The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority NVWA closed down an animal feed company that generated €4 million revenue selling contaminated feed with forged documents. Several thousand tons of waste, unsuitable to use in animal feed, was found at the facility, and three employees have been arrested.
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.
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 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.
As rapid microbiology methods have been increasingly adopted by the food industry during the past 30 years, much emphasis has been placed on the detection of foodborne pathogens and reducing test times as much as possible. Novel methods such as PCR, along with other molecular approaches, have done much to find these organisms more quickly and identify the source of an outbreak. Quite rightly so: We all have to eat, and we all prefer to eat safe food.
What is often forgotten, however, and what has been less fashionable in the development of novel methods, is the impact of spoilage organisms on the economics of food production and the lack of more sophisticated methods to detect them. While media headlines may scream “Salmonella outbreak affects hundreds!”, the same outlets are less likely to report how much food is thrown away on any given day because of mold growth. “Penicillium spoils bread” is hardly an attention grabber on the 6 o’clock news.
A closely–related issue is that of food wastage, which together with spoilage accounts for billions of dollars of food that is thrown away. Estimates are in the region of $29–35 billion per year, and that doesn’t take into account the billions of dollars of wasted produce because of cosmetic imperfections—the so-called “ugly” fruit and vegetables that are still safe and nutritious to eat. In other estimates, it is suggested that in U.S. landfills, 21% of the contents are comprised of wasted food.
Another source of the problem is the confusion created by date labels–“best by”, “use by”, “sell by”. What do they really mean? This has become such an issue that Walmart is leading an effort, spearheaded by Walmart’s VP of Food Safety, Frank Yiannas, to rationalize date labels so that consumers are far less likely to throw away perfectly wholesome food. In this aspect, he has worked closely with the Institute of Food Technologists, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute to address the problem.
The amount of waste and spoilage has reached almost scandalous proportions and the issue must be addressed, as the planet’s human population is estimated to grow to 9–10 billion by the year 2050. Improved agricultural practices and biotechnology will help to improve yields and increase the food supply, but greater efforts must be made to reduce wasting the food that is produced.
In the overall context of facing these challenges, new technologies are being developed. One such technology is a four-hour PCR Yeast and Mold Qualitative test, manufactured by Germany-based Biotecon, for use in dairy products. Genetic methods are typically associated with identifying bacterial and viral pathogens. But the same approach may be taken with groups of microbes responsible for spoilage, if there is a unique gene sequence common to the target organisms.
Typical test times for yeast/molds are historically five days, although more recently incubation times have been reduced to three days with some new “rapid” plating media. Still, this is a relatively long time compared to four hours. And it is worth noting that the PCR Yeast and Mold test is a “true” four-hour test, as it does not require any pre-enrichment.
The protocol follows a standard PCR protocol for DNA extraction and amplification with an important inclusion—a treatment step that allows discrimination between viable and non-viable organisms. Another important aspect is the inclusion of UNG (Uracil-N-Glycosylase), which greatly reduces the chance of cross-contamination between one sample and the next.
The method is remarkably robust. 100% specificity has been demonstrated with more than 300 strains of yeasts and molds representing 260 species covering all the phylogenetic groups. Conversely, 100% exclusivity has been shown against 60 strains of non-targets—comprised of microbes typically found in similar ecological niches; plant DNA; and animal DNA from human, mouse and canine sources. Sensitivity of the method for yeasts/molds is 101 – 102 cfu/g.
The method is also quantitative, and PCR cycle threshold times can be very closely correlated with plate counts on agar media. Thus, once a standard curve is generated, subsequent samples need only be tested by this new PCR method. Equivalent counts are then determined from the standard curve.
The rapid detection of yeast and molds is a much-needed analytical technique for the dairy industry. For producers of yogurt and similar fermented milk product with a typical shelf-life of 60 days, having the ability to release product to market four days earlier will help with operational efficiency. More importantly, knowing early on of any possibility of product spoilage will help deliver superior product to consumers. The method won the Institute for Food Technologists’ Innovation Award, with one of the judges commenting, “a four-test versus five days for spoilage organisms is a major breakthrough.”
In view of the level of wastage and spoilage that currently occurs, this new PCR method is a step along the way to using more sophisticated methods for the detection of the organisms responsible. Guardians of the food supply should see this as an important development.
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