Food safety remains a top-of-mind concern for food manufacturers, especially considering some of the top recalls in 2019 were caused by bacteria contamination—including Listeria and E. coli. Every aspect of the plant operation, from maintenance to executives, to junior staff and quality control, holds both responsibility and concern in producing safe food. Unfortunately, there’s a lot at stake when plant operations’ sanitation programs run into issues, which can cause health threats.
While the rapid explosion of new innovations complements our daily lives in efficiency and convenience, plant operations may find difficulty in keeping up-to-speed with new technology such as robotics, drones and automated applications. When facilities’ equipment becomes more and more outdated, it poses food safety challenges around cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.
Luckily, in some cases, innovation is becoming much easier to deploy. Opportunities abound for food processing plants to integrate new technologies into their operations to deliver significant returns on investment while simultaneously enhancing sanitation, safety and production efficiency on the plant floor.
The Dangers with Today’s Practices
There are many pitfalls with older, more traditional cleaning techniques. In a place where cleanliness is critical to food safety and public health around the world, the industry understands sanitation means more than just scrubbing, mopping and wiping. While these are important daily practices to be done around the processing plant, there are still concerns on whether this kind of intermittent cleaning is truly enough to keep surfaces completely sanitized—knowing that continuous cleaning around the clock seems impractical in any facilities.
Unfortunately, there are many areas, some very hard to reach, for bacteria and other pathogens to live and spread around a processing plant. Zone 1, which holds the conveyor belt and other common high-touch points, consistently comes into contact with food, chemicals and humans. However, for processors to reduce the likelihood of contaminated food, they must consider areas outside of Zone 1 as well—including employee break rooms, hallways and bathrooms—to implement automated sanitation technologies. Additionally, the most common food contaminants, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, are usually invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, plants need to employ automated technology to continuously kill microscopic bacteria, mold and fungi to prevent regrowth and ensure clean food and equipment.
Looking to New Tech to Fight Germs
When looking to upgrade a plant operation facility, automated technology should be top-of-mind. Automated food production technologies solve two main problems: Food safety and sanitation efficiency. Wash-down robotic systems work to prevent food contamination, while other automated robots complete tasks on the production floor such as packaging, transporting and lifting. With the CDC estimating that roughly one in six Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses, the need for improved sanitation design is integral.
In today’s age, there are several ways to achieve heightened cleanliness by incorporating automation and robotics into production lines. Slicers, dicers and cutters are manufactured with hygienic design in mind. Smart cleaning equipment can automatically store various cleaning steps. Data tracking applications can monitor sanitation steps and ensure all boxes are checked throughout the cleaning program.
Incorporating antimicrobial LED lighting ensures sanitation is truly integrated into the facility’s design—working continually 24/7 to kill and prevent bacteria, and its growth while also serving a dual purpose of both antimicrobial protection and a proper source of illumination. As is the case with this type of technology, once these lights are installed, it becomes an easy, hands-free way of reducing labor, chemicals and, in many cases, work stoppages.
According to Meticulous Research, the global food automation market is expected to be worth $14.3 billion by 2025. With automation set to explode, it’s important for leaders in the food and beverage industry to take advantage of safety tech innovations to advance sanitation around the processing plant. Facility upgrades to improve, enhance and automate sanitation could impact food manufacturers in the long-term by decreasing costs, preventing recalls, improving brand value, gaining consumer trust, minimizing risk and impacting the bottom line.
Representatives at this year’s GFSI conference hailed from 53 countries and spanned the food industry, academia, the public sector and beyond. They came together in Seattle, a city that has long stood at the cutting edge of technological innovation, and as such was a fitting host for this year’s theme: “One Connected World. One Safe Food Supply”.
Speakers at the forefront of their fields shared knowledge and showcased creative methods of delivering connectivity—interpersonal, technology-mediated and otherwise, all geared towards the ultimate goal of helping provide safer food for consumers everywhere.
Meanwhile, there were numerous opportunities to connect with representatives of industry giants such as Costa, Nestle, McDonald’s, Amazon and Starbucks, as well as regulatory agencies, certification & accreditation bodies, NGOs, academia and the media, at the various networking sessions.
Urgent Action Required
As the conference kicked off, it was Peter Freedman, the managing director of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), who set out the importance of the task at hand. His message was one of urgency in delivering positive change.
Freedman pointed to recent global events, such as the wildfires in Brazil, as examples of how the world could be at a tipping point. “Action is more urgent than ever”, he told delegates, stating that it is no longer just a matter of responding, but responding urgently. Freedman also pointed to E. coli outbreaks in 2017, 2018 and late 2019 to drive home to industry leaders gathered at the conference that food safety cannot be taken for granted.
The spirit of the event was, as usual, geared towards a collaborative approach. Delegates were asked to leave their commercial interests at the door and work purely towards “a world where all food is safe” for the duration of the event.
“This week is not about us as individuals, it’s about how we come together as a collective of brilliant minds to provide solutions,” GFSI Director Erica Sheward stated. She then invited the audience to stand in recognition of this commitment, and sure enough everyone in the packed auditorium took to their feet demonstrating their commitment to the shared mission.
GFSI’s New Benchmarking Requirements
The GFSI used the conference as a platform to launch its new Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020, which establish a new foundation for food safety. To close the opening session, Sheward joined Mike Robach, Chairman of the GFSI Board, Vice-Chairs Anita Scholte op Reimer and Gillian Kelleher and GFSI Senior Technical Manager Marie-Claude Quentin around a red ‘action button’ to mark their publication.
The requirements are geared towards enabling a common understanding and mutual trust in the supply chain that facilitates trade, improves efficiency and lends nameplate authority to operations certified to a GFSI-recognized program. They incorporate stakeholder input from public consultations and are regularly revised to reflect best practices and evolving needs in the industry.
GFSI positioned the new version as more than just an update, but a complete rethink “representing the beginning of a new generation of recognition”. The two primary objectives of Version 2020, are to achieve transparency and objectivity, with new and strengthened elements that include two new scopes focused on hygienic design, elements of food safety culture and reinforced impartiality of the auditing process and the monitoring of certification bodies.
Shark Tank Sessions
This year’s GFSI program also included a new format to help showcase how the latest technology is being used to further food safety. Leaders in innovation took part in a number of Shark Tank-style breakout sessions to pitch their technology solutions to the sharks and the attendees.
A total of nine cutting-edge companies took to the stage to pitch their concepts to a panel of experts—‘sharks’—who are well-placed to judge their value for the industry. The nine competitors were selected from a large pool of applicants based on their innovative spirit, disruptive potential and feasibility.
Each presenter had 12-minutes to outline the context in which their solution is utilized, the technology supporting it and how it is implemented. Following the pitches, each presenter came under the scrutiny of the sharks who were able to ask clarifying questions.
Kezzler was among the companies to take to the stage with CEO Christine Akselsen sharing insights from work with FrieslandCampina’s infant formula brand, FRISO. Referencing the grass-to-glass case study, she demonstrated how Kezzler’s technology works in practice, tracking information from farms in The Netherlands to consumers in China. Following the sessions an audience vote determined the winner of the competition, which was announced during the final plenary of the conference. Kezzler was also crowned as the first-ever GFSI Shark Tank champion.
Traditional approaches to food safety no longer make the grade. It seems that stories of contaminated produce or foodborne illnesses dominate the headlines increasingly often. Some of the current safeguards set in place to protect consumers and ensure that companies are providing the freshest, safest food possible continue to fail across the world. Poorly regulated supply chains and food quality assurance breakdowns often sicken customers and result in recalls or lawsuits that cost money and damage reputations. The question is: What can be done to prevent these types of problems from occurring?
While outdated machinery and human vigilance continue to be the go-to solutions for these problems, cutting-edge intelligent imaging technology promises to eliminate the issues caused by old-fashioned processes that jeopardize consumer safety. This next generation of imaging will increase safety and quality by quickly and accurately detecting problems with food throughout the supply chain.
How Intelligent Imaging Works
In broad terms, intelligent imaging is hyperspectral imaging that uses cutting-edge hardware and software to help users establish better quality assurance markers. The hardware captures the image, and the software processes it to provide actionable data for users by combining the power of conventional spectroscopy with digital imaging.
Conventional machine vision systems generally lack the ability to effectively capture and relay details and nuances to users. Conversely, intelligent imaging technology utilizes superior capabilities in two major areas: Spectral and spatial resolution. Essentially, intelligent imaging systems employ a level of detail far beyond current industry-standard machinery. For example, an RGB camera can see only three colors: Red, green and blue. Hyperspectral imaging can detect between 300 and 600 real colors—that’s 100–200 times more colors than detected by standard RGB cameras.
Intelligent imaging can also be extended into the ultraviolet or infrared spectrum, providing additional details of the chemical and structural composition of food not observable in the visible spectrum. Hyperspectral imaging cameras do this by generating “data cubes.” These are pixels collected within an image that show subtle reflected color differences not observable by humans or conventional cameras. Once generated, these data cubes are classified, labeled and optimized using machine learning to better process information in the future.
Beyond spectral and spatial data, other rudimentary quality assurance systems pose their own distinct limitations. X-rays can be prohibitively expensive and are only focused on catching foreign objects. They are also difficult to calibrate and maintain. Metal detectors are more affordable, but generally only catch metals with strong magnetic fields like iron. Metals including copper and aluminum can slip through, as well as non-metal objects like plastics, wood and feces.
Finally, current quality assurance systems have a weakness that can change day-to-day: Human subjectivity. The people put in charge of monitoring in-line quality and food safety are indeed doing their best. However, the naked eye and human brain can be notoriously inconsistent. Perhaps a tired person at the end of a long shift misses a contaminant, or those working two separate shifts judge quality in slightly different ways, leading to divergent standards unbeknownst to both the food processor and the public.
Hyperspectral imaging can immediately provide tangible benefits for users, especially within the following quality assurance categories in the food supply chain:
Pathogen detection is perhaps the biggest concern for both consumers and the food industry overall. Identifying and eliminating Salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli throughout the supply chain is a necessity. Obviously, failure to detect pathogens seriously compromises consumer safety. It also gravely damages the reputations of food brands while leading to recalls and lawsuits.
Current pathogen detection processes, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR), immunoassays and plating, involve complicated and costly sample preparation techniques that can take days to complete and create bottlenecks in the supply chain. These delays adversely impact operating cycles and increase inventory management costs. This is particularly significant for products with a short shelf life. Intelligent imaging technology provides a quick and accurate alternative, saving time and money while keeping customers healthy.
Characterizing Food Freshness
Consumers expect freshness, quality and consistency in their foods. As supply chains lengthen and become more complicated around the world, food spoilage has more opportunity to occur at any point throughout the production process, manifesting in reduced nutrient content and an overall loss of food freshness. Tainted meat products may also sicken consumers. All of these factors significantly affect market prices.
Sensory evaluation, chromatography and spectroscopy have all been used to assess food freshness. However, many spatial and spectral anomalies are missed by conventional tristimulus filter-based systems and each of these approaches has severe limitations from a reliability, cost or speed perspective. Additionally, none is capable of providing an economical inline measurement of freshness, and financial pressure to reduce costs can result in cut corners when these systems are in place. By harnessing meticulous data and providing real-time analysis, hyperspectral imaging mitigates or erases the above limiting factors by simultaneously evaluating color, moisture (dehydration) levels, fat content and protein levels, providing a reliable standardization of these measures.
Foreign Object Detection
The presence of plastics, metals, stones, allergens, glass, rubber, fecal matter, rodents, insect infestation and other foreign objects is a big quality assurance challenge for food processors. Failure to identify foreign objects can lead to major added costs including recalls, litigation and brand damage. As detailed above, automated options like X-rays and metal detectors can only identify certain foreign objects, leaving the rest to pass through untouched. Using superior spectral and spatial recognition capabilities, intelligent imaging technology can catch these objects and alert the appropriate employees or kickstart automated processes to fix the issue.
Though it may not be put on the same level as pathogen detection, food freshness and foreign object detection, consumers put a premium on food uniformity, demanding high levels of consistency in everything from their apples to their zucchini. This can be especially difficult to ensure with agricultural products, where 10–40% of produce undergoes mechanical damage during processing. Increasingly complicated supply chains and progressively more automated production environments make delivering consistent quality more complicated than ever before.
Historically, machine vision systems and spectroscopy have been implemented to assist with damage detection, including bruising and cuts, in sorting facilities. However, these systems lack the spectral differentiation to effectively evaluate food and agricultural products in the stringent manner customers expect. Methods like spot spectroscopy require over-sampling to ensure that any detected aberrations are representative of the whole item. It’s a time-consuming process.
Intelligent imaging uses superior technology and machine learning to identify mechanical damage that’s not visible to humans or conventional machinery. For example, a potato may appear fine on the outside, but have extensive bruising beneath its skin. Hyperspectral imaging can find this bruising and decide whether the potato is too compromised to sell or within the parameters of acceptability.
Intelligent imaging can “see” what humans and older technology simply cannot. With the ability to be deployed at a number of locations within the food supply chain, it’s an adaptable technology with far-reaching applications. From drones measuring crop health in the field to inline or end-of-line positioning in processing facilities, there is the potential to take this beyond factory floors.
In the world of quality assurance, where a misdiagnosis can literally result in death, the additional spectral and spatial information provided by hyperspectral imaging can be utilized by food processors to provide important details regarding chemical and structural composition previously not discernible with rudimentary systems. When companies begin using intelligent imaging, it will yield important insights and add value as the food industry searches for reliable solutions to its most serious challenges. Intelligent imaging removes the subjectivity from food quality assurance, turning it into an objective endeavor.
Yesterday the CDC reported that the E.coli outbreak linked to romaine lettucegrown in the Salinas, CA growing region is over. The contaminated lettuce should no longer be available, and FDA states that consumers do not need to avoid romaine lettuce from Salinas. The agency will continue its investigation into the potential factors and sources that led to the outbreak.
The FDA did identify a common grower link to the E.coli O157:H7 contamination as a result of its traceback investigation. However, a statement released yesterday by FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas points out that “this grower does not explain all of the illnesses seen in these outbreaks.”
To be specific, the FDA, CDC and other public health agencies were tracking three outbreaks involving three separate strains of E.coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. During the course of the investigation FDA, CDC, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health conducted sampling of the water, soil and compost of several of the fields in the lower Salinas Valley that were connected to the outbreak. “So far, sample results have come back negative for all of the three outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7. However, we did find a strain of E. coli that is unrelated to any illnesses in a soil sample taken near a run-off point in a buffer zone between a field where product was harvested and where cattle are known to occasionally graze,” Yiannas said in the agency statement. “This could be an important clue that will be further examined as our investigation continues. However, this clue does not explain the illnesses seen in these outbreaks.”
Finding the contamination source(s) is critical, as it will aid romaine growers in putting safeguards in place to help prevent future contamination.
As for the final case count (with last illness onset on December 21, 2019) of this outbreak, there were 167 total illnesses and 85 hospitalizations across the United States. No deaths were reported.
Visibility, accountability and traceability are paramount in the agriculture industry, says Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of Artemis. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Kopf explains how growers can take advantage of cultivation management platforms to better arm them with the tools they need to help prevent food safety issues within their operations and maintain compliance.
Food Safety Tech: What are the key challenges and risks that growers face in managing their operations?
Allison Kopf: One of the easiest challenges for growers to overcome is how they collect and utilize data. I’ve spent my entire career in agriculture, and it’s been painful to watch operations track all of their farm data on clipboards and spreadsheets. By not digitizing processes, growers become bogged down by the process of logging information and sifting through old notebooks for usable insights—if they even choose to do that.
I was visiting a farm the other day and the grower pulled out a big binder. The binder contained all of his standard operating procedures and growing specifications for the varieties he’s grown over the past 20 years. Then he pulled out a pile of black notebooks. If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you’d recognize grower notebooks anywhere. They’re used to log data points such as yield, quality and notes on production. These notebooks sit in filing cabinets with the hopeful promise of becoming useful at some point in the future—to stop production from falling into the same pitfalls or to mirror successful outcomes. However, in reality, the notebooks never see the light of day again. The grower talked about the pain of this process—when he goes on vacation, no one can fill his shoes; when he retires, so does the information in his head; when auditors come in, they’ll have to duplicate work to create proper documentation; and worse, it’s impossible to determine what resources are needed proactively based on anything other than gut. Here’s the bigger issue: All of the solutions are there; they’re just filed away in notebooks sitting in the filing cabinet.
Labor is the number one expense for commercial growing operations. Unless you’re a data analyst and don’t have the full-time responsibilities of managing a complex growing operation, spreadsheets and notebooks won’t give you the details needed to figure out when and where you’re over- or under-staffing. Guessing labor needs day-to-day is horribly inefficient and expensive.
Another challenge is managing food safety and compliance. Food contamination remains a huge issue within the agriculture industry. E. coli, Listeria and other outbreaks (usually linked to leafy greens, berries and other specialty crops) happen regularly. If crops are not tracked, it can take months to follow the contamination up the chain to its source. Once identified, growers might have to destroy entire batches of crops rather than the specific culprit if they don’t have appropriate tracking methods in place. This is a time-consuming and expensive waste.
Existing solutions that growers use like ERPs are great for tracking payroll, billing, inventory, logistics, etc., but the downside is that they’re expensive, difficult to implement, and most importantly aren’t specific to the agriculture industry. The result is that growers can manage some data digitally, but not everything, and certainly not in one place. This is where a cultivation management platform (CMP) comes into play.
FST:How are technologies helping address these issues?
Kopf: More and more solutions are coming online to enable commercial growers to detect, prevent and trace food safety issues, and stay compliant with regulations. The key is making sure growers are not just tracking data but also ensuring the data becomes accessible and functional. A CMP can offer growers what ERPs and other farm management software can’t: Detailed and complete visibility of operations, labor accountability and crop traceability.
A CMP enables better product safety by keeping crop data easily traceable across the supply chain. Rather than having to destroy entire batches in the event of contamination, growers can simply trace it to the source and pinpoint the problem. A CMP greatly decreases the time it takes to log food safety data, which also helps growers’ bottom line.
CMPs also help growers manage regulatory compliance. This is true within the food industry as well as the cannabis industry. Regulations surrounding legal pesticides are changing all the time. It’s difficult keeping up with constantly shifting regulatory environment. In cannabis this is especially true. By keeping crops easily traceable, growers can seamlessly manage standard operating procedures across the operation (GAP, HACCP, SQF, FSMA, etc.) and streamline audits of all their permits, licenses, records and logs, which can be digitized and organized in one place.
FST: Where is the future headed regarding the use of technology that generates actionable data for growers? How is this changing the game in sustainability?
Kopf: Technology such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things are changing just about every industry. This is true of agriculture as well. Some of these changes are already happening: Farmers use autonomous tractors, drones to monitor crops, and AI to optimize water usage.
As the agriculture industry becomes more connected, the more growers will be able to access meaningful and actionable information. Plugging into this data will be the key for growers who want to stay profitable. These technologies will give them up-to-the-second information about the health of their crops, but will also drive their pest, labor, and risk & compliance management strategies, all of which affect food safety.
When growers optimize their operations and production for profitability, naturally they are able to optimize for sustainability as well. More gain from fewer resources. It costs its customers less money, time and hassle to run their farms and it costs the planet less of its resources.
Technology innovation, including CMPs, enable cultivation that will provide food for a growing population despite decreasing resources. Technology that works both with outdoor and greenhouse growing operations will help fight food scarcity by keeping crops growing in areas where they might not be able to grow naturally. It also keeps production efficient, driving productivity as higher yields will be necessary.
Beyond scarcity, traceability capabilities enforce food security which is arguable the largest public health concern across the agricultural supply chain. More than 3,000 people die every year due to foodborne illness. By making a safer, traceable supply chain, new technology that enables growers to leverage their data will protect human life.
The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in seafood from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. Over the past and next few weeks, Food Safety Tech is providing readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.
The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in meat and meat products from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. Over the next several weeks, Food Safety Tech will provide readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.
There’s a reason you can eat or drink pretty much anything you want from American grocery stores and not get sick. Food manufacturing is highly regulated and subject to rigorous quality control.
Before food and beverages hit store shelves, the manufacturer must have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in place. The HACCP system requires that potential hazards—biological, chemical and physical— be identified and controlled at specific points in the manufacturing process. In addition, fresh foods undergo a kill-step. This is the point in the manufacturing or packaging process where food is treated to minimize and remove deadly pathogens like bacteria, mold, fungus and E. coli.
Generally speaking, when cannabis hits dispensary shelves, a less stringent set of rules apply, despite the fact that cannabis is ingested, inhaled and used as medicine. Cultivators are required to test every batch, but each state differs in what is required for mandated testing. Compared to the way food is regulated, the cannabis industry still has a long way to go when it comes to consumer safety—and that poses a considerable public health risk. In the early stages of legalization, the handful of legal states did not have rigid cannabis testing measures in place, which led to inconsistent safety standards across the country. State governments have had a reactionary approach to updating testing guidelines, by and large implementing stricter standards in response to product recalls and customer safety complaints. While local regulators have had the best intentions in prioritizing consumer safety, it is still difficult to align uniform cannabis testing standards with existing food safety standards while cannabis is a Schedule I substance.
The stark differences in safety measures and quality controls were first obvious to me when I moved from the food and beverage industry into the cannabis industry. For five years, I operated an organic, cold-pressed juice company and a natural beverage distribution company and had to adhere to very strict HACCP guidelines. When a friend asked me for advice on how to get rid of mold on cannabis flower, a light bulb went off: Why was there no kill step in cannabis? And what other food safety procedures were not being followed?
What to know more about all things quality, regulatory and compliance in the cannabis industry? Check out Cannabis Industry Journal and sign up for the weekly newsletterThe current patchwork of regulations and lack of food safety standards could have dire effects. It not only puts consumer health in jeopardy, but without healthy crops, growers, dispensaries and the entire cannabis supply chain can suffer. When a batch of cannabis fails microbial testing, it cannot be sold as raw flower unless it goes through an approved process to eliminate the contamination. This has severe impacts on everyone, starting with the cultivator. There are delays in harvesting and delivery, and sometimes producers are forced to extract their flower into concentrates, which really cuts into profits. And in the worst cases, entire crop harvests may have to be destroyed.
So, what do cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have to fear the most? Mold. Out of all the pathogens, mold is the most problematic for cannabis crops, perhaps because it is so resilient. Mold can withstand extreme heat, leaving many decontamination treatments ineffective. And most importantly, mold can proliferate and continue to grow. This is commonplace when the cannabis is stored for any length of time. Inhaling mold spores can have serious adverse health effects, including respiratory illness, and can even be deadly for immunocompromised consumers using it for medical reasons.
What the industry needs is a true kill step. It’s the only way to kill mold spores and other pathogens to ensure that they will not continue to grow while being stored. States that mandate microbial testing will benefit from the kill step because more cultivators will be in compliance earlier in the process. In states that don’t require comprehensive microbial testing, like Washington and Oregon, the kill step is a critical way to provide consumers with a preemptive layer of protection. Microbial testing and preventative decontamination measures encourage customer brand loyalty and prevents negative press coverage.
Adopting a HACCP system would also build additional safeguards into the system. These procedures provide businesses with a step-by-step system that controls food safety, from ingredients right through to production, storage and distribution, to sale of the product and service for the final consumer. The process of creating HACCP-based procedures provides a roadmap for food safety management that ultimately aligns your staff around the goal of keeping consumers safe.
It’s high time for the cannabis industry to adopt FDA-like standards and proactively promote safety measures. Cannabis growers must implement these quality controls to ensure that their products are as safe to consume as any other food or drink on the market. Let’s be proactive and show our consumers that we are serious about their safety.
Over the course of almost a full year, laboratory documents were falsified by the owner and the quality control officer of a Connecticut meat processing company. None of the reported beef samples were actually taken and tested for E. coli. The letterhead of a formerly utilized inspection laboratory was fraudulently used to falsify the test documents, an act that carries a maximum term of five years in prison. Fortunately, no illness was reported from consumers who purchased the meat products.
Various types of pest birds can impact food plant structures and facility surroundings. Even a single bird that finds its way into a food plant can trigger a host of concerns such as, failed audits, product contamination, plant closure, production stoppage, lost revenues, fines, structural damage, health hazards to occupants and fire hazards.
In most cases, a food plant operation has a bulletproof pest control plan; however, in most cases, birds are always an afterthought in most pest management plans. After inspecting and consulting numerous food plants, I hear the same story over and over: “I have a person in the warehouse that can chase them out” or, “are birds really a big deal?” or, “why do I have to be concerned about birds?” and on and on. Despite what you may think, birds are a big deal, and you should take them seriously!
Since food processing plants contain areas that have very sensitive environments, birds can introduce various adulterants and harmful contaminants. Birds can cause potential harm to humans due to foodborne illness.
Pest Bird Species
There are four main pest birds: Pigeon, Starling, Sparrow and Seagull. Each one of these birds can cause a host of concerns and issues for food processing facilities. Just one bird can cause catastrophic damage. In most cases, small pest birds such as Sparrows and Starlings can gain access into a facility through a variety of ways:
Damaged bumpers around truck bay loading dock doors.
Open doors (seems obvious, but I always find doors wide open during audits).
General building deficiencies.
Larger birds, such as Pigeons and Seagulls, typically cause more problems around the exterior of a facility on ledges, rooftops, HVAC units, loading docks and related areas.
In either case, these various types of pest birds can cause significant problems on the interior and exterior of food plants.
In most cases, facilities want to reduce as many conducive conditions as they can around and within the facility in a timely fashion. A conducive condition is one whereby due to a building condition, structural design, equipment operation, food or water source, or surrounding conditions (i.e., near a public landfill, raw materials mill or body of water) can attract pest birds to a facility. With each of these conditions, great care must be taken to reduce as many conducive conditions as possible.
Examples of Conducive Conditions
Loading docks/canopies with open beams and rafters
Pooling water (roof and landscaping)
Structural overhangs and ledges
Open access points
Landscaping (types of plantings)
Damaged truck bay bumpers
Gaps and opening around the structure
Doors with improper sealing
Employees feeding birds
Doors left open
All these conducive conditions, if left unresolved, can lead to significant bird problems. Reducing as many conducive conditions as possible will be the first step of any bird management program.
Bird Control Methods
From the start, your facility should have a bird management plan of action. For the most part, bird problems should not be left to be handled internally, unless your staff has been properly trained and has a bird management plan in place.
Most birds are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. However, Pigeons, Sparrows, and Starlings are considered non-migratory birds and are not protected under this Act. Even though these three bird species are not protected, control methods still need to be humane. More specifically, your bird control program must also comply with is the American Veterinary Medical Association (“AVMA”) Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals if this is the control method selected. The AVMA considers the House Sparrows, Feral Pigeon, and the Common Starling “Free-Ranging Wildlife.” And Free-Ranging Wildlife may only be humanely euthanized by specifically proscribed methodology.
In addition to the above-mentioned regulations, various regulations regarding the relocation of birds/nests may also apply. I also always recommend checking with local and state agencies to ensure that there are no local regulations that may apply. Bottom line: Don’t rely on untrained internal practices; one misstep could result in heavy financial fines and penalties.
Bird Management Strategies
First Line Defense
Stop any bird feeding around the facility immediately
Any bird management plan should have a clear policy prohibiting employees from feeding birds. Once birds have been accustomed to routine feeding, the birds will continue to return.
Eliminate Standing Water Sources
All standing or pooled water needs to be eliminated. Thus, routine roof inspections need to be conducted to ensure drains are working properly.
Landscape irrigation needs to be calibrated to ensure no puddling of water in areas of low sun exposure.
Proper Sanitation Practices
Ensure that dumpster lids are closed when not in use.
Trash removal frequency adequate.
Routine cleaning of trash receptacles.
Immediate removal of spilled food.
Eliminate Entry Points
Survey the facility to ensure that all holes are properly sealed.
• Around truck bay bumpers and doors
Exhaust vents are properly screened.
Windows are closed and have screens when in use.
The most appropriate bird control strategy will be determined based on the severity of the bird pressure. For example, if the bird pressure is high (birds have nested), then in most cases, you will only be able to use bird exclusion methods. Whereas, if the bird pressure is light to moderate (birds have not nested), bird deterrent methods can be used. This is an important distinction. Bird exclusion is physically changing the area to permanently exclude said pest birds. Whereas, bird deterrent devices inhibit birds from landing on treated areas.
Bird Deterrent Methods
After the previously mentioned first-line strategies have been implemented, the next step would be to install bird deterrent products (birds have not nested).
Electrified Shock Track
Sonic & Ultra Sonic Devices
Lasers and Optical Deterrents
Hazing & Misting Devices
Bird Exclusion Methods
If the birds have nested in or around the facility, the next step would be to install bird exclusion products (birds have nested).
Ledge Exclusion (AviAngle)
Architectural modifying structural
Aggressive Harvesting (Targeting)
The best prevention strategy is planning and knowledge. Conduct a bird audit and develop a bird management plan before birds get near or inside the facility. The key is to act quickly, as soon as an incident occurs. I find countless times when I am called in to consult or service a food plant, that the birds got into the facility and no one knew what to do, and as a result, the birds remained within the facility for an extended period, thus increasing the risk of exposure. It is always much easier to remove a bird when they are unfamiliar with their surroundings. Whereas, it is much more difficult to remove birds from a facility that has had a long-standing bird problem.
Once you have a plan, who oversees the bird management plan? Are thresholds determined and set for various areas of the facility? For example, a zero threshold in production areas? Threshold levels will be set based upon by location and sensitivity of the said location. What steps are going to be taken to remove the bird? For how long is each step conducted? These questions need to be answered and developed to stay ahead of bird problems.
Reduce as many conducive conditions as possible. The longer a conducive condition stays active, the more likely birds, as well as other wildlife or rodents, will be attracted to the site and find a way into the facility.
Pathogen Contamination & Hazards
Birds present a host of problems, whether they are inside or outside of a facility. Birds can roost by air vents, and the accumulation of bird feces can enter the facility air system. Bird droppings on walkways and related areas allow for the possibility of vectoring of said dropping when employees step on droppings. Thus, spreading fecal matter/spores and other contaminants to areas throughout the facility.
If birds are within the facility, droppings can spread on product lines, raw materials, stored products, equipment and more, thus, causing contamination. Because of a bird’s ability to fly, they are perfect creatures to spread various diseases, pathogens, ectoparasites and fungal materials. Diseases such as Histoplasmosis, Salmonella, Encephalitis, E-coli, Listeria, and more. Birds have been known to transmit more than 60 infectious diseases!
Besides the spread of potentially harmful contaminants throughout the facility, bird droppings and nesting materials can also create a host of additional problems:
The acidity in bird droppings can damage building finishes, façade signs, lighting and more.
Wet bird droppings can create a slip and fall hazard.
Bird nesting materials can create a fire hazard around façade signs, exit signs and light fixtures.
Bird nesting and debris can clog roof drains and cause roof leaks from standing water.
Introduction of ectoparasites into the facility such as bird mites, lice, fleas, ticks and more.
In summary, taking a proactive approach to bird control is the best practice. Reduce food, water and shelter sources (aka conducive conditions) promptly. Pest management programs need to implement a more in-depth section of the program for bird control. Like integrated pest management, bird control should be based upon an integrated method. Each facility will have its unique challenges. As such, each bird management plan needs to be tailored to the specific site. A well designed and balanced, integrated bird management program will provide long-term and cost-efficient bird control.
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