Critical pest prevention measures during the pandemic for food processors
by Alice Sinia, Ph.D., Quality Assurance Manager – Regulatory/Lab Services, Orkin Canada
Although any pest is detrimental for stock, food safety and audit scores, rodents are particularly troublesome
For food manufacturing and processing facilities, pest management should be a constant consideration for managers, especially now since other regular food sources for pests have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although any pest is detrimental for stock, food safety and audit scores, rodents are particularly troublesome. Plus, they love stored food goods! Knowing what signs to look for as well as the environments that attract pests can help avoid costly reactive measures down the line. Prevention measures also help with reputation management as it can be difficult for a facility to recover from pest and food safety issues. The best defense against pests, especially rodents, is to stop them from ever entering the building.
Below are some signs of rodent and pest activity, as well as how to regularly assess your facility for any indication of pests.
Rodents are known for carrying and transmitting diseases and illnesses, as well as being a sanitation issue for plants in the food industry. Commercial sites such as food processing or manufacturing facilities that have remained fully operational during the COVID-19 pandemic have likely seen (or potentially not noticed) an uptick in rodent populations as food sources, like restaurants and other commercial establishments, closed as a result of lockdown orders. In populated areas, the main food source for rodents is usually garbage, so without this regular trash output rodents may seek trash at food processing facilities and even move inside in search of stored products.
Rodents burrow on premises; paths in grassy areas or trails made of grease indoors are a sign of rodent activity onsite. Gnaw marks or holes chewed out of food storage containers such as cardboard boxes or plastic bags is also a sign of rodent activity. Loose materials such as shredded paper, cardboard boxes, leaves and things of the like can become nesting spots or feeding stations, so check for any hidden crumbs piled up for later meals. Droppings and urine stains near stored products or exterior walls are also red flags for rodent presence.
Where products are stored can have a large influence on rodents’ ability to infiltrate stored goods. Inspecting packages upon delivery (before storing) can help differentiate rodent activity during transit from any suspected rodent presence onsite. Rotating all inventory on a first-in, first-out basis can also help ensure certain goods do not stay stored in facilities for long periods of time, increasing the likelihood of rodents gaining unnoticed access to these undisturbed items. One of the best ways to avoid rodents getting into stored products indoors is to house the products at least half a metre off the ground and away from exterior walls.
General pest management
While rodents are one of the greatest threats to food storage and food processing facilities during this time, many pests can be a risk factor. The reality is, these facilities provide all the basic needs for pests’ survival – food, water and shelter. Moisture sources, such as leaking roofs and pipes or processing machinery that utilizes pools of water, can attract pests. Cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes specifically look for puddles of water, especially in warmer months. Drains on plant floors, dirty grout on tile flooring and rinsing areas that stay wet are common traps for damp organic material, offering a breeding spot for small flies.
The processing and manufacturing floors are not the only place that can be a hot spot for pest activity – pests will find any hiding spot that provides nourishment. Employee breakrooms, storage areas and kitchens are often overlooked spots where pests can set up camp. Be sure to regularly wipe down countertops to avoid ants gathering around sugary spills. Take out the trash and rinse out the inside of trash cans daily, as buildup at the bottom of receptacles can offer breeding grounds to flies. Always unplug appliances such as coffee makers at the end of the day as warm, dark and damp spaces are exactly where cockroaches look to burrow. Make sure clutter is taken care of at least once a week, as rodents often seek shelter in undisturbed areas of wrappers, cardboard and other litter.
How to handle pest activity
Regular self-assessments for signs of pest infiltrations should always be conducted by employees. Awareness is often a facility’s first line of defense against a pest issue. If evidence of pest activity is found in your facility, the first step is to contact your pest management provider to assess the situation as these signs of pest activity are critical for effective corrective actions. Once the affected areas are assessed and cleaned, preventive pest proofing measures can be taken – caulking cracks in exterior walls, ensuring solid seals around doors and windows, taking trash outside of the building daily, keeping stored food products off the ground and away from exterior walls, and maintaining a generally clean environment. After preventive measures are put in place, continue to monitor the impacted areas to ensure those efforts were successful. Document any further pest issues you notice and consult your pest management provider. Together, conduct a reevaluation of your integrated pest management program to ensure that it still meets your pest control and audit requirements; and that issues are addressed so operations continue to run smoothly.
Pests and food facilities are never a good match, especially in current times when food sources are scarcer than usual and cleanliness is at the top of everyone’s minds. Be sure to regularly assess properties for signs of pest issues and take the necessary steps to solve the issue as soon as possible to avoid a hit to your facility’s reputation and bottom line.
Alice Sinia, Ph.D. is a quality assurance manager of regulatory/lab Services for Orkin Canada, focusing on government regulations pertaining to the pest control industry.
With more than 20 years of experience, she manages the quality assurance laboratory for Orkin Canada and performs analytical entomology as well as provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. For more information, email Alice Sinia at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.orkincanada.com.