At one point in my career, I worked at a facility that was capacity constrained. No matter how many hours we produced in a year, we still couldn’t meet orders or clean to the level that we should have. As a result, insect evidence and consumer complaints followed. The solution was to shift to a three-day shutdown for infrastructure and equipment deep cleaning in high-risk areas at the beginning of “insect season,” which for us was May through October. This extra time reduced insects and consumer complaints.

Although I am no longer involved in that facility, I still see and feel the challenge to keep a bakery at an acceptable level of cleanliness in the time allotted given production schedules.

For many bakeries and snack plants, this is a busy time of the year as schools are in session and the holiday season is just around the corner. During these times it becomes difficult to stay current on routine equipment cleaning and even more challenging to stay on top of cleaning infrastructure such as overheads. It’s not possible to completely clean these areas while running production, and this opens the window for stored grain pest proliferation. When insects have an opportunity to live, grow and prosper undisturbed, their trails and other live sightings create an unsanitary condition.

Most bakeries use pest management techniques: exclusion or keeping pests out of the facility, minimizing growth potential by eliminating harborage areas and food sources (like flour dust) and, if necessary, killing insects with pesticides. This is the least ideal strategy. It is difficult to expect good sanitation control if these types of chemicals are applied to a dirty surface like a floor wall junction, so keeping a plant clean is very important.

When pesticides like methyl bromide were commonly used in the industry, it was routine to fumigate bakeries several times a year on holidays. This would provide a level of control to infestation, but the plant was not always thoroughly cleaned, and shortly thereafter insects would reappear. The industry thought it could not survive without routine use of methyl bromide, but for the most part, it has been doing well with more cleaning, some heat treatments and other control techniques.

Insects are tenacious and always find a way to breach the walls of a plant. When they do, they seek out ideal living conditions. Just like any living creature, insects want ample food, warmth and protection from enemies. The way to control them is to make conditions less desirable. This means eliminating accumulation of food debris for eating and nesting. Cleanliness is the insect’s No. 1 enemy.

A busy production schedule that restricts the sanitation team’s presence is good news for insect pests. This is especially true in production and storage areas where fugitive flour dust may stick to overheads and walls or in corners and other harborage places. Restricting fugitive flour dust is an important strategy to minimize hours of removing dust, insect trails and, of course, insects.

Scheduling time for sanitation and preventive maintenance tasks during peak production periods is a winning strategy. Without proper planning, maintenance and sanitation will show up to work on a piece of equipment or in an area only to find that the equipment or facility is not available for scheduled tasks.

Planning and scheduling can be done through a preventive maintenance management system. Map out available time using a 52-week planner to identify cleaning and maintenance windows for each major task. Ideally, planning downtime for equipment and infrastructure cleaning should happen at the beginning of the year during plant capacity review and the establishment of the master production schedule. Management must provide the time needed for cleaning and maintenance and stick to the agreement on planned shutdowns.

Sanitation takes planning, hard work and a smart strategy that uses a variety of techniques and controls. Most importantly, it takes spirited leadership to inspire success and make a difference.

Joe Stout is a contributing editor for Baking & Snack and the founder and president of Commercial Food Sanitation. Connect with Mr. Stout at