Pest Management Suffers when All Responsibilities and Involvement Are Outsourced

While pest-control companies welcome full-service contracts with food plants, involvement of plant personnel is essential if outcomes are to be optimized.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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The devil is in the details of modern food & beverage production, and plant managers have a devilish time reconciling the details of prerequisite programs with the central mission of meeting production schedules.

That helps explain the preference to outsource pest control responsibilities. In Food Processing’s recent Manufacturing Trends Survey, 60.7 percent of industry professionals indicated pest-control responsibilities were outsourced at their facilities, easily the most frequently divested responsibility. Corporations with leading brands and deep resources may prefer in-house specialists in order to maintain optimal control and accountability, but most processors prefer that pest management be somebody else’s headache.

That’s good news for local, regional and national pest management firms, which also have benefited from growing application of risk-based food safety standards, such as certifications like SQF and BRC under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and beefed-up regulatory requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Unlike the prescriptive approach of proprietary audits, the results-oriented programs place a heavy emphasis on documenting the pest-prevention plan, the results achieved and the changes made when problems surface.

To ease the record-keeping burden, pest control vendors are migrating to digital documentation that can be accessed with a web browser to deliver the documentation auditors and inspectors require. The downside, entomologists and technicians caution, is the hands-off attitude outsourcing can foster. Consequently, more food companies are requesting in-house training and education to keep operators and other staffers involved.

“In-house training is an area where we have seen more requests,” says Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services, South Elgin, Ill. Some GFSI programs require staff training, and an increasing number of food companies want to raise staff awareness of the health hazards and brand protection concerns of infestation. In-house training and webinars can promote that kind of engagement, Hottel says.

“Sometimes employees are the problem,” adds Liz Johnson, marketing director at Copesan Services Inc., Menomonee Falls, Wis. Carelessly discarded lunch leftovers and half-eaten snacks can defeat control efforts by attracting insects and rodents. Awareness of the objectives and rationales behind a prevention program is a basic need.

Training select workers to check traps and conduct visual surveillance adds timeliness to records. “The more they are engaged and understand what to look for, the better,” Johnson says.

A number of regional pest companies, including McCloud Services, are affiliated with Copesan, giving food companies with multiple U.S. plants one-stop sourcing and invoicing. UK-based Rentokil has stitched together a similar nationwide network, building its federation through acquisitions. The most recent addition was October’s purchase of Steritech, which bolsters Rentokil’s service reach in the Southeast.

To keep pace, local and regional pest service firms formed the Food Protection Alliance. Sixteen pest-management companies are members of the consortium, which provides centralized invoicing and other services important to national accounts. FPA members may share best practices, but services are customized to the plants and reflect site-specific needs.

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