Year-round, food & beverage processing facilities need to maintain a flexible, integrated pest management program as part of their overall sanitation plans.
In pest management, as with so many other issues in the food industry, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As fall and winter set in, pest management issues shift from fruit flies and insect eggs to warm-blooded rodents and a changing variety of insects.
Food plants have a wide range of products at their disposal for in-house prevention and treatment of rodents and insects. But most rely on outside pest management contract services to help them do a comprehensive job of preventing problems before they require costly chemical mitigation or threaten plant uptime.
Warm-blooded rodents present the primary threat to food plants as the temperature drops, as they seek the warm shelter as well as food and water sources a food plant provides. As fall hits, plants should pore over the entire facility to address the low-hanging fruit in pest control -- low in cost and easy to address, but sometimes easy to overlook. Some basic tips include:
- Caulk, seal or otherwise repair gaps, cracks, crevices, flashings and all holes and gaps everywhere -- including screens, filters, door sweeps, utility penetrations, drop-ceilings, equipment mezzanines, dock plates, door thresholds … the list goes on.
- Look beyond the production floor. Don't overlook sanitation in break areas and waste disposal areas; here, too, prevention is a lot simpler than chemical remediation and the risk of lost production time.
- Attend to landscaping by trimming bushes and maintaining a foot-wide gravel perimeter around the building with the appropriate rodent trapping stations.
- Watch declining temperatures and talk to agricultural neighbors ready to harvest, cut or burn fields, which can chase rodents to your doorstep.
That last bullet point comes from James Sargent, director of technical support and regulatory compliance at Copesan (www.copesan.com), Menomonee Falls, Wis. He says such activity should prompt smart managers to "ratchet up their exterior rodent program just before these events occur."
While specific recommendations and actions vary with each plant's situation, "there should be at least one exterior trapping station on each side of every doorway and every ground opening," he says. "If large numbers of rodents are expected, don't forget to make sure traps are also ready inside the doorways."
Never mind that a mouse can squeeze through a quarter-inch hole; secondary but pervasive cold-weather threats can also come from Asian lady beetles, boxelder bugs, brown mamorated stink bugs and cluster flies, notes Jerry Heath, product manager and staff entomologist with IFC, the Industrial Fumigant Co. (www.indfumco.com), Lenexa, Kan.
"Some of the toughest problems I have seen have involved cluster flies -- resembling oversized house flies -- that enter certain buildings in large numbers in August and September but do not become troublesome inside until mid-winter," says Heath. He notes the "huge challenge" of completely sealing all points of entry can be dealt with the right application of exterior insecticides, although schedules and treatments can vary with the weather, geography and plant specifics.
"Winter should be the season of control inside facilities and summer should be the season of preventing pest entry before winter returns," says Sargent. And winter is the ideal time to conduct an annual pest management program review, update all documentation and seek ways to improve.
"Make sure your staff is trained about their role in the IPM program, because plant personnel are a plant's eyes and ears when it comes to pest problems and conditions that might be conducive to pest issues," says Greg Baumann, technical director for Orkin Commercial Services (www.orkin.com/commercial), Atlanta.
Orkin and other services not only conduct extensive training in-house but can do so for food company personnel as part of a larger, preventive and facility-wide IPM program.
IPM is an ongoing process requiring "regular inspections and open communication between plant management and pest management professional," Baumann notes. It's also increasingly required as part of food safety audits by the likes of AIB and NSF, experts say.
EPA rule changes the game
This winter really will be different from those that came before it. On June 4, the EPA passed a new Rodenticide Risk Mitigation Decision for Ten Rodenticides (for more information: www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/rodenticides/finalriskdecision.htm). New labels limit bait placements to within 50 feet of buildings. The goal is mitigation of risks to non-target animals (such as "non-threatening rodents and their predators") and exposures to children.
Heath says this will have a "revolutionary impact" on baiting as well as raising issues such as how to deal with garbage and storage facilities and other equipment and facilities that are not part of or attached to food processing buildings.
"A greater number of mice will be able to get near the perimeter of the building, and we won't be able to intercept them as easily," says Scott Robbins, technical director, Action Pest Control (www.actionpest.com), Evansville, Ind. "We used to tell food plants, 'Take your dumpsters and put them as far away from the outside building as possible.' Now we can't put bait stations around your dumpster pad if it's more than 50 ft. away from the building – even if rats have burrowed into the ground around that concrete pad."
Industry stakeholders are working with EPA to resolve these and other issues in forthcoming guidance.
Got questions? Call a professional.