Controlling the Pest Problem At Food and Beverage Manufacturing Plants

A food illness outbreak may not shut down a plant, but woe to the processor who fails to maintain a rigorous pest control program.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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“The chemistry is so complicated and difficult to synthesize,” says Phillips. Each pheromone mimics the chemical signals that an insect sends to attract the opposite sex. Use of pheromone traps, on the other hand, requires EPA approval and handling by licensed individuals. Some entomologists have reservations about this use. “Zero does not mean zero in this case,” says Phillips, only that the moth hasn’t been detected.

“A pheromone trap is really a detection device,” adds Sargent of Copesan. “It’s like a thermometer. A thermometer doesn’t control the weather, and a pheromone trap doesn’t control pests.”

Barcode technology and tracking software have given entomologists another tool to deploy. After scanning the code on a particular trap or monitoring station, the program poses a series of questions, and the technician provides the requested feedback. The programs also allow technicians to map where light traps and other monitoring and capture devices are positioned throughout the facility.

“Tremendous amounts of data are collected, and the computer does the number crunching,” IFC’s Heath explains. “Those systems have been invaluable for identifying problems areas, where structural repairs are needed, and hot spots of activity.”

Thermal imaging with infrared cameras and even X-ray is occasionally used to expose hiding places inside wall cavities and other out-of-sight areas, though hardware cost limits their use. Rentokil rolled out a high-tech mousetrap called RADAR, which euthanizes rodents with CO2 gas, but it has only been deployed in pharmaceutical facilities, banks and medical offices, according to Matthew Lawless, technical innovation manager. An enhancement called PestConnect provides electronic messaging when the trap is activated, but that service currently is only available in the UK.

Portable heaters that gradually raise the temperature to 120-150° F in isolated areas of a facility to dehydrate and kill insects are alternatives to centralized systems that attempted to heat the entire plant. Instead of chemical fumigants, heat treatment is an excellent option, suggests RK Pest Management’s Kammerling, as is “frozen snow.” Pellets of frozen CO2 are injected into cracks and crevices, resulting in a similar outcome to heat.

Borrowing a technique used to inspect sanitary lines, pest managers are snaking miniature cameras into lines and wall cavities to spot cracks that afford an entry point to the facility. Vacuum pumps are sometimes used to evacuate oxygen in tent-like pouches holding pallet-loads of incoming materials. “That hasn’t taken off, but a few people in the organic industry are using it,” Phillips reports.

“There’s a lot of good technology,” Kammerling summarizes, “but it all comes down to the inspection.”

The polar vortex that sent shivers through the eastern half of the country this winter had entomologists cheering, given the cold’s inhibiting effect on pests. Still, when warmer weather returns, stink bugs, crazy ants and psocids will be on the march, and pest managers will have to document what preventive steps they’ve taken and adjustments they’ve made to keep them away from the nation’s food supply.

“Every year is different,” reflects Heath, and the methods of control, licensing requirements and regulatory oversight are changing, as well. The good news is the science is advancing, and fewer pests are taste-testing raw food, even as the use of pesticides recedes.

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