Pest Control: Zero Tolerance

by Shane Whitaker
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Bakery and snack manufacturers need to be proactive when it comes to pest control. Companies nowadays cannot afford to wait until there is a problem to call in the professionals. Instead, Greg Baumann, director of technical services, Orkin, LLC, Atlanta, GA, said, “What they are saying is, ‘Help me prevent a problem. Help me monitor, and help me exclude pests from coming in.’”

In the past, people may have had a bit of tolerance as it related to pests. “I think today there is zero tolerance for pests inside a plant,” Mr. Baumann noted. “And what makes it even more of a situation for bakeries is that people have access to more information than they ever had before. So, if consumers do find a pest in their product, they are going to look it up on the Internet and know a lot about it before they even write the letter to the bakery.”

Federal regulations (21 CFR 110) state, “Effective measures shall be taken to exclude pests from the processing areas and to protect against the contamination of food on the premises by pests.” Operators who don’t heed this rule can be found criminally liable and headed to jail and hard time if convicted.

Additionally, if a pest issue leads to contamination or adulteration of finished products, a recall can be an extremely expensive undertaking. “But while the cost of a recall is bad,” Mr. Baumann said, “what is really terrible is a loss of reputation. People buy baked goods and snacks based on the good name of the bakery or the snack manufacturer. People buy because of the brand name, and it is the loss of reputation that could easily happen [if a pest infestation leads to a recall]. Usually pest control isn’t the No. 1 priority, but when there is a pest problem or there is a problem with a product because of pests, it becomes a No. 1 priority.”

PESTY PRESSURES.

In recent years, the pest control industry, as well as the baking and snack industries, have shifted away from control to prevention. Mr. Baumann explained, “It used to be that if there was a pest problem, you would call the pest control company; now, companies want to eliminate or greatly reduce the chances of a pest infestation, rather than wait until it’s a problem. And that is really smart. That is integrated pest management, and with today’s tools, you assess, you implement a prevention or correction, and then you monitor the effectiveness of your controls.”

Integrated pest management (IPM) is generally used by food manufacturers to maintain pest-free operations. “One of the real cornerstones of IPM is to assess the situation,” Mr. Baumann said. “And so you do a very thorough inspection. You look for signs of pest infestation, but you also look at what we call pest pressures from the outside.”

Because pests generally come into plants from the outside, facilities see more issues in the warmer months. “When the insects are moving outside, they are going to create more pressure on the plant itself,” he added. “Even worse, when they are active outside, the climate inside a plant seems to be more hospitable. In summertime, older bakeries, especially, can have higher humidity indoors, and insects seem to thrive in these conditions.”

Working with a professional pest control company can provide an extra sets of eyes to look for hidden insects and bugs in areas that otherwise may be overlooked. “People [who work in a facility] may walk by a hole in a wall for several days and not even notice it because they are so busy with their normal routine,” Mr. Baumann said.

Third-party inspectors performing food safety audits can assist with looking for areas where pests could enter a facility, but he pointed out that if the inspection is specifically designed for pests, then a pest control company is the best choice. “They will look at the physical condition of the building and make recommendations,” Mr. Baumann said. “They will look for spilled food products and for trash removal and how sealed trash systems are.

“Basically, what we do is look at every phase of the building and operation, with a pest viewpoint. Anytime we can reduce the chances, we are going to make suggestions,” he continued.

While inspectors look for signs of infestation, they also watch for pest pressures from around the facility and beyond. “The outside could be the loading dock or where materials are brought in,” Mr. Baumann said. “That is where there is a real increased chance of bringing something in, not necessarily from outside the plant but from the vehicle bringing in packaging materials or ingredients. You want to do a thorough inspection there, and you want to look for any signs of where pests could hide.”

Pests need three things: food, water and a place to live, a harborage. “If you can eliminate any or all of those, it greatly reduces the chances of infestation,” Mr. Baumann said.

Federal regulations about methods required of the plant operator for maintaining control of the grounds directly address the issue of eliminating pest harborages. They state that processors must properly store equipment, remove litter and waste, and cut weeds or grasses within the immediate vicinity of the plant that may constitute an attractant, breeding place or harborage for pests. Regulations also stipulate that food plants must adequately drain areas that may provide breeding places for pests.

OCCASIONAL INVADERS.

“One of the things we have seen recently is an emphasis on occasional invaders,” Mr. Baumann said. “These are not pests that would eat the products or infest the bags.”

For example, he said that the company has seen an increase in psocids, or booklice, in moist areas of food processing plants. Psocids don’t attack flour, but they feed on molds. “They create quite a problem,” Mr. Baumann noted.

Springtails, tiny wingless insects, are another occasional invader. “We have seen an increase in springtails in moist areas, especially the washdown areas of bakeries,” he said.

Rodent control, of course, is one of the most important components of any pest control program. “There are not a lot of plants where rodents are just running about, but just about every food plant has strong rodent control,” Mr. Baumann said.

COMMON FAILURES.

Good sanitation practices are essential for any pest management program; thus, keeping the plant and grounds clean and well-maintained is necessary to minimize potential for pest intrusion. Also, all quality, safety and sanitation programs need to be monitored, so the plant’s quality group can verify procedures are being done properly and effectively.

Plants must allocate the time and resources necessary to educate and train employees regarding their IPM programs, whether they use a contractor for pest management or decide to oversee the program internally. It is important that employees understand how and why certain steps are being taken. Among the more common issues are a lack of trending; failure to properly place, monitor and maintain traps; and an over-reliance on third-party audits.

As for trending, data from monitoring live traps such as glue boards, bait stations, insect light traps or pheromone traps should be collected and analyzed to determine if issues are developing or if weaknesses exist in a facility’s defenses. Pest control operators are not doing their job if they’re not monitoring this data because trending information will support decisions about the pest management program.

Next, companies must ensure that the steps they take are working effectively. For example, companies generally install preventive measures such as air curtains to discourage flying pests, and these systems should run continuously or be installed with solenoids that activate airflow when the door is opened. The airflow should cover the whole width of the door, be sufficient to prevent flying insects from entering the plant and be directed slightly outward. Unfortunately, these units often fail to work properly, yet plant operators do not monitor them or their operation. In fact, few processors maintain records of air curtain inspections or preventive maintenance on the units.

Lastly, how a facility responds to third-party audit can be another area of concern. Many plants may react simply because an auditor decided to write them up on an issue. The problem is not that the auditors are wrong, but that some audit companies have evolved to the point where they feel that one size fits all.

Also, all employees should be involved with pest management programs, Mr. Baumann added. Plants need a mechanism in place to ensure that if a line employee sees a pest, there is way to log it. “Then, the next time the professional pest control company comes in, they will note that somebody saw some flies at a location. They can go look and see what they can find,” he said.

However, bakeries should never let employees research their own concoctions and mix chemicals. “You might say that is common sense,” Mr. Baumann said. “But I speak a lot to outside groups, and it is amazing how many times people — in-house employees, not necessarily at bakeries — will ask things like, ‘Can I mix ammonia and this? I hear that really works.’ And the answer is, ‘No. Do not try to do that.’ I think that is probably the worst possible situation.”

Also, if a company is doing in-house pest control, Mr. Baumann stressed that managers should do their homework, attend conferences and learn what products work and which ones are not so effective in their situation. Some products, for example, should not be laid down in high-moisture areas because they will just wash away. “I would say, ‘Keep up with the latest technology and make sure your toolbox includes the latest research,’” he added.

A pest management program must be an integral part of every bakery or snack manufacturing facility. Not taking the risks associated with pests seriously could cause severe consequences to the company and its brands. Whether pest management is handled in-house or through a vendor, companies must be vigilant in assessing and monitoring the programs they have in place. Employees must understand and be involved for a plant to have the most effective program.

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