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Contract Pest Control Programs Keep the Bugs Away

Sept. 3, 2008
In addition to pest control, programs provide valuable third-party record-keeping.
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AIB International schedules Food Plant GMP/Sanitation Workshops throughout the year in various locations. The last two of this year are Oct. 21-22 in Chicago and Nov. 11-12 in Hershey, Pa. (but they also are scheduled well into 2009). Sessions include “Insect management,” “Bird control strategies” and “Rodent control strategies.” See them on the AIB site at http://www.aibonline.org

When people talk about “bugs” in food these days, most of the time they’re referring to a poorly chosen euphemism for bacteria, good or bad, or other live contaminants. There’s not much talk of insect bugs … and with good reason. Food processors have been vigilant about keeping these pests out of their plants.

It’s rare to find a food plant without a contract pest management program these days. Balancing any effort’s effectiveness with the safety of both humans and the food being processed, these programs are probably best left in the hands of trained professionals. And don’t forget the increasing pressure for record-keeping, which can be especially valuable (and believable) when done by a third party.

“Food companies can’t keep up with all the regulations, auditing agency requirements and local, state and federal regulations,” says Jim Sargent, director of technical support and regulatory compliance at Copesan – Specialists in Pest Solutions (www.copesan.com), Menomonee Falls, Wis. “It’s a complex job to give to your maintenance department.” It’s better left to experts, he says.

Ants and cockroaches are just a few of the pests attracted to the multiple food and water sources found in food processing plants. PHOTO: ORKIN COMMERCIAL SERVICES
Leaving trash piled close to building entrances is a sure-fire way to bring pests into your facility. Instead, store trash in dumpsters located far away from the building. PHOTO: ORKIN COMMERCIAL SERVICES
A pest control specialist will install and regularly inspect sticky board traps to monitor pest activity within your facility. PHOTO: ORKIN COMMERCIAL SERVICES
It’s difficult for food plant maintenance departments to keep up with all the regulations from governments and auditing agencies, so most contract with professional pest service companies. PHOTO: COPESAN SERVICES INC.

“The foundation of food safety is a good sanitation program – and pest control is an important part of sanitation,” says Christine Richter, quality systems manager Farbest-Tallman Foods Corp.’s  Plain City, Ohio, manufacturing facility (www.farbest.com)..

“We have an open-door policy for our customers. They can walk in and visit any time they want, which means we have to always maintain a perfectly sanitary plant. But customers are always impressed with our level of sanitation,” she says.

Pest control these days does not even have to involve chemicals. “Our plant’s program uses no pesticides or chemicals, just pheromone traps and bait boxes,” says Larry Phillips, director of production for Endangered Species Chocolate (www.chocolatebar.com), Indianapolis. Which is a good thing, because his company produces both organic and all-natural chocolates.

Organic pest control

The National Organic Program specifies how to perform pest management in an organic facility. First and foremost, non-chemical measures are to be taken before using any pest control chemicals. Only if non-chemical measures are ineffective should the facility move to chemicals on an approved national list.
Non-chemical measures, according to Orkin Commercial Services (www.orkincommercial.com), include:

  • Fly lights: Ultraviolet light attracts flying pests to a non-toxic sticky board inside a confined trap unit.
  • Sticky boards: These capture crawling pests when placed in areas likely to be attractive to bugs, such as inside storage areas and under equipment.
  • Pheromone monitors: Pheromones are secreted chemicals pests use to communicate. Synthetic versions can lure them to a sticky trap; these traps can provide an early warning of the presence of pests in stored product areas.
  • Insect growth regulators: IGRs use synthetic versions of insect hormones to prevent pests from reaching full maturity, preventing reproduction and limiting the pest population.
  • Repellants: Repellants help move pests to areas where control is easier to achieve. Repellant treatments use a combination of a botanical-based material, pyrethrins and silica gel, an inorganic compound that damages insects’ exoskeletons. When pests encounter this combination, they retreat and the product can cause insects to desiccate.
  • Organic cleaners: “Green” cleansers use naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes to break down grease and grime. Use an organic cleaner in and around drains, sinks and garbage disposals to eradicate the grease and grime build-up that serves as a breeding area for flies and other pests.
  • Non-volatile baits: These baits use chemical formulations that do not become airborne. Formulated as gels or pastes in small bait pucks, they allow targeted and contained treatment applications.

“If non-chemical measures and the use of products consistent with the national list are not effective, then a material not found on the list may be used, provided measures are taken to prevent contact between the organic product and the material applied,” says Jay Bruesch of Plunkett’s Pest Control, a Fridley, Minn.-based partner of Copesan Services. “This cannot be seen as a ‘loophole’ permitting indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, however. Non-chemical strategies and National List materials must be considered first and shown to be inadequate.”

However, it’s not just the National Organic Program that made Endangered Species look for organic pest control. “It speaks to our core values. We are committed to not harming the environment. But we also are committed to producing the highest quality of chocolate bars. That leaves no room for pests,” Phillips says.

Orkin taught him “to be proactive, not reactive, to keeping bugs out and keeping everything so clean that it would not attract them.” That means making sure all doors close tightly, that cracks and crevices get sealed promptly, that all points of access are monitored to keep bugs out.

Record-keeping requirements

Oregon Tilth inspects the plant for organic certification and goes over Endangered Species’ books on pest control, looking for the presence of both bugs and forbidden chemicals. Bookkeeping is becoming an important part of the equation. State and county boards of health make surprise visits, and AIB International (formerly the American Institute of Baking) will inspect for the first time this month. “We’re part of Orkin’s Gold Medal program, so we know the records are carefully maintained,” says Phillips.

Validation also is important to Richter. “The [Orkin] Gold Medal program provides a lot of standardized reporting, more than found in a normal program, but I can always ask for even more specific items,” she says.

“Actually, a few years ago a customer did suspect there were insect parts in ingredients we shipped them,” she continues. “We told them it couldn’t be, because of the strong sanitation program we have. Then Orkin analyzed a sample they sent and it turned out to be some burned ingredient. I think the customer was more likely to believe an independent company like Orkin than us.”

Pepsi Bottling’s Riviera Beach, Fla., plant also is seeking its first AIB certification, probably next year. AIB may seem like an unlikely certifying organization for a beverage plant, but “it’s a PepsiCo initiative. AIB has customized their process for PepsiCo, so it’s very important to the corporation to get this third-party quality certification,” says Paul Groth, process control manager at the plant.

So despite the fact that Santiano Brothers Inc., the local Copesan partner, already provides volumes of reports, “We will probably be asking for more by the end of the year and even more next year as we pursue AIB beverage certification,” says Groth. “Third-party auditing is a critical way to validate your quality processes.”

Copesan service specialists carry hand-held computers “to ensure our record-keeping is accurate and up to date,” says Sargent. “Record-keeping is the first thing looked at in an audit, the easiest thing to verify – and the first thing that will give away an inadequate program. As a pest management provider, we need to know what auditing agencies you’ll be judged by. We’re familiar with them all, and can tailor our program to meet those client needs,” says Sargent.

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