Pest Control Management – a Vital Part of Food Safety

By Jaan Koel 

Years ago, controlling pests, was the bailiwick of “baseboard jockeys” as they were called, who basically used sprays containing pesticides, rodenticides (rat poison) and a host of other substances to keep a food production facility free from insects, birds, rodents and other unwanted guests.

Today, that’s changed. Baseboard jockeys have been replaced by skilled pest control management specialists and service technicians, who regard prevention rather than chemical treatment as the priority. This makes good sense: if you can keep pests from getting into or around a facility in the first place, chemical usage can be reduced, even eliminated. And that’s a big plus in food manufacturing for obvious reasons.

That said, chemicals are still needed, and still very much a part of the pest control management industry, which in 2012 in the US billed $6.8 billion, consisted of 17,800 companies, and employed 125,000 service technicians.

A Fear and a Threat

Public health officials attribute the quality of life we have today to three things: better pharmaceuticals and vaccines, better sanitation and better pest control. The Army Community Service of Fort Drum, NY, cited a survey that ranked bugs and insects as the public’s third greatest fear, behind public speaking and heights.

Pests, of course, have no place in a facility that manufactures or serves food. Rats bite 45,000 people each year, and carry fever, salmonella, trichinosis, murine typhus, the plague, leptospirosis, and other disease causing pathogens. Cockroaches and flies, by walking through contaminated areas, the worst being sewage, can introduce e-coli, streptococcus, molds, salmonella, yeasts, clostridia, and a host of other bacteria into food.

Every segment of the food industry nowadays is required to have an effective and integrated pest control management program in place. HACCP standards require this, because pest control is considered to be a critical control point. Other standards, such as those accredited by GFSI, go further in their management and auditing requirements.

“We’re seeing tougher rules and regulations regarding pests all the time, and one of our responsibilities to our clients is keeping ahead of the curve so we can help them meet new requirements,” says Mike Heimbach, Marketing Manager at Abell Pest Control in Etobicoke, Ontario. “One thing we’ve developed for our customers is our own Electronic Site Management system, which our IT department can update, modify, and custom-fit for each client.”

Member companies belonging to the Food Protection Alliance, which provides services to companies across North America, have similar electronic management systems, as do other large service providers. “Clients nowadays want quick access to monitoring data for mechanical traps, UV light traps, outdoor bait stations, types of pests, and other things,” says Food Protection Alliance Manager Mike Hendrickson. “These systems feature hand-held bar code readers that communicate with the client’s on-line pest management software and provide excellent analysis and audit capabilities.”

Richard Kammerling works for RK Pest Management Services in Huntington Station, NY. RK Pest Management is not a service provider, but a consulting firm that clients hire to troubleshoot their existing pest control management programs. According to Kammerling, a well-designed integrated pest management program (IPM) includes the following essential elements:

 

  1. Monitoring: combining electronic tracking with regular visual checks of all trap stations.
  2. Identification: knowing the habits and biology of pests (breeding cycles, what they prefer as a food source, etc.).
  3. Inspection & Facility Maintenance: Conducting regularly scheduled and thorough inspections. Also making sure there are no cracks in building walls or around man-doors where pests can enter. Making sure doors close quickly and stay closed.
  4. Sanitation: Maintaining a clean environment that makes it difficult for pests to thrive (no garbage, food residues, minimal odors, etc).
  5. Documentation: Maintaining accurate and detailed service records (e.g., rodent activity logs, insect light traps, glue boards, inspection reports, etc.) to assist in continuous improvement of the overall program.
  6. Communication: Keeping lines of communication open between service technicians and facility management so potential problems can be anticipated and remedied as they arise.

“As consultants, we take a close look at the service technicians the customer is using to ensure they’re properly trained,” says Kammerling. “If not, we train them. Pest control management is about a lot more than just checking traps. Top management support is critical, as is communications between service technicians and the managers of the facility. That can become the weakest part of pest control management in our estimation.”

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