Pest Management in the Food Facility of the Future

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December 10, 2013

As the New Year approaches, now is a good time to look to the future and discuss some of the pest management challenges, technologies and changing environments food facilities will need to embrace in 2014 and beyond. Following are areas that Patricia Hottel, technical director at Illinois-based McCloud Services sees as areas that food facilities will need to be aware of in pest management in 2014.

  • Pest pressures around food facilities are increasing, and our ability to manage pests will continue to require innovation and change. Invasive pest species such as the brown marmorated stink bug and kudzu bug provide new control challenges. Both of these insects are agricultural pests and will overwinter in structures in large numbers causing problems for both farmers and food processors. They are not native species and are spreading rapidly. In addition to the true bug invasives, there have been some new invasive ant species introduced in the south, such as the Caribbean crazy ant and the Asian needle ant. With global commerce, the risks from invasive species are likely to continue.
     
  • Protection of the environment will likely continue, and this can impact pest management. A recent example of this can be seen in regulations designed to protect pollinating insects. Some of these same pollinators can provide sting hazards to food plant staff in sugar processing facilities. Innovative techniques are required to protect both employees and the environment.
     
  • Pest management companies may expand service offerings to accommodate budget cuts. The budgets for performing some pest prevention tasks, such as cleaning and structural repair, are being cut in some food plants, but sanitation and structural integrity are all critical elements of pest management which are needed for control success. In fact, such cuts can cause pest populations to prosper. As a result, many pest management companies will expand their service offerings to take on costs associated with cleaning to keep the facility pest free.

     

The Evolution of Technology.

The first step in a complete pest management program is inspection. Inspections are important in determining pest type, size of the infestation, and the development of a customized action plan. Current pest management programs rely heavily on monitoring to detect and respond to pest activity. The necessity of monitoring will not change. However, future technology will likely change the ability to monitor a wider variety of pests and monitor remotely. For example, the wildlife industry and companies monitoring bulk grain storage have been able to remotely monitor pest activity in traps for several years. Electronic grain probes for grain bins are one example where technology can be used to count pests and send numbers electronically to a computer. In the near future, these grain probes will be able to detect specific species and numbers of insects in bins.

Additionally, wildlife professionals have been able to use electronic systems based on cell phone technology to notify them when live traps have captured an animal. Several trap manufacturers have looked at similar technology for the structural pest management market. Although such remote monitoring and notification systems have not been perfected for the structural pest management industry, we expect availability sometime in the near future. Having the ability to determine exact date and time of capture can be beneficial in analysis for developing control plans. There may also be some potential long term cost savings.
 

Next Generation Pest Management.

There is a trend toward more customization of pest management equipment programs to fit the specific needs of a facility, and this movement will continue. For many years, food plants and warehouse programs have utilized set distances for installation of monitoring and control equipment like multi-catch rodent traps and exterior rodent bait stations. Although standard distancing offers some benefit from an auditing standpoint, it doesn’t always equate to the best interest of the food facility. Facilities with low rodent pressures can end up with the same amount of equipment as a facility with heavy pressures. In addition, some facilities may have heavy pressures on one side or area of the structure and little to no activity on another side of the building but have the same amount of equipment coverage in all areas. In the future, we will see usage of equipment where it is needed and not based on set spacing.

This is commonly called "Next Generation" pest management. Next Generation shifts from a set number of traps to an analysis of the facility and the development of a customized program placing equipment only where needed. Under this new form of pest management, visual inspections are still performed in all areas for pests, and new services with specific value to the facility are substituted for the equipment removed. Additional services may include items like web removal, fecal dropping removal, pest proofing, or other monitoring programs or services. Next Generation pest management works well with the GFSI-based auditing standards which do not require set pest management equipment spacing but measure whether or not the program is functioning as it should. Next Generation takes more in-depth inspection and analysis but will provide superior program results.
 

Expanding Pest Management Services.

Pest management includes reducing the conditions that contribute to pest survival, such as cleaning. Many food facilities are cutting regular cleaning costs, which help remove pest food sources, as costs have risen. Proactive pest management practices and improved sanitation is especially important when stored product pests are found inside food processing equipment where pesticide use may be restricted. In addition, it is important to remove evidence when pest activity occurs. Checking for reappearance of pest evidence can help the pest management professional determine the effectiveness of the control plan. When budget constraints affect cleaning of the food facility, pest management services which include pest evidence removal, can provide a more economical method of completing this. Since another critical element for pest survival is harborage, more and more pest management firms will also begin to offer sealing and door brush replacement to exclude pests. Some firms are now offering minor pest proofing to deny pest building access and harborage.
 

Summary.

I believe we will see expanded pest management services offered in the food plant of the future. The trend for customization of programs to reduce unnecessary equipment also is likely to continue. As pest pressures change with new invasive species, the pest management industry will respond with new techniques, technologies, and materials to control these pests.