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

Pest Management ABCs

Acquiring knowledge, implementing best practices and a commitment is the name of the pest management game.

by Ron Harrison

One of the often overlooked, but most critical parts of an effective pest management program is making sure your building isn’t an inviting environment to pests.

By using simple maintenance and monitoring techniques, plant managers can hang up a “No Vacancy” sign for pests, reduce the need for pesticides, and boost their food safety audit scores.

Consider the “ABCs of Pest Habitat Modification.” The first step is “acquiring knowledge” of the building inside and out. Once you’ve identified your facility’s vulnerable points, it’s time to implement “best practices” to mitigate those issues. The third step is to instill a “commitment” to the program among employees.

Together, these steps help form the building blocks of an integrated pest management (IPM) program. Working with a trained pest management provider to implement these “ABCs” will ultimately strengthen your IPM program and help keep pests out in the first place.

Tailor Landscaping

As you set out to acquire knowledge about the exterior of your building, landscaping is a good place to start. The first thing to know about landscaping is that no vegetation should touch the building. The best practice in this case is simple. All vegetation should be trimmed back two to three feet away from the building.

By pruning the vegetation, you eliminate an easy access route for pests into the facility. There are also landscaping features you can use that will discourage pests from getting too close. Consider installing a 36-inch wide gravel strip around the perimeter of the building. Rodents will be discouraged from crossing this open area and the gravel can pose an obstacle to crawling insects.

Water is an essential ingredient for all life, and that certainly includes pests. That’s why it is essential to monitor and remove standing water around the property during exterior inspections. There are several areas where water might accumulate. Pools of water often develop around drainage pipes or downspouts and on parking lots and rooftops. Besides needing water to drink, many insects actually breed in water; the most common example being mosquitoes. By carefully surveying the building and eliminating standing water, you can actually lessen pest populations inside and around your facility.

Getting a Grip on Garbage

Garbage dumpsters can influence pest activity around a building. Debris placed inside a dumpster is often very attractive to pests, especially houseflies, rodents and ants. Two important steps will help prevent pests from gathering at your dumpster and entering the building.

First, place the dumpster as far away from the building as possible. Second, have your waste management company clean or replace your dumpster periodically. This will help reduce the number of pests and minimize the chance they’ll find a way into the building.

Keeping Them Out

Obviously all buildings need utilities such as electricity, natural gas and water. Unfortunately, oversized holes in exterior walls are often found where pipes enter the building. Those holes can serve as an open door for pests trying to find a way inside. A mouse can fit its entire body through an opening the size of a dime and roaches only need 1/16 of an inch to squeeze through.

It is very important to identify the entry points for all utilities and make sure a highway for pests isn’t being provided. Just like the openings for utility pipes, other cracks and crevices in the building foundation or frame can leave the door wide open for pests. Use caulk or expanding foam to seal gaps around utility lines and any other holes or cracks in the masonry.

Pests are usually attracted to a building for one of three reasons. Either they are interested in light, are attracted by odors emanating from the building or they are looking for an ideal climate to set up camp.

When it comes to lighting on the outside of your building, make sure you don’t “set the mood” for pests. Flying insects are attracted to certain wavelengths of light and you can either encourage or discourage that attraction based on where your lights are placed and what type of lighting you use.

Exterior lights should be mounted away from a facility so that they shine back toward the building. This helps draw insects away, while still providing adequate light. When lights must be used close to the building, the best practice is to use sodium vapor bulbs as this type of light is much less attractive to pests.

Some food and beverage processing plants have hundreds of people on the production floor at a given time. In many cases, employees use entrances and exits around the clock, so it’s easy to see how the simple act of opening and closing a door could impact pest presence in the facility. Pest management professionals and plant managers should ensure all doors form a good seal to the outside when shut and try to avoid leaving doors propped open as this provides easy access to pests.

If your plant has ample windows, the same rule should be applied. They should not be left open and should include properly installed screens that are intact. In fact, no pest – not even the smallest gnat – can break through a properly affixed #16 mesh screen.

Rooftop Reinforcement

As you examine the outside of the building, make sure this includes a roof inspection. The rooftop of a commercial facility can provide a variety of harborage areas or access points for pests.

An inspection checklist for the roof should include a look at your HVAC units. Often these units are mounted on top of two pieces of wood, leaving a harborage area underneath that is accessible to pests like rodents and birds. All HVAC units should have a vinyl seal around the bottom to keep pests from living and nesting underneath them.

Check rooftop utility penetrations to make sure they aren’t providing entry to pests. Be on the lookout for standing water and take note of the edges of your building as unwanted birds may perch there. Roof spikes installed in potential perching areas will discourage birds.

Once you’ve taken a close look at the exterior of your building it’s time to move inside and see what else can be done to ward off pests. An HVAC system can help prevent pests on the inside of the building too. If the system is set up properly, it can create “positive air pressure,” meaning air flows out of the building every time a door or window is opened. This helps repel flying insects from open doors and windows.

You can test to see if your building has positive airflow by holding a match or a lighter at an exterior door and opening the door. If the flame blows toward the outside, you have positive air pressure.

The most effective pest prevention tool on the interior – and a cornerstone of an integrated pest management (IPM) program – is good housekeeping. Facilities that follow a strict sanitation schedule will have fewer pest problems – it’s that simple.

For the sake of efficiency, the sanitation schedule should focus on potential pest “hot spots” inside the facility. Production and storage areas – anywhere foodstuffs are found – are obvious hot spots. For food safety reasons, production areas are typically on the regular sanitation schedule, but storage areas can be an easy target for pests. Be sure to check for pests, regularly in storage areas and immediately clean up any spills, especially those involving food ingredients.

Vending machine areas or lunchrooms are also good examples of pest hot spots. Employees need break areas, but leftover food, soda cans and garbage containers often found in such places can quickly turn them into gathering spots for pests, too.

Encourage employees to keep break areas clean – simply rinsing plates and soda cans after using them is a good start. Diligent garbage removal should be standard practice throughout the building. Are all trashcans emptied daily? They should be.

Keep a close watch for pests in bathrooms and kitchens, too. Pests are attracted to the moisture found in such areas. Kitchen floor drains are especially desirable for certain pests because they contain a greasy buildup of organic matter that offers an ideal breeding and feeding ground. Make sure to clean inside and around these drains regularly as part of the sanitation plan.

Pests are always going to try and find a way into our buildings. By implementing the habitat modification techniques just discussed, you can actually make your facility much less appealing and drastically reduce pest encroachment.

Remember to “acquire knowledge” about your building, implement “best practices” and instill a “commitment to the program.” By doing so, you’ll also take a huge step toward making your IPM program a success.

Dr. Ron Harrison, is an entomologist and training director for Orkin, Inc. Reach him at



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