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

Baffled by Bugs?

It starts with you, your employees, a good sanitation program and the elimination of food and shelter sources.

by Daniel M. Zaura

The business of food safety and sanitation auditing has its roots from the business of pest control. In the early 1900s, concerns over food safety came to light when it was discovered that rodents, insects, birds, and other pests, as well as family pets, could adulterate our food supply. Inspections of food processors and food service establishments originally concentrated on pest findings. This activity discovered other activities that needed control, such as building maintenance and structure, employee practices, and overall housekeeping and cleaning.

Many inspection firms started out just being pest control inspectors, and have since expanded to include other areas of their businesses. While today, pest control for a facility’s inspection usually amounts to only 20 to 30 percent of its overall grade or rating, it is still extremely important. Failure of having good pest control usually leads to public exposure, bad publicity, and possible closing of your business.

Insects, rodents, and other pests pose serious problems for food processors and resturarants. They are unsightly to customers, and also damage food, supplies, and the facility itself. The greatest danger from pests comes from their ability to spread diseases, including food borne illnesses.

Keeping Pests Out

The first step in a pest-free environment is the establishment of an integrated pest management program. A successful program uses prevention measures to keep pests out of a food establishment, and uses control measures to eliminate any pests that are present. This program requires the utilization of a licensed pest control operator (PCO) as part of the IPM program. The use of a professional is essential, as they use safe and current methods to control and prevent pests. Waiting until there is a pest problem could become a major problem, as there may already be a major infestation present. The pest management program is considered a prerequisite program for any facility that has a HACCP program in place.

All pests enter any establishment in one of two ways. They enter either through openings within the building itself, or they come in with supplies. For the latter, it is important to have, in place, an incoming goods and trailer inspection program. This program starts with the use of approved, reputable suppliers for all your goods. These suppliers should have in place their own integrated pest management program. A trained receiving employee will check the overall condition of the trailer for any pest evidence, and also check the condition of the good received for pest evidence. All shipments with evidence of pests or signs of infestation must be refused.

Openings, holes, and cracks to the outside of a building allow pests to enter, hide, and start breeding. All windows and vents need to be screened, cracks in floors and walls sealed, all openings to the outside closed when not in use, and holes around pipes filled (see above). Doors to the outside should be self-closing, and gaskets installed on the bottom and sides, if there is visual evidence of any openings.

Eliminate Food, Shelter Opportunities

Pests, as do all living things, require food, water, and shelter to survive. We need to deny them these essentials. A clean and sanitary environment provides little opportunity for food and shelter. A stray pest cannot survive if there is no food or water available. Besides adhering to a comprehensive cleaning schedule, other steps include:

  • Garbage storage; keep containers in good condition, clean, and tightly covered in all areas, both outside and inside. Clean up all spills around garbage cans, and wash containers regularly;
  • Store all recyclables in clean, pest-proof containers, and away from the building;
  • Upon receipt of foods from suppliers, put them away quickly (within 30 minutes), and properly (store all foods at least 6 inches off the floors). Perishable foods must be stored in their proper area (cooler or freezer conditions), and dry storage areas should be 50-70ÞF with humidity at 50 percent or lower. Follow FIFO practices in storing foods;
  • Clean up all storage areas frequently, remove food and beverage spills immediately, and clean restrooms and toilets as often as needed.

With the popularity of outdoor dining areas, the same rules apply as with the inside of your establishment, by denying food and shelter opportunities for pests. In addition, the presence of birds, bees and wasps adds additional concerns. You can minimize pest activity with the following:

  • Keep grass mowed, remove weeds, eliminate growth next to buildings, and remove litter.
  • Garbage containers should be covered.
  • Quickly remove all dirty dishes and uneaten food from tables.
  • Do not allow guests or employees to feed birds or wildlife in the area.
  • Have the PCO remove any hives or nests in the area.
  • Locate insect light traps away from food, customers, employees, and serving areas.

Rodents, Roaches and Flies, Oh My!

The most common types of rodents are rats and mice. They have simple digestive systems, and will urinate and defecate as they move in a facility. Their waste will contaminate food and food surfaces. They hide during the day, hunt for food at night. Both rats and mice do not travel far from their nests. Mice can enter through a hole as small as a dime, and a rat as small as a quarter. Rats in particular, can jump three feet, and can climb up brick walls. Rats have good hearing, touch and smell, and are cunning enough to avoid certain poison bait and poorly laid traps. That is why it is imperative that their elimination requires the use of a professional PCO.

Infestation signs that rodents are present are droppings, gnawing, tracks and/or rub marks, holes in walls, live or dead sightings, nesting materials, or outside burrows.

The key to control of rodents is good sanitation practices—deny them food, water and shelter. For inside control, there are snap traps, glue boards, Tin Cats or Ketch-alls (multiple catch traps). Snap traps and glue boards must be checked daily, as a trapped rodent must be removed immediately after capture. Tin Cats or Ketch-alls are multiple catch units, and keep a trapped rodent covered until removed. These units should be checked at least weekly. Covered bait boxes, while legal, are not recommended inside, because bait can be removed from the trap, and the rodent will die outside of containment. On the outside, bait boxes containing poison are used, depending on local codes.

These roaches often carry pathogens such as salmonella, fungi, parasites and viruses. They reproduce quickly, and can adapt to some pesticides, making them difficult to control. They prefer warm, dark areas, and usually come in with the supplies. They give off an oily odor, and survive on paste and gum found in corrugated boxes and paper bags.

Infestation signs include droppings similar to grains of pepper, and capsule-shaped egg cases. They scurry about when lights are turned on, or when equipment is moved.

The key to control of cockroaches is, again, good sanitation, eliminating food and shelter, and seal up cracks and openings. Do not let trash accumulate, remove often.

Flies are a greater hazard than the cockroach because of their mobility, and their ability to transmit disease with their feet and vomitus. While not as disgusting to customers because of their acceptance as a normal “nuisance pest”, they can be more of a threat to food safety because of their mobility.

The key to prevention of flies is, again, good sanitation, by eliminating food and water sources. Doors and windows should be kept closed, and openings screened when necessary. All receiving doors to your establishment should have working air curtains. The use of insect light traps is encouraged, provided they are within local code, and positioned so as not to contaminate food or food contact surfaces. Glue strips may also be used, if allowed by local code. Never use pesticides or off-the-shelf-sprays, as this will more likely contaminate your food and food surfaces. As always, the use of a professional PCO is recommended.

Picking a Pest Control Operator (PCO)

Professional pest control operators should carry out most pest control services. They have been trained in the newest and most current methods and know of all current regulations. When choosing a PCO, make sure they have a current license for your state, and are insured. Talk to other managers in the business for their recommendations. When making your decision, always require a service contract, which would spell out the work to be performed and what is expected from both you and the PCO. After the initial inspection, the PCO should document a treatment plan specific to your facility and situation. Required documentation includes a trap device map, activity reports which include pesticide information, trend reports that indicate specific areas of concern, and MSDS and sample labels of pesticides used.

Between you and your pest control operator, a clear understanding of pests is the key to controlling them. It all starts with you and your employees, a good sanitation program and the elimination of food and shelter sources.

Daniel M. Zaura is a senior food safety consultant with ASI Food Safety Consultants (St. Louis, Mo.) He is a certified auditor in the FPA-SAFE program. Reach him at 800-477-0778.

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