Whether the technology they choose is cutting-edge or tried and true, food & beverage plant managers have a lot on the line when they consider pest control.
Minimizing and controlling the use of chemical pesticides has long been a priority for food manufacturers, but it may be more important now than ever. The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) includes new audit standards requiring more stringent documentation of chemical use and other pest control efforts.
"Food processors must show evidence of training for all individuals involved in pest management, have a written pest management plan, keep complete records of pest issues and provide documentation of pesticide use and pest-monitoring devices," says Greg Baumann, director of technical services at Orkin LLC (www.orkin.com), Atlanta. "Auditors now not only want to see charts and graphs of past pest activity, but trend analysis and documentation of specific actions taken in response to that data to improve pest management."
Record-keeping is increasingly important, but perhaps easier to execute than ever, as at least one supplier offers a pesticide product that includes multi-functional software.
"Our ProFume gas fumigant comes with Precision Fumigation Tools and Techniques," says Justin Stewart, product manager at Dow AgroSciences LLC (www.dowagro.com), Indianapolis. "These include exclusive software which can be used to monitor fumigations and then automatically produce custom reports that fully document the fumigation to help comply with requirements."
The company offers ProFume as an effective and cost-effective alternative to methyl bromide, which is being phased out globally, Stewart adds. Other alternatives to thornier chemicals include sterilants and heat treatments.
"In many respects documentation is nothing new," adds Jerry Heath, product manager and staff entomologist at Industrial Fumigant Co. (www.indfumco.com), Lenexa, Kansas. "Bar coding and computerized pest management tracking has come on strong in the past 10 years, however, and is adding tremendous new value not just for documentation but also as a management tool. Ultimately, it's all about achieving the best quality and protecting one's brand."
Very complete documentation now is needed for integrated pest management by third-party inspections, he says. "But all this data must be managed and analyzed. Trends and other reports can be very powerful management tools."
He says this data can be stored on IFC computers or in the servers of customers. "Increasingly, customers are turning to secure, web-based systems," he adds.
As with other facets of manufacturing (say, equipment maintenance), a pound of prevention can be worth a ton of cure. For this reason, many food plants maintain an integrated pest management (IPM) program. Such a program also can help food companies stay on top of that documentation required by the FSMA, Baumann says.
"The Integrated Pest Management program has become the industry standard for food processing facilities because it is an effective, environmentally responsible approach that uses a combination of methods to manage pests," Baumann says. "An IPM program will first work to prevent pest problems before they occur. IPM reserves the use of pesticides for times when non-chemical approaches are unsuccessful or inappropriate, and only applies pesticides with least-toxic formulations to targeted areas as a last resort."
This "last resort approach" is also part of the guidelines specific to organic food processors. In addition, those plants that produce organic foods are compelled to give preference to organic, non-chemical and bio-degradable compounds when fighting pests.
Barriers for success
There is no better pest control strategy than keeping pests out of the plant altogether. Loosely fitting doors and windows and even the smallest cracks and holes in walls can invite insects and small rodents.
Landscape design also comes into play. Ground cover plants can be visually attractive, but also an attractive nuisance, by giving pests a place to hide as they find a way inside. Well-directed lighting can have the opposite effect of ground cover — making animals feel less comfortable. Gravel strips make a good barrier for separating buildings from landscaping. Physical barriers (or lack thereof) play an important role in pest control, but another way that pests tend to enter a facility is by hitching a ride with incoming materials.
"Inspecting incoming shipments is critical," says Elizabeth Johnson, national market development manager for Copesan Services Inc. (www.copesan.com), Menomonee Falls, Wis. "Now, more than ever, it's better to prevent pests from being delivered into a facility than to try and find them inside and be challenged with determining if and when pest management chemical usage is necessary."
An IPM system that is truly integrated must conform with a solid sanitation program, and there has to be buy-in from employees, Johnson adds.
"Every role -- from plant design, construction, quality assurance, sanitation and maintenance to production, and even the pest management technician -- must work together to identify weaknesses and implement improvements to reach the common goal of pest prevention."
Some new technologies on the pest control front include:
- Foam technology – Allows pest control products to be mixed with a foaming agent that helps expand the treatment zone in wall voids.
- Heat technology – A "green" alternative to fumigation or multiple chemical applications, heated air can be used to help eradicate a number of pests.
- Odor technology – New chemical compounds are helping to eliminate, not just mask, pest-attracting odors. One product alters the shape of odor molecules, converting odorous bacteria into odorless bacteria.