Pest Control / Technology

The Electronic Component of Plant Pest Control

Cameras, smart devices and other digital/electronic equipment can enhance a pest-management program.

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

Building a better mousetrap these days means building a smarter one. As in one that can tell you, right away, remotely, when it catches a mouse.

Smart mousetraps are just one aspect of electrical and digital improvement in pest-control programs. Things like video surveillance and digital record-keeping have the potential to make pest-management programs more efficient – and allow food and beverage plants to participate in them more effectively.

Deriving digital data from traps is nothing new, but the presentation and use of that data is improving as technical capabilities increase, says Judy Black, vice president of technical services for Rentokil North America (www.rentokil-steritech.com).

“Electronic data collection has been around for a while, but lately we’ve been getting more sophisticated in how we can report on that to the clients, and then how the clients can actually use our website,” Black says.

For years, pest management service technicians have recorded basic data when they service insect and rodent traps, like the time of the visit and the trap’s condition. They also can note things like how much bait has been consumed and what is consuming it — for instance, if ants or crickets are being attracted to bait set out for mice or rats. Scanning bar codes unique to each trap, done first with dedicated devices and now on smartphones, allows technicians to match this data to the individual trap.

This data can be used to determine a proper course of action for specific locations within a plant – which is even more vital now that plant-wide fumigation with methyl bromide is a thing of the past, says Jerry Heath, product manager and staff entomologist for Industrial Fumigant Co., or IFC (www.indfumco.com). U-Trap-It/ProTrak software from IFC can pinpoint problems and suggest courses of action.

“One of the unique aspects of U-Trap-It/ProTrak is mapping,” Heath says. “This feature can allow drilling down to identify very specific devices or areas of activity – perhaps a difficult-to-clean piece of equipment, a structural harborage situation in need of correction or a door with perennial issues of being kept closed.”

Traps that transmit

The next generation of traps features remote monitoring, with real-time reporting and historical trending. This has been used for several years with grain bins, where probes can detect the presence, species and infestation level of insects. The concept is now moving to rodent traps that can alert pest management companies the instant a trap catches a mouse or rat.

“It does allow for quicker response. It also, with that quicker response, can provide some additional data that may not be as evident if you come a week later,” says Patricia Hottel, technical director for McCloud Services (www.mccloudservices.com). “It has the potential to provide more information as to why there’s a rodent, which is ultimately what you want to know – what’s the root cause and why there’s a mouse present in the facility.”

For example, Rentokil put a trap in a food plant that would catch mice every night, like clockwork, at 2:35 a.m. They checked with the customer and found out this coincided with ingredient deliveries. Learning about these rodent visits motivated the customer to change its approach to getting stuff in the door.

“They weren’t in a hurry before,” Black says. “It was just, you know, we’ll just get this truck unloaded, and there was no sense of urgency to that. But they said, 'Hey, we need to keep this door closed as much as possible. So let’s get the door open, get the stuff off the truck, get the door shut, and minimize the amount of time that’s available for the mice to get in.' ”

Knowing when traps go off can help a pest-management program in other, more routine ways. Hottel recalls a situation where snap traps in a bait station placed outside a building kept going off the same night they were set. Knowing this enabled McCloud personnel to go back right away and reset the traps, ensuring continued protection. If the traps weren’t able to signal when they went off, they would have remained useless until the next routine visit.

“Maybe we learned also that snap traps may not be the best tools there, because either they’re getting bumped or it could be a wildlife situation – raccoons or something – disturbing the [bait] station and voiding our protection because of that activity,” Hottel says.

Mouse cam

Another electronic embellishment to pest control is video cameras. They can track mice and other relatively large pests into and through a building, pinpointing entry points and pathways.

“Cameras and video are a great tool to monitor areas,” says Chelle Hartzer, an entomologist and director of technical services for Orkin (www.orkin.com). “We use these when we have certain spots where we know pests (mostly rodents but wildlife too) have been, but just haven’t been able to see them or where they are traveling. It’s a great tool for targeting specific areas for additional follow-up like sealing holes, setting more traps or even confirming that there isn’t a problem any more. They are also great for hard-to-access areas, say a wall void or a ceiling area, so treatment can be more targeted.”

Video tracking can help determine if traps need to be moved because rodents are running around or even jumping over them, Hottel says.

“I can think of one example where the rat was running between these metal guards that were in the facility, used to keep the pallets from being pushed against some wrapping,” she says. “There was a space or gap of maybe two to three inches in some locations of this metal guard, and the rat was moving through that gap.” McCloud technicians caught the rat by moving the nearest trap in front of this path.

Video surveillance can be even more sophisticated with the use of thermally sensitive cameras, says Dominique Sauvage, senior director of field operations, quality and training for Copesan Services Inc. (www.copesan.com).

“Another type of camera, FLIR [forward-looking infrared] cameras, is being used in cold winter months as an indicator of rodent activity,” Sauvage says. “These cameras sense the heat from a mouse’s body, pinpointing its specific location.”

Black, however, says cameras are not a panacea or a universal solution: “We really use them as needed.” They can be useful, but Rentokil doesn’t routinely deploy them, she says.

“As I started to use them, I had really high hopes as to what I could do with them, but I’ve had to lower my expectations,” she says. “Even the best cameras have a pretty limited field of view. I’ll say, 'Boy, I’m sure this rat is running through this area.' So we’ll film this for five nights and not see a single thing, but yet we’re still getting damage to product. So you have to move it a lot until you actually find that spot where you catch it.”

Oddly enough, Black says, sometimes clients provide the cameras themselves. One client “had a security camera over an exterior door on the inside of the plant, in the warehouse section,” she said. “We were out there trying to figure out where the rodent was running, and one of my people looked up and said, ‘Is that a security camera?’ and the contact at the food plant said ‘Yeah, it sure is.’ He said ‘Can we go look at the footage?’ Sure enough, we actually saw where that rat was moving.” Since then, she routinely asks clients if they have security video available.

Executing programs, and pests

Involvement by the client – the food or beverage facility – can take more substantive forms, especially now that many pest management companies are furnishing increasingly elaborate forms of electronic record-keeping and reporting. These give clients the opportunity to become more involved in executing a pest management program.

Services like Rentokil’s PestNetOnline, Orkin’s Power Trak, IFC’s ProTrak, Copesan’s RapidTrax and McCloud’s Electronic Logbook and Web Portal allow customers to keep track of what the pest control company has done at their facility and what it recommends the client do.

“They can go online, pull up what the recommendations are that are outstanding, and they can close out those recommendations,” Black says. These might be things as simple as putting a sweep at the bottom of a door to prevent bugs or rodents from getting in underneath.

Electronic record-keeping also makes it easier to keep track of the history of pest problems, which can point the way toward more substantive, long-term solutions.

“For example, the point person [in a food plant] overseeing the IPM [integrated pest management] program notices a few more insects being caught in an insect light trap than have been over the past few months,” Hartzer says. “The PMP [pest management provider] pointed this out too and noted that a nearby personnel door was being propped open, allowing more insects in. A quick training of the employees in that area about why the doors need to stay shut is conducted and bigger issues, like a rodent getting in, are prevented.”

However, as often happens, the more data, the harder it is to interpret meaningfully.

“It still takes somebody with insight to explain what a graph or report is saying, or the reasons for undulating lines on a graph,” Heath says. “Is it reflecting a normal seasonal trend, some disruptive event or something new in the plant, or a new hot spot or harborage being exploited that needs attention?”

This type of data interpretation should be part of the pest management company’s responsibility. “If something in that report isn’t clear or doesn’t make sense, make sure you are having conversations with your pest management provider about it in a face-to-face discussion,” says Copesan’s Sauvage. “While this seems very obvious, a thoughtful review and assessment of what happened on the service today is sometimes missed – and it’s something the client is accountable for, according to guidelines like the Food Safety Modernization Act.”

As with virtually every other aspect of life, electronics and digitization have changed and enhanced pest management. But they can work only if there is a solid, client-supported pest management system to enhance.