Pest Control in a Cost-Cutting Environment

By considering the impact on pest prevention in other decision-making, food professionals can pick up the slack from time-stressed service technicians.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Food companies, like people in general, don’t always get the services they pay for, but they can be certain they won’t get services they didn’t pay for.

This truism certainly applies to pest control, the industry’s most frequently outsourced service. More than seven out of 10 food professionals who participated in Food Processing’s 17th annual Manufacturing Outlook Survey indicated their plants rely on service vendors for pest control, a ratio that may understate the frequency of outsourcing.

As procurement officers bargain harder for higher service levels and lower costs, the stage may be set for pest management programs that fall short of what production facilities and warehouses need, some pest specialists say.

The same dilemma exists with sanitation, landscaping services and any other outsourced services. While there are no easy solutions, the fundamental need is engagement at the plant and warehouse level and an understanding of the inter-relationship of those services with operational functions.

Consider landscaping. An attractive exterior creates a positive first impression with prospective customers and other visitors and often is encouraged or even required by local authorities. However, bushes and trees that encroach on the building exterior provide a roost for birds and a landing spot for other critters.

Likewise, ivy and small pebbles are potential homes and breeding grounds for rodents and pests. The pest-control technician working with a tight schedule may not assess the effects of new plantings. If facility managers don’t review plans for exterior improvements with an eye toward the pest impact, problems can result.

A small body of water may evoke thoughts of Walden Pond, but it also provides one of life’s essentials. If it attracts Canadian geese and other avians, droppings that could be tracked into the facility are inevitable. “A pond may be nice, but could it be reduced to a fountain?” asks Chelle Hartzer, technical services manager for Orkin Commercial Services (www.orkin/, Atlanta.

Infrastructure decisions can make it more likely that pests will be drawn to a food facility. Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services (, South Elgin, Ill., notes that mercury vapor in the 450-550nm range of light is 112 times more attractive than sodium vapor in the 575-600nm spectrum. The former is described as blue, while the higher wave length is considered yellow.

Increasingly, lighting upgrades involve LED, which shrinks the payback time due to vastly superior energy efficiency. LED diodes typically are in the blue spectrum, but yellow light can be specified for exterior illumination, she points out. Unless it is specified, however, exterior lighting may serve as pest magnets.

Rodents have sharp senses of smell, as do some insects—odor sensors in antennae serve as olfactory nerves. “Odor plumes” from dumpsters draw them to the building, says Hottel.

Adds Angela Tucker, manager-technical services at Memphis-based Terminix International Co. (, “Decomposing organic material we call ‘gunk’ collects in the corners of dumpsters and is a feed source for the larvae of flies and yellow jackets.” Routinely applying cleaning agents that break down gunk helps minimize problems.

Exhaust vents from the plant itself may attract pests higher on the evolutionary ladder. Industrial odor control is more challenging, but scientists at OMI Industries in suburban Chicago believe they can resolve those issues with a plant-based extract.

Pests weren’t the issue for Activ International, a food ingredient supplier with a production facility in Middlesex, N.J. Goaded by odor complaints from a neighboring business, county officials fined the facility a total of $45,000. Application of the OMI compound resolved the problem.

Plant personnel are taking a more active role in pest control, suggests Jerry Heath, product manager and staff entomologist at IFC ( in Lenexa, Kan. See-no-evil tendencies of the past are giving way to a willingness to investigate issues that crop up. One example: His office rarely received requests to identify insect specimens in the past. Now, “we get them daily. (Plant personnel) want to know what it is.”

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