective, your provider may need to adjust tactics of your IPM program over time.

Even with a sound IPM plan, however, if you are currently battling pests like cockroaches, flies or ants, reaching your threshold goals will take time. Work with your pest management provider to create a timeline for steady and reasonable improvement.

Once you choose a pest management partner, keep the lines of communication open and establish roles for everyone involved. Set benchmarks for your pest management program and specific times throughout the year to evaluate the program’s success and areas of improvement with your provider.

Keep all of this in mind, and you can help build a solid, long-lasting partnership. As a result, pest sightings can fall as your audit scores rise.