As the effects of climate change continue to set in around the world, several threats to our daily lives and the way we do business have emerged in its wake. While impacts such as extreme weather events, regional droughts and rising sea levels frequently draw the most attention, there is another important and potentially devastating consequence to consider. As many pests are more prevalent in warmer climates, rising global temperatures exacerbate the risk they pose to both public health and food production.
A warmer overall climate accelerates insect population growth in a number of ways. Warmer global temperatures expand the habitats that support many types of insects. This is causing bug populations to spread poleward, both further north and further south than they’ve appeared historically. Longer summers allow insect populations to breed for a larger portion of year, allowing them to add more generations and multiply in greater numbers during each seasonal cycle. Higher temperatures also increase survival rates among these pests, as the natural predators that limit their numbers in their native habitat lag behind when they spread to a new habitat, allowing the population to grow without nature’s built-in safeguards on population growth. One example of a pest that has benefited from rising temperatures is the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which mainly affects humans by spreading diseases such as dengue virus, but can also harbor diseases affecting livestock that are part of the food supply chain. Although this pest is native to Southeast Asia, it is rapidly spreading throughout the world and is now found throughout the Asian continent, Australia, Europe, South America, parts of Africa and in North America, where they’re now present in 32 U.S. states.
The rising threat of pests accompanying climate change impacts the global food supply in some very direct ways. Some insects increase in size in warmer temperatures, and larger insects eat more food. This means that, in addition to existing in greater numbers, insect populations can have a more devastating effect on the crops they consume. In addition to the greater threat of insect pests, rodents multiply in greater numbers during warmer weather, posing a larger threat to both crops in the field and stored products in manufacturing and shipping facilities throughout the supply chain.
There are numerous examples of how these pests are negatively impacting crops, including the coffee berry borer, which is native to Africa but has spread to virtually every coffee-growing region in the world, including Hawaii, and now causes more than $500 million in damages to coffee plants each year. This beetle becomes 8.5% more infectious for every 1.8o F increase in temperature, meaning this problem will only get worse as the climate warms. The kudzu bug is a major problem for farmers throughout the Southeastern United States, where it feeds on soybeans and other legumes. The kudzu bug impacts soybean yield in a way resembles the stress placed on crops during a drought. This pest is suspected to originate in Asia, but it’s been on the rise in the United States since 2009, causing insecticide use on soybean crops to quadruple over the 10-year period from 2004–2014.
As climate change drives global temperatures higher and higher, its impact on pest populations means greater risks for both public health and industries that make up the global food supply chain. It also means a greater need for companies in these industries to know the specific risks pests pose to their products and to work closely with a pest management partner to develop a plan for mitigating those risks, identifying potential problems before they escalate and treating any outbreak quickly and effectively, before it can cause a major loss of product and impact the company’s bottom line.
Preparation is the key to success for any ongoing endeavor. In an industry where your enemies are fighting for survival at the expense of your business, you must be ready for anything. Your opponents are crafty, adaptable and more prevalent than you think.
No, I’m not describing your competitors. I’m talking about pests—a major threat to the integrity of food products and a threat to any facility’s bottom line. Whether it’s stored product pests contaminating inventory or rodents spreading pathogens as they skitter across equipment, pests are a risk that should be minimized.
With FSMA in full effect, preparation is more important than ever. FSMA mandates a proactive approach to food safety, and by extension, pest management. It’s important that the pest management program is exhaustive and integrates seamlessly into the overarching food safety plan.
Most, if not all, food processing facilities currently use an integrated pest management (IPM) program to help minimize the chance of pest problems, but FSMA puts more emphasis on being proactive to keep pests far from products at all times. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that a pest sighting in a facility is the end of the world, but it means that it should be resolved quickly, investigated and documented to help prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
Specifically, FSMA has numerous stipulations that trickle down to pest management.
- Hazard analysis. First, a comprehensive inspection should be done to identify the high-risk areas in your facility where pests may take residence. Entry points, potential food and water sources and harborage areas should all be noted.
- Preventive controls. Include regular facility maintenance reviews and a strict sanitation regimen in your food safety plan to help minimize the use of chemical pest management treatments.
- Monitoring. Use devices and employees to keep tabs on pest activity and conducive conditions to ensure preventive controls are working and executed across the facility.
- Corrective actions. Implement and enforce pest management solutions such as exclusion strategies (e.g., weather-stripping, door sweeps, vinyl strip doors), traps (e.g. pheromone traps, insect light traps, bait boxes), air curtains and repellants to help manage pest activity.
- Verification. Schedule regular service visits with your pest management professional to verify corrective actions are working to reduce pest problems over time. These visits should include an annual facility assessment and pest trend analysis, both of which help determine potential areas of improvement over time.
6. Record keeping and documentation. Document every action taken to prevent pests. That includes corrective actions and their results to prove that your written IPM and food safety plan has been implemented and is effective in helping to manage pests at the facility.
With these key components accounted for, it will be easier to be prepared for pests. But, even still, the real-world implementation of these tactics might not be abundantly clear. That being the case, let’s take a look at what food processing facility managers can start doing today to help protect their facilities and demonstrate a proactive approach to food safety.
So, what’s the best way to be more proactive in preventing pests?
Well, that question has a plethora of possible answers, but four of the most important are sanitation, exclusion, staff training and monitoring.
Perhaps the most important of all, sanitation helps to eliminate two key attractants—food and water—that draw pests inside a facility. Any spot where food particles or moisture is collecting, pests will be looking to find.
But sanitation shouldn’t seem daunting. Here are some actions you can start doing today to step up your sanitation program:
- Wipe down equipment regularly to break down the buildup of organic materials.
- Wipe off countertops and sweep floors in common areas where food is present, then sanitize with an organic cleaner afterwards to eliminate any remaining odors.
- Take out the garbage at least daily, and keep dumpsters at least 50 feet away from the building to avoid giving pests a harborage location nearby with an easy path to get indoors. Make sure to cleanse garbage bins and dumpsters regularly, or they’ll become attractive to pests, too!
A big part of preventing pests from getting inside a facility is simply blocking them out using exclusion.
During an inspection, a pest management provider will walk around the interior and exterior of the facility and look for any potential entry points for pests. They should recommend you seal any cracks and crevices they notice, as many pests can fit through extremely tiny gaps. For example, mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Gaps should be sealed with a water-resistant sealant to keep pests and moisture out.
In addition, make sure to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible or use screens to block pests. Automatic doors can help in this way, especially when paired with an air curtain to blow flying pests away from entrances. Pests can often come in through the biggest gap of all: The front door!
It’s always better to have a team behind you. Training employees on the basics of an IPM program and what they can do to help will take some of the weight off your shoulders.
Many pest management providers offer free staff training sessions, which can help employees understand what to look for around their work areas and what to do in the case of a pest sighting. Consider creating your own pest sighting protocol to make it clear what employees should do if and when a pest is spotted. They’ll need to record when, where, how many and what kind of pest(s) were seen at the time to give your pest management provider the best chance to create a customized solution to resolve the issue. If you can catch one of the pests in a container for future identification, that’s even better.
While employees can help by keeping an eye out for pests, it’s important to have ongoing monitoring techniques to measure pest activity around the facility.
Monitoring devices are a great way to do this, and your pest management professional can help you place them strategically around the hot spots in your facility. Fly lights, bait stations, pheromone traps and more can capture pests and serve a dual purpose. First, they’ll reduce pest populations around the facility, and, second, they’ll allow you and your pest management provider to see how many pests are present in certain areas.
Over time, this will give you a feel for which pest issues have been resolved and which continue to be a problem. That can determine the corrective actions taken and the long-term food safety plan, which will demonstrate a commitment to constant improvement. That’s a great thing to have on your side, especially when an auditor happens to stop by.
I know, I know—this wasn’t one of the four “answers” listed, but it’s still incredibly important! Documentation helps ensure you get credit for being so prepared.
It’s recommended that facility managers keep a few documents on hand to keep things simple. The food safety plan, annual assessments, sighting reports, a list of service changes over time, a list of monitoring devices and proof of your pest management professional’s certification are all important documents to keep updated and ready to go. That way, you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared at a moment’s notice.
It is never too early to start preparing. Pests aren’t going to stop searching for a food source anytime soon, so don’t stop your proactive efforts to keep them at bay. Your financial department will thank you.
As the applications of connected devices continues to drive innovation and create exciting possibilities throughout the food processing industry, the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on pest management in the food supply chain is already easy to recognize. An ecosystem of connected devices streamlines several processes that are integral to an effective integrated pest management plan, providing convenience and saving time for both food manufacturers and their pest management partners. From creating a smart network of devices that detect changes and track movement in the pest population to seamless reporting procedures that cut down on paperwork, we’re already seeing the benefits of a more connected world on a very important aspect of food safety.
Judy Black will host a free webinar, along with her colleague Jeff Robbins, director of commercial pest marketing, on the applications of IoT in pest management throughout the food supply chain on Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 1:00 pm ET/10:00 am PT. Register hereAt the ground level—often quite literally—we have networked traps for pests ranging from stored product insects to rodents. Each trap tracks the pests it captures and reports its readings to a central hub in real time, providing an instant snapshot of changes in the pest population and triggering notifications when that population exceeds pre-set parameters—well before the pests create an issue. Beyond knowing when a pest population increases in a facility, this network of connected monitoring devices can pinpoint where those pests are congregating, allowing the facility’s pest management partner to identify and eliminate the source of the issue quickly.
Beyond those devices on the front lines, the IoT also has a major impact on the behind-the-scenes management of pest management processes. With the increase in reporting requirements brought on by the adoption of FSMA earlier in the decade came a lot of new paperwork for food manufacturers. On the pest management front, the paper trail required to track the steps taken to reduce the risk of pest infestation represents a significant commitment of time and effort on the part of facility managers. Working with a pest management partner that understands the opportunities connected devices provide means less paperwork; a centralized online hub allows facility managers to review their partner’s recommendations, indicate the steps they’ve taken to address issues and close the loop without having to touch a file cabinet.
The availability of this pest-tracking data allows forward-thinking pest management companies to be more efficient and better informed. By compiling and analyzing this data, they can identify regional trends in pest populations, allowing them to be better prepared to recognize and resolve pest issues early and to stay ahead of cyclical fluctuations in the pest population.
We often talk about technology in terms of the impact it will have in the future, but in the pest management business, we’re already seeing the benefits of a connected ecosystem of devices. While the technology will continue to evolve and improve, it’s important for food manufacturers to recognize the benefits of working with a pest management partner that embraces the IoT. By streamlining and centralizing the processes of monitoring and reporting on pest management practices, this technology saves time and reduces the risks pests pose throughout the food supply chain.
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.
Stored product insects (SPI) can cause a revenue loss of 1–9%, according to recent research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research. The following infographic outlines the impact SPIs can have, which are the world’s most expensive pests, according to Rentokil.
Being audit-ready at any moment can be a daunting task, but pest management is one aspect of your audit that you can ace if you’re doing the right things. Pest control can account for up to 20% of your score, so taking it seriously can give you a huge boost the next time an auditor comes to your facility.
There are two components needed to help ease the stress of a third-party audit: An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program and proper documentation.
IPM programs focus on incorporating green prevention and exclusion tactics into your facility’s ongoing sanitation and facility maintenance strategies, only using chemical solutions as a last resort. FSMA established that these tactics should be used when dealing with food safety issues and that thorough records should be kept to document the risk-based prevention efforts. This gives food manufacturing facilities even more of a reason to employ an IPM program.
A strong IPM program already has documentation built into it, as tracking pest activity and monitoring results over time are crucial steps to implementing the most effective pest prevention techniques for your business. Every IPM plan is tailored to your facility’s needs, so it needs to be dynamic and adaptable over time as new technologies emerge and your business needs change. Having the ability to show documentation of these changes and their positive effects will get you off to a great start on your next audit in showing your risk-based prevention food safety plan. If you do not already have an IPM program in place, speak with your pest management provider about establishing one.
Auditors like to see IPM programs in place because it means your business is taking a proactive approach and keeping detailed records.
Think about it like this: If the auditor is the judge and there’s no jury, would you ever walk into a court case without any evidence to prove your innocence? Of course not! So you wouldn’t want to walk into an audit without any documentation either.
In other words, document everything. Facilities must prepare and implement written food safety plans that identify potential risks to food safety, enumerate the steps and processes that will be executed to minimize or prevent those dangers, identify and implement monitoring procedures, keep detailed records of the food safety program, and list actions that will be taken to correct problems that do arise. If you’re doing all of this, you’ll make an auditor’s life that much simpler and improve the chances of receiving a high score.
When working to get audit-ready, you’ll want to have the following forms of documentation ready to go:
Proof of Training and Certification
Even though you know that your pest management professional is properly trained and certified, your auditor does not. Keep documentation on hand at your facility, as auditors may want to see one or more of the following documents:
- A copy of the valid registration or certification document
- hysical, written evidence that your pest management provider has been properly trained to use the materials necessary for your IPM program
- Evidence of training on IPM and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)
Proof of Service and Material Changes
A strong IPM program changes as new technologies emerge and your business’s needs shift over time, so be sure to have detailed documentation of these changes as they occur. It’s also important to note the reasons for making changes. Auditors will be looking for written documentation for even the smallest of changes to your IPM program, so take careful notes as your program adapts along with your business.
It can also help to assign specific roles to your employees. This not only will give employees clear direction on how they can contribute to your IPM program, but it can also help your case with an auditor by showing that your facility is maintained by an entire team rather than just a few people. Teamwork is a key part of any IPM program, so be prepared to show how your team runs effectively.
Pest Sighting Reports That Correspond with Corrective and Preventive Actions
When there is a pest sighting in your facility, record it immediately. Keeping records of sightings will help ensure that steps are taken to improve and show accountability to an auditor. Once action is taken, record exactly what was done and the results of the counteractive efforts. That way, you’ll have a paper trail that shows an auditor that for every pest problem, your pest management provider came up with a proactive pest solution that resolved—or is working to resolve—the issue.
After taking corrective action, continue monitoring the issue over time and note any developments in order to help prevent the issue from reoccurring. Creating a trend report that keeps track of which pests your facility is dealing with over time can help, too, as it will help you determine which pests are the most problematic. Your provider can help build such a report.
Records of Pest Monitoring Devices and Traps with Corrective Actions
Pest monitoring devices and traps are great for giving insight into areas around your facilities that are most susceptible to pests. Along with these devices, however, you’ll need to show the following information to an auditor:
- When and how often the monitoring devices and traps were checked
- The type and quantity of each pest found
- Corrective actions taken to reduce pest activity and prevent further issues
Work with your pest management provider to gather all of this information, as it is usually the technician who works on these devices regularly. Being able to give an auditor the full picture can certainly help you on your inspection as it demonstrates attention to detail throughout your entire facility.
Annual Pest Management Assessments and Resulting Actions Taken
With most IPM programs, your pest management provider will thoroughly inspect your facility annually to identify areas that can be improved. Many auditors require these annual check-ups, and they will be looking for proof that these facility assessments occurred and that action was taken as a result that led to positive changes. Year-over-year improvement is important, so measure your success against the areas of improvement specified in these annual inspection reports. That way, you can meet the objectives prior to an audit.
These annual inspections give you a chance to look back and see the progression over the years. If there are any pest issues that pop up year after year, make them a priority in order to show that your program is trending in the right direction.
This proactive approach to pest management will help protect your business from pests and the inherent risks, as well as help give you a better chance of receiving an excellent score on your next audit.
So don’t be afraid of an audit the next time one comes around. With a strong IPM program in place and detailed documentation over the course of the year, there won’t be an exorbitant amount of preparation needed. Stay organized and keep all of the above-mentioned documents together and on-site to keep things simple for both you and your auditor. All of these elements will help your facility receive a strong score and be audit-ready at a moment’s notice.
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.
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.
As with many areas in food safety, the future of pest management will place more emphasis on implementing a scientific approach and leveraging digital technologies. Food manufacturers and processors will rely more heavily on their pest management providers to be their eyes and ears to find issues within a facility that may have otherwise gone undetected and could lead to potential deadly outbreaks. “The pest control industry is always trying to control pests. But now the manufacturers are realizing that this [regulation] is pretty serious and people [could] go to jail,” says Ron Harrison, director of technical services at Orkin, LLC. “I think you’re going to find a much more scientific approach to pest control in food processing.” In a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Harrison shares insights on the changes (for the better) that FSMA is having on the relationship between pest management professionals and food manufacturers and processors.
Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest areas of concern surrounding FSMA and pest management? Are companies in the food industry prepared for compliance?
Ron Harrison: The big part about FSMA is that everything is now suspect in reference to food safety—from deliveries to storage to transportation on the backend; there’s a much more holistic approach. It has had a major impact on us—we’re doing more inspections on the front end, when the trucks [deliver] the raw ingredients, and we look for possible pests on the truck, rather than [inspecting] an isolated building.
The elevation has been that owners and managers realize that they’re going to be held responsible for potential food safety issues, and so they’re holding their pest professional at a much higher level to help be their eyes and spot potential problems to ensure compliance with safety issues. For example, take two situations that have come up in the last five years—the Peanut Corporation of America [Salmonella outbreak] and Blue Bell Ice Cream [Listeria outbreak]. In neither one of those cases were pests responsible for the problems. But questions came back to pest control professionals about why they weren’t making [the manufacturers] aware of leaking coming from the ceiling, etc. I think they’re looking for us to support their programs of food safety, not just ‘kill some cockroaches’ or prevent rodents from coming into [a facility]. Manufacturers are asking us to tell them what they’re doing wrong rather than us going back to them. I think there’s a better partnership moving forward.
The industry went from pulling out equipment and spraying [to control pests] to [the present] where it’s not uncommon for a microbiologist to take samples to find out not just if there’s a cockroach, but did it leave anything behind. I think you’re going to find the approach to pest control to be much more scientific.
FST: What digital technologies should food companies leverage as part of a proactive pest management plan?
Harrison: I think this is where the big future is. It’s how do we monitor just in time to provide service based upon that monitor. That’s futuristic looking. For bigger animals, we’re already moving in that direction: A relay goes off when the animal crosses a threshold, and a picture is taken that can be determined by movement and heat. But for the smaller creatures, like rodents and cockroaches, why isn’t there some type of monitoring system as well? From a monitoring and detection standpoint, we’re going to see a lot more technology that helps us very quickly assess what’s going on, which therefore will limit some of the robotic routine services that we do. That’s happening in Europe—it’s not uncommon to have monitors in place and as soon as something happens, you’re out there getting rid of [the pest] rather than putting traditional baits every 25 feet. If you think about it, wouldn’t it be much better that when the mouse is caught in the glue board that immediately a signal goes out and it’s removed rather than sitting there for five days until the pest control professional goes back and checks the device?
The person in charge of pest control wants to come into work and know exactly what’s going on: What pests were seen, what treatments were made, what the local manager is doing, etc. All of it needs to roll up into easy, accessible data. The data collection and reaction would be immediately downloaded every morning or evening when the shift is over. The demand is very clear for what the expectation is.
I’d say within the next year or two you’ll have a variety of companies providing these monitoring systems (inside and outside) to food processing plants.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, a time when we can look forward to more relaxing days sitting by the pool, just enjoying life. But the season also welcomes the unwelcome: more bugs and other little critters. It is during this time of year that food processers should be extra vigilant about inspecting their facilities to ensure that pests do not become a problem.
While small in size, mosquitoes can be big in nuisance. Ron Harrison, Ph.D., director of technical services at Orkin, LLC, offers a few steps that companies should take to prepare for the season to both protect workers from potentially serious disease transmission such as West Nile Virus or chikungunya virus, and keep mosquitoes from contaminating a food processing facility.
1. Inspection. Conduct a thorough survey of the perimeter or outside of your building. Have your pest control professional or entomologist look for the presence of natural breeding sites and how they can be eliminated. For example, if there is standing water, how can it be drained? Can it be moved as opposed to remain standing? Growth regulators can also be used to inhibit the developing larvae.
2. Secure your building. Make sure all screens are in place and that your heating and air system is in proper working order. Check the pressure of your building. If you have positive air pressure with a door open, it pushes air out; if you have negative air pressure, it sucks air in, so a mosquito or any type of bug could be sitting on the outside and get sucked inside.
3. Use residual products. Mosquitos can be blown in from long distances. Using good residual products on vegetation and shrubs on the outside of your building can help reduce the population. In addition, make sure any dense landscaping is pruned to reduce the harboring sites where mosquitoes might live.
Harrison adds that the prevalence of mosquitos tends to be worse based on the location of a facility. This is where making sure your building is tightly sealed, from the cracks to the positive air pressure in entranceways, is important. “The biggest reason we struggle is that the building or processing plant is built in a swampy area, which is a haven for bugs,” he says. Other factors, including the color of the building (light-colored buildings) and the presence of excessive lighting, can attract more insects.
Now is the time for food processing facility managers to take action and inspect their facility. “Mosquitos are just now starting. In another two or three weeks, it’s going to get serious,” says Harrison. “Preventative activity means that later on in the season when they are bad, your processing plant won’t have problems because you took proactive steps.”