Next-Generation Rodent Management Moves Off the Wall

Departments - From the Advisory Board

April 9, 2013

What would you do if your pest management provider asked to meet with you before the next service and said, “Based on a data analysis of your facility’s pest history, I’d like to reduce the rodent bait stations and traps set up around your property by 50%, and, instead, spend time proactively inspecting to prevent rodent issues.”

If you are like a majority of those responding to a University of Minnesota study, you would expect your service fees to drop along with the equipment reduction.

In reality, however, spending the same amount of time inspecting as was previously spent in checking stations will provide your plant with a much more preventive approach, which not only will provide for a more effective pest management program overall, but also will be more in line with the preventive controls focus of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

To provide more explanation, I’d like to give a bit of background on the work I’ve done in this area. As discussed in a previous QA article (An Evolution in Rodent Management, November/December 2009), I have worked with a team of scientists and industry experts for the last several years assessing rodent management programs. It began as a sustainability initiative with Walmart, for which I worked with Purdue University on a 2 1/2-year field study to determine the efficacy of standard pest programs and whether rodenticide use could be reduced. While the research found that the rodent program could be more “green” (i.e., rodenticide reduced), a more surprising finding was that the number of traps could be reduced. 

Since then, we not only have continued our research, but we have expanded it to implement and consult on next-generation rodent management programs for numerous food plants, warehouses, and distribution centers across the industry. The ultimate outcome of the research and programs is that there needs to be a dramatic shift in the emphasis of pest management practices.

At the Wall.
For decades, rodent management has relied on the placement of stations or traps every [audit-specified number of] feet along a food facility’s fence line and around the building walls. The variable in number of feet was based on which audit scheme was being followed and/or who was inspecting the plant. And pest management providers spent all their time walking along the wall checking the stations and traps.

But what was the basis of those trap distances or even using traps as a sole method of control? If there was any science behind it, I could never find it. The closest thing I found was a 1940s Army program, which was based on a statistic that the average foraging range of rodents was 40 feet, so they placed traps 40 feet apart to keep rodents away.

Whether there was any accurate science behind that or not, our field research found that it provides little to no basis for trap placement at that (or any other pre-defined) distance around a food facility. Rather, we found that rodent problems are more likely to develop in the center of warehouse areas, having been brought in with incoming goods. Thus, you need to be very careful of the assumption that rodents come in from outside—and the reliance on traps to keep them from coming in that way.

This is because we found that, in most cases, an average of 60 percent of the traps that were placed had never caught a rodent, and in many cases, “activity” that was found at a trap or bait station was not necessarily that of rodents. Rather, non-target animals, such as voles, shrews, and snakes were being trapped or even insects, such as crickets, eating the bait.

This is not to say that rodents are never caught in traps, never eat the bait, or never come in from outside, but with the data showing that it is far less a hazard then the every-X-foot placement of traps would warrant, this should not be a facility’s first line of defense or even primary focus.

What should determine your defense?

A pest management program should not be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, or let-us-tell-you-what-you-need program. No two food facilities are alike, so no two pest management programs should be exactly alike either. Rather, the program—just like all other aspects of the new FSMA rules—should be science- and risk-based, determined by thorough and ongoing inspection and historical data, with the program then based on and driven by the resulting data.

From this point on, then, the pest management service provider can use the time previously spent checking ineffectual traps and replacing bait eaten by non-target animals to proactively inspect and continue building data from which the program can be continuously improved, conducive conditions eliminated, and corrective action taken or recommended. Then, if and where warranted, minimal equipment can be placed—which is then used as monitoring tools to continue to derive data.

Additionally, your pest management provider can work with your dock workers to help train them on inspecting incoming trucks for evidence of rodents (or other pests), using blacklight to detect urine trails, etc.—so that you truly are preventing rodents at the source before they can infest your facility.

So if your pest management provider comes in for an upcoming service and tells you that he wants to start gradually reducing the number of rodent traps and stations, and instead spend time inspecting, don’t think this means that he’s reducing his service—or price. Instead, be thankful that you have a next-generation service provider, who is truly assessing the needs your facility and focusing the pest management program accordingly, rather than simply walking the wall in a one-size-fits-all, non-targeted service.