How To Upgrade Pest Control Programs In Food Plants

Greater involvement by plant personnel can result in best-in-class pest management.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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With the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) enforcement era well under way, food and beverage companies are intensifying efforts to upgrade their food safety defenses, with more rigorous worker training topping the list, Food Processing’s 16th annual Manufacturing Outlook Survey found.

Three out of four food professionals who participated in the survey indicated a greater emphasis on training as a food safety priority in 2017. Most of those respondents — and 41.4 percent of all survey participants — also say their companies are taking a hard look at pest control as an area for improvement.

Two-thirds of the survey sample indicated their plants have outsourced pest control responsibilities, making pest management the most frequently outsourced service. But out of house doesn’t mean out of mind, given the criticality of the task. Keeping production and packaging spaces free of insects, rodents and other uninvited guests is fundamental. Even if public health inspectors don’t shut a plant down, independent auditors take a dim view of deficiencies in this area: As much as 20 percent of food-safety audit scores are based on pest control.

Whether pest control is handled in-house or outsourced, past results are no guarantee of future performance. Continuous improvement is the only way to prevent backsliding. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to improve performance and outcomes in food-plant pest control.

1. Treat incoming materials as potential Trojan horses.

Some firms are going beyond certificates of analysis from suppliers to ensure that biological hazards are not entering through the receiving dock. The primary concern is raw materials, ingredients and primary packaging, but incoming shipments also can usher in rodents, insects and other pests.

Ron Harrison, technical services director at Atlanta-based Orkin Commercial Services (www.orkin/commercial.com), cites the pharmaceutical manufacturer that moved pallets of materials directly from the unloading dock to a clean room. With wooden pallets the dominant material carrier in food & beverage facilities, the likelihood that a pallet will contaminate processing areas is real.

2. Apply FSMA’s preventive controls approach to pest management.

Few if any changes in regulations or guidances for pest control exist in FSMA, but the corrective actions at the heart of the hazard analysis and risk prevention approach apply as much to current good manufacturing practices as they do to food safety. Preventive controls are a response to hazard analysis, and each analysis is specific to a particular facility and the types of products and ingredients made there.

Monitoring of light traps, rodent traps and other devices is a starting point for preventive control, but monitoring demands a framework, points out Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services (mccloudservices.com) in South Elgin, Ill. How those monitors are used and what circumstances trigger a corrective action must be defined, along with an acceptable threshold for detected pests.

Manufacturers should specify what results trigger a corrective action, she adds. If a rodent enters the building because a dock door was left open, that doesn’t mean the prevention system failed, only that procedures weren’t followed. On the other hand, chronically exceeding threshold levels of trapped beetles and cockroaches indicates the program isn’t working and requires change.

Root cause analysis is essential. “When a problem occurs, it’s a symptom, not a solution,” Hottel emphasizes. Understanding why it occurred is necessary before determining if the event exposed a fundamental weakness or a one-time event.

3. Foster collaboration and engagement.

A band makes better music than a soloist. Likewise, a collaborative effort involving sanitation, maintenance, quality assurance and other disciplines is more effective than fobbing responsibilities off on a single individual, be it a staff member or service company technician.

“A good New Year’s resolution would be to work on those relationships and have good communications,” advises Jerry Heath, an entomologist at IFC (www.indfumco.com) in Lenexa, Kan. “Everybody in the facility can be part of inspection.”

“The pest control program needs to be weaved in such a way that it isn’t somebody else’s problem,” seconds Dominique Sauvage, director-field operations & quality for Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Copesan Services Inc. (www.copesan.com). “A lot of times, a service technician is hired to solve a problem, but without the participation of plant personnel, the problem likely will recur.”

4. Create a contingency plan.

The French minister of war thought the Maginot Line was an impenetrable defense. German forces found a way around it; a month later, Nazis were quaffing champagne on the Champs Élysée.

Yesterday’s outcomes don’t guarantee tomorrow’s success. “The unexpected is going to pop up at some time,” observes Richard Kammerling, president of RK Pest Management Services in Huntington Station, N.Y. Instead of a rote approach to inspection, personnel should challenge themselves with what-if questions while bracing for the unexpected.

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