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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2005

Establishing a Pest Management Program

It’s never too late to launch a battle with the bugs

by Steve Sayer

There is one common goal among all processing plants with regards to pest control, and that is a zero tolerance for any and all pests to pace or soar inside processing facilities including their direct exposures to the 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 to assist quality assurance and safety managers in the war against pests.

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 facility that works in union with the hired pest control company’s written plan.

The fight against invading pests can be a processing plant’s “Sisyphean Boulder” if not kept in check. All food and beverage plants typically create an oasis for heat, moisture, light, shelter, various olfactory perceptions, and victual oddments every day of the year. Obviously each individual food plant’s inherent biota environment will have its own unique eclectic pests that it 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.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that food and beverage contamination can occur anywhere or anytime along the farm-to-table continuum. Though various forms of enteric pathogens have many times been verified as being the culprit for contamination, 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, that assails 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.

Consistency Conquers

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.

Processing facilities must conduct internal audits of a contracted pest control company. Traditionally, pest management has always been placed low on a company’s priority totem pole. This is due to many explanations, with one certainly being an uncanny propensity of an over-dependence mind-set by plant management towards hired pest control companies.

“They’re taking care of it – don’t worry, what else is on my agenda” has been and continues to be the quintessential attitude taken by many. This managerial attitude of blind over-dependence apathy more than naught will result with varying degrees of continued pest control failures.

Preparing for Battle

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 themselves. Listed below is a suggestive check list that company’s can utilize themselves as part of their pest control management program:

  • Replacing worn non-toxic glue boards/ strips for both terrain and air invading pests that are chemically safe that 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.
  • Trim brush, weeds, tree appendages and dissimilar flora from direct contact with buildings. Ideally a clearance of at least12 feet of separation 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 re-cycling 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.) is placed on racks or dissimilar objects that will enable storage of at least 6-inches off the ground.
  • Place nighttime lighting fixtures (yellow vapor lighting) away from the building, coaxing nocturnal pests away from buildings.
  • Perform weekly employee locker inspections to deter storage of food and beverages in lockers.
  • Provide 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.

Self Stewarding

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 processors can ultimately possess the day-to-day responsibility and accountability in pest management.

Food processors should perform documented audits several times a year of their contracted pest control company. A high percentage of plants will be surprised with initial findings. Periodic meetings between plant management and their 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 and monitored and will be held accountable for their paid contracted performances.

The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA, which regulates the meat and poultry industries, does not require that a licensed pest control company be hired for pest abatement. The full burden of responsibility regarding pest control is placed entirely and squarely on the shoulders of Plant Management.

According to 9 CFR 416.2, under the Sanitation Performance Standards for USDA Inspected Establishments, “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.”

Battles against pests may be won but the war against them never ends. 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 they produce.

It’s been proven over the years that pesticides do not always have to be resorted to 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 starting.

A concerted effort should be made to review and cross- pollinate all of your company’s pest control efforts. With your hired pest control company, add new ideas into your pest control management program. 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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