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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, August/September 2012

Keep Your Food Lab Pest-Free

by Maybelle Cowan-Lincoln

Pest control programs are a priority in food company labs, which are unwilling hosts to numerous unwelcome visitors. Mice and flying insects, including fruit and drain flies, are perennial invaders, while seasonal pests can periodically increase the pest control burden.

These ubiquitous invaders can do serious damage in the labs themselves as well as the company’s nearby processing areas. Their droppings, urine, and shed cuticles can introduce allergens and pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses. Additionally, poorly controlled pests can result in fines, shutdowns, and unrecoverable damage to a brand’s reputation.

Kevin Keener, PhD, director of Purdue University’s Food Technology Development Laboratory in West Lafayette, Ind., claims that overall, food laboratories do an excellent job of pest management, with at least 95% of labs keeping unwanted intruders under control. “But they are never eliminated,” he warned. “There are always pests looking for a place to take up residence. Constant vigilance is required.”

Poorly controlled pests can do serious damage in labs as well as nearby processing areas, resulting in fines, shutdowns, and unrecoverable damage to a brand’s reputation.

Current pest control methods involve more than rectifying an existing problem. More and more, pest control means working with your professional pest management contractor to take the preventive measure of integrated pest management.

There are three steps to IPM:

  • Inspecting and monitoring your facility using tools like sticky tape and live traps;
  • Identifying any pests that the evidence uncovers; and
  • Controlling the situation through all available means.

But what are “all available means?” IPM refers to more than pesticides. The process uses several methods that will make a lab and plant undesirable places for pests to live, and it is highly effective because the behavior of pests is very predictable. Contracted pest management professionals use their experience and years of scientific research to implement strategies that will exclude the types of pest they find. A plan is developed to eliminate conditions that provide these invaders with food, water, or harborage.

According to Kathy Heinsohn, PhD, of American Pest in Fulton, Md., part of the Copesan network of pest solution specialists, an IPM plan includes managing the exterior and interior spaces of the lab as well as the entire physical plant. Measures range from the obvious, such as eliminating standing water by ensuring proper drainage at the foundation, to more creative changes such as planning landscaping with pest management in mind.

The building’s perimeter should be free of vegetation. The best border to have near the walls is gravel. However, if there are plants, they must be kept well trimmed. Mulch is a particularly poor choice for landscaping near a lab. It traps moisture and can provide a thermal zone for pests to live and breed in comfortably. In fact, many pests can be introduced with a mulch delivery.

Exterior lighting is another factor in pest control. It is important to angle any lights away from the building’s entrances, and, just in case something does fly in, fly lights should be placed just inside the door, two to five feet above the floor. Parking lot lights, security lights, and office lighting can attract numerous insects. Light can also leak from doors, ducts, and vents. These areas can often be “light leak proofed” with caulk or door sweeps, although alterations may be needed at times.

The color of the exterior light you use also has an impact on pests. Flying insects are attracted to bright lights at night, but they cannot perceive the yellow wavelengths of the spectrum. Using low-pressure sodium vapor yellow lights rather than mercury vapor white lights can significantly reduce pest intrusions.

The interior of the lab and plant poses its own threats. Moisture can accumulate under lifted tiles, offering a water supply. Gaps in walls around pipes and switch plates allow entry. It is imperative to repair these problems. But the largest threat comes from poor sanitation measures.

“Sanitation is the issue, not pest control,” said Dr. Heinsohn. Sanitation means more than eliminating waste. Labs must be easy to clean, and all parts of the room need to be accessible. This means nothing should be stored against the wall or under tables, hindering thorough cleaning.

One recommendation Dr. Heinsohn makes to clients is a quarterly locker room cleanout. Often staff members will leave a lab or company without emptying their lockers. In addition to uneaten food and water, lockers may contain pests from home, including bedbugs. Regular cleanouts can prevent potential problems from becoming full-blown infestations.

The National Pest Management Association, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting public health, food, and property, stresses the importance of verifying the effectiveness of pest control on an ongoing basis. Professional pest control management companies will provide your lab with tools to document results, including pest sighting logs to record any evidence of intruders. Many companies now supply handheld devices, similar to PDAs, to collect data from live traps, UV electric fly traps, and glueboards. These devices allow your lab to obtain trend analysis reports showing seasonal fluctuations and, hopefully, a reduction in pests over time.

There is a direct connection between the economy and pest control problems. Harder economic times can be boom times for pests, because often the first position to be eliminated is the custodian. Before you know it, sanitation diligence declines—and those little flies are circling the recycling bins. n


Maybelle Cowan-Lincoln is a science/technical writer based in New Jersey. She is a frequent Wiley-Blackwell contributor who has been featured in numerous publications.

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