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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2006

Don’t Let it Bug You

Tackling Ongoing Pest Control Management

by Steve Sayer

There is one common goal among all processing plants when it comes to pest control. That is, regardless if the pests are vertebrates, invertebrates, exoskeleton bugs, reptiles or mammals, there is a zero tolerance for pests to pace and soar inside processing facilities, including their direct exposures to the product, product contact surfaces and packaging materials. To successfully battle against pests, prudent food and beverage companies should develop a customized daily pest control management program that includes a contracted professional pest control company. A processing plant’s customized pest control management program can simply be a daily supplemental checklist involving both the interior and exterior areas of the processing plant that works in union with the hired pest control company’s written plan.

The fight against invading pests can be each processing plant’s “Sisyphean Boulder” if not kept in check. All food and beverage plants typically create a kaleidoscope of pest attractants such as heat, moisture, light, shelter, various olfactory perceptions, and victual oddments every day of the year. Obviously, each individual food processing’s inherent biota environment has their own unique eclectic pests that they must battle against on a quotidian basis.

Nonetheless, various nocturnal, crepuscular and diurnal species of insects, ants, cockroaches, rodents and birds are the most ardent and persistent pests that processing plants must generally deal with. This is complicated by the fact that all of these vexatious pests perpetually assault processing plants by stealthy and crafty means from the expanse triads of land, air and parking lot water puddles.

CDC experts say that food and beverage contamination can occur anywhere or anytime from the farm-to-table continuum. While various forms of enteric pathogens have been verified as the culprit, studies have shown that the very same pathogens detected in edible products can also be found on common everyday pests.

It’s doubtful that the average person is cognizant that the colorful façades of feral birds, who are often enticed to feed in domesticated gardens, can be deadly vectors of the virulent E. coli O157:H7 pathogen. Or, that the malicious negative phototropism cockroach, which assails Mikey’s poorly wrapped sugar cereal in the food pantry, can spread pathogenic microorganisms such as coliforms, Salmonella, Clostridium and Streptococcus. Even the harmless looking, but onerous housefly and its many progeny are capable of wreaking havoc by bringing Typhoid, Dysentery and Staphylococcal infections to exposed kitchen counters, utensils and foods themselves.

Contracted pest control companies may only visit a processing plant once a week or several times a month. So what happens if there’s a spontaneous ground or cicada attack in between inspections? By hiring a pest control company to show up several times a month accompanied with rote reports of their inspections will not ensure proper pest control is really being achieved.

Merely calling the pest control company to take care of a sudden infestation might only solve the problem in the interim, while adding to one’s monthly pest bill. There is no guarantee that the same or similar problem will not crop up again. Call-backs have always been lucrative for pest control companies. Daily in-house preventive measures that are performed, documented and verified by plant personnel will help to ensure pest control order is being achieved on a daily basis while contemporaneously precluding possible cross-contamination, possible down time and call-back monies.

Contracted pest control services should only be perceived by plant management as being an essential component of a plants’ overall pest control management program. By utilizing copies of the pest control company’s bait maps, the daily monitoring of both interior and exterior areas of the facility by a responsible plant employee can be accomplished and documented. By assigning daily pest inspections, beginning from the plant’s outer demarcation property line to the plants interior buildings, can company’s detect early signs of invasion and quickly put into place remedial and preventive actions.

Successful battles against pests can be accomplished with a variety of environmental friendly and purely holistic deterrent measures that can be carried out safely by the processing company itself. The following is a suggestive check list that companies can utilize as part of their pest control management program for abating pests:

  • Replacing worn non-toxic glueboards/ strips for both terrain and air invading pests that are chemically safe. These can serve as visual semaphores of any looming pest activities for both inside and outside buildings. Over time, documentation of invading pests can be gathered to form a “seasonal trend analysis” that can be referenced to in battling against harbinger pests.
  • Clearing of brush, weeds, tree appendages and dissimilar flora from direct contact with buildings. Ideally a clearance of at least 12 feet from all building structures from foliage is ideal.
  • Daily hosing of sidewalks, exterior employee break areas, including parking lots, will expunge any residual excreted pheromones and other attractants including the pest scouts themselves.
  • Placing of trash and recycling containers down wind and away from buildings. Exterior trash barrels lined with plastic and changed out every day.
  • All exterior storage of material oddments (wooden pallets, maintenance materials, etc.) placed on racks or dissimilar objects will enable storage of at least six inches up off the ground.
  • Placing of nighttime lighting fixtures (yellow vapor lighting) away from the building, thus naturally coaxing nocturnal pests away from buildings.
  • Weekly employee locker inspections supplemented by company policies that prohibit the storage of food and beverages in lockers.
  • Providing refrigerators for employee storage of foods and beverages.
  • Consistent and preventive good house keeping practices commingled with sound infrastructure maintenance protocols (i.e.; shoring up entry areas of the plant such as door jams, windows, vents, dock doors, etc.) will limit most pest infiltrations.

Pest control companies serve a significant role as the “lead stewards” in battling unwanted pests while concomitantly consulting plant management with pragmatic pest abatement tutelage. However, processing establishments ultimately possess the day to day responsibility and accountability with regards to controlling unwanted pests.

Food processors should perform documented audits several times a year with their contracted pest control company. A high percentage of plants will be surprised with their initial findings. Periodic meetings between plant management and the pest control company should be scheduled to communicate audit results and create collective plans of corrections and preventive improvements. Pest control companies need to be attentive to the fact that they will be audited, monitored and held accountable for their paid contracted performances.

A good starting point for a generic pest control audit includes the following areas:

  • Is the pest control operator(s) (PCO) licensed, insured and certified? Are all of the certificates updated and available upon request?
  • Is there a written customized pest control program that meets the unique needs of the processing company at hand?
  • Are the internal and external trap maps of the facility updated and accurate?
  • Are the pesticides that are used approved by all germane regulatory agencies (i.e.; EPA, USDA, OSHA, etc.) including individual handling procedures on file?
  • Is there MSDS sheets available for each pesticide used?
  • Are the PCO service reports, including relevant usage logs, current and available for review?
  • Is there a seasonal pest activity trend report with corrective actions identified?
  • Are all pest traps located so as not to contaminate product, packaging material and equipment?
  • Is it necessary to store pesticides/poisons on site? If so, are they stored with lock and key accompanied with an ongoing inventory?
  • Is an assigned plant employee contacted beforehand whenever pest service is rendered in consideration of both plant and food safety/security?
  • Is plant management made aware in advance of any interior non-residual crack and crevice treatments?
  • Are the number and placement of exterior bait stations clean of dirt and debris following each inspection? Are the poison bait stations fully loaded, secured and tamper resistant?
  • Are doors, docks and other building openings pest resistant?
  • Are insect control devices properly positioned and fully maintained?
  • Have exterior harborage sites been identified and eliminated?
  • Is there any evidence of internal or external pest activity? If so what were the corrective actions taken and what preventive actions will be implemented.

Under the Sanitation Performance Standards for USDA Inspected Establishments, 9 CFR 416.2 cites: “Grounds and pest control: The grounds about an establishment must be maintained to prevent conditions that could lead to unsanitary conditions, adulteration of product, or interfere with inspection by FSIS program employees. Establishments must have in place a pest control management program to prevent the harborage and breeding of pests on the grounds and within establishment facilities. Pest control substances used must be safe and effective under the conditions of use and not be applied or stored in a manner that will result in the adulteration of product or the creation of unsanitary conditions.”

Any food company’s custom tailored pest control management program is not expected to completely eradicate the variegated pests. That’s biologically quixotic. However, food and beverage establishments can manage and control pests to acceptable levels just as they eschew virulent pathogens from the commodity goods that they produce.

Pesticides do not always have to be used when combating pests. Common sense, good house keeping practices, and preventive maintenance protocols to building infrastructures will generally preclude a lot of pest control problems from even starting.

Like HACCP systems, a viable pest control management program should be constantly modified according to the unique needs of each company.

Remain proactive with your focused efforts while including the experienced counsel of your pest control company. Actively share with them both the responsibility and accountability of your binary pest control management goals and objectives.

Steve Sayer is a 25-year veteran of the beef industry and food safety for S and R Consulting (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) Reach him at steve_sayer_westland@yahoo.com.

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