The Value of a Professional

Features - Pest Control

Outsourcing Pest Management

December 11, 2015

In the July/August issue of QA, we discussed the options for in-house pest management, related primarily to rodents. To provide the other side of the coin, this issue focuses on the value of using a pest management company for service in and around the processing plant. To provide expert response, we spoke with National Pest Management Association (NPMA) Vice President of Public Affairs Cindy Mannes. From an extensive survey of key NPMA directors and members, Mannes provided the following responses on the value of professional pest management.
 

QA. What are the key benefits of using a pest control company for that work, rather than performing it in-house?

Mannes. A “one-size-fits-all” solution to pest management for food processing facilities simply does not exist. Pest control professionals have the expertise in the methods and strategies to prevent and control pests. The value of outsourcing this service to a professional can be boiled down to four key factors:

  • Experience and Resources. Pest control technicians are trained to notice deficiencies, potential and emerging problems, and contributing factors that can be overlooked by untrained personnel who are concentrating on their job duties. They also are trained to deal with different pests of food plants and have the resources and tools available to them to battle pests and provide reliable pest identifications.
  • Pest and pest control expertise. Technicians will have had more training and experience than anyone at the facility in controlling food industry pests. Many are certified in food industry pest management and are licensed and certified to perform several different types of pest control in food facilities (e.g., fumigation). Technicians also have additional resources on their side like staff expertise and, more specifically, board certified entomologists (BCE) who are often considered to be subject matter experts in high-stakes disputes and litigation, especially with bugs found inside food packaging, etc. On the other hand, a plant person assigned to perform in-house pest control usually has no back-up for pest control expertise, nor do they have additional personnel in case of illness, vacation, layoffs, termination, etc.
     

QA. What can pest control professionals provide that cannot be done in-house?

The Economic Impact of Pests

To gain insight into the challenges and issues pest infestations can present, the pest management company Rentokil commissioned independent research agency Opinion Matters and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to identify trends impacting businesses and pest control. Following are some key findings from that research based on 2014 figures and responses from businesses in the U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and Italy:

  • Disruptions caused by pest infestations resulted in an increase of $9.6 billion in operating costs in the countries surveyed.
  • Revenues declined by an estimated $19.5 billion (gross) because of pest incidents.
  • The costs to the businesses have been primarily caused by impact on staff morale (30%) and contamination of raw materials leading to replacement costs (28%).

In the U.S., the primary concern of businesses varied by region:

  • 75% of Western U.S. businesses cited compensation as a high or moderate concern.
  • 55% of Midwest businesses cited loss of reputation as a high or moderate concern.
  • 74% of Southwest businesses cited damage to reputation as their greatest concern.
  • 84% of businesses reported net impact on revenue by a pest infestation across a five-year period.
  • 52% of businesses in the Southwest fear loss of stock the most.
  • 56% of Northeastern businesses see impact on staff morale and health as a big issue.
  • 65% of all U.S. firms cited a loss of reputation as a concern or a high concern.

The research also showed a direct correlation between having a proactive approach to pest control and reducing the disruption to business:

  • 36% of businesses that have had an infestation reported that it took more than two weeks for the disruptive period to end and for them to get back to a normal routine.
  • 42% reported losing at least one working day per year as a result of infestation.
  • The French and U.K. businesses were the least proactive on pest control, with 65% and 68%, respectively, claiming they only respond to problems when infestations actually occur. These two countries also reported some of the highest number of working days disrupted due to pest infestation per year—an average of six days.
  • In contrast, 82% of U.S. businesses said they were proactive in pest control, and the average number of working days lost per year was the lowest: around 4.5 days.
  • In the U.S., the West, Midwest, and Southwest were the least likely to be proactive in their approach to pest control.
  • One of the greatest negative impacts suffered were business costs, which were reported to have increased after pest infestations. This was primarily due to negative impact on staff morale and damage of finished goods, leading to replacement cost rather than a loss of reputation.
     

Source: Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR)

Mannes. Many food plants don’t have licensed pesticide applicators and the person designated to do the in-house pest control may not be able to buy restricted-use pesticides or use them unless they are certified in the proper categories. Being certified and licensed also means being re-certified and re-licensed—requiring technicians to take ongoing courses and attend multi-day educational programs. Too often, the person assigned to in-house pest control has other job responsibilities that can detract from the focus put on a proper pest control program. As a result, the service may not be conducted properly, putting the food plant at risk for non-compliance with federal and state pesticide laws and regulations.
 

QA. With pest control now considered to be a FSMA preventative control, how can pest control companies provide value and help ensure FSMA compliance?

Mannes. Pest control professionals can provide regular inspections and monitoring of the entire facility to address pest vulnerable areas and pest entry areas, and the related risk of food contamination. Professionals also can provide trend analysis, which can be used to predict pest pressures throughout the year and allow for preventive measures at the right time to avert problems before they arise. This expertise helps facility managers recognize and correct pest-related issues that could jeopardize prevention measures and FSMA compliance.

To best comply with FSMA regulations, a facility should begin by consulting with its pest control company to develop an action plan. If a company already has a specialized plan in place, the discussion can involve possible updates, improved procedures, reporting, and recordkeeping to ensure the consistency, accountability, and documentation needed to demonstrate compliance.

When a processor outsources its pest control, the pest control company is responsible for managing the entire program—from initial assessment to implementation and documentation—to show corrective and preventive action, ensuring a pest-free plant. However, the plant holds the ultimate responsibility for food safety and prevention of adulteration by any means. Thus, thorough documentation of each service visit and corrective action are especially crucial for inspections, as well as third-party audits, and your pest control company can help ensure that documents are complete, in proper order, and presentable for review.
 

QA. Why is it important to have a partnership between the pest control company and processing plant? What are some of the key factors of this?

Mannes. Food plant staff and pest professionals must work together to solve pest issues and resolve conditions that could contribute to future pest activity. Pest professionals bring a unique perspective and are adept at identifying conditions that could allow pests to thrive within a food plant, but in many cases they must rely on plant staff to help correct conditions. Even the cleanest food plant is susceptible to pests, many of which are introduced through raw ingredient and packaging shipments. Pest professionals continually monitor for these threats and respond before infestations take hold.

Key factors for a successful partnership include communication between stakeholders on both sides of the relationship, shared understanding of the goals of the pest management program and the operational needs of the food plant, and an unwillingness to compromise food safety.

Given the importance of pest control in FSMA, the partnership becomes even more critical. Because it is the food plant’s responsibility to exclude pests from all areas of the plant, managers and employees must follow the pest professional’s recommendations on fixes and procedures, such as structural and equipment repairs and maintenance, and employee training on pest prevention and detection for success.
 

QA. What are some of the key factors the processing plant should consider in selecting a pest control company?

Mannes. The plant should seek a company with extensive experience serving processing plants and a proven track record of compliance with state and federal audit standards.

The company should have the skills and qualifications to provide objective risk assessments that take into consideration the building structure, manufacturing process, environmental conditions, geographic location, historical pest activity, ingredients used, sanitation, and cultural and human behaviors that could impact pest activity. The company should also employ skilled service personnel with specific training in regulations, GMPs, food-plant pests, raw ingredients, pest prevention, sanitation, documentation, pesticide handling, jobsite safety in food plants, FDA regulations, USDA regulations, and other third-party inspection standards—and have the ability and the qualifications to provide training and education to plant staff.

Facility managers also should inquire about the company’s proximity of service personnel and technical resources, as the needs of a food plant can be urgent and the company should be able to offer quick response. Time is precious for many food industry professionals, so it’s imperative to select a company that has built-in accountability and detailed, thoughtful protocols in place to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
 

QA. What other recommendations would you have for working with a pest control company?

Mannes. Facility managers should inquire about the pest control company’s practices regarding regular in-house training to keep up with new regulations, trends, and control methods related to the food industry. Plant managers also should debrief with technicians after service visits. This gives managers a chance to ask questions and be accountable, as well as to discuss any issues that need to be addressed immediately or during future visits.


 

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.