Many techniques, old and new, are available to help processors eliminate pests while maintaining food safety and sanitation.

Traps must be filled with good bait to remain effective. Source: Orkin Commercial Services. 

It’s been an unusual winter. The Deep South was hit with freezing temperatures and snow. Back-to-back monster storms buried much of the East Coast with snow from the Carolinas through New England. At one point, all 50 states reported snow on the ground within their boundaries on the same day.

Not exactly a time when warm weather and what it brings are foremost on the mind. But for food manufacturers, those seasons bring pests, and lots of them.

All types of pests and vermin will awaken from their winter slumbers as the days get longer and the temperatures rise. As soon as they do, they’ll begin their annual ritual: finding food and shelter in order to breed and survive. And they love to target the warm and safe confines of indoors. In an era where food safety and sanitation continually receive attention from the government, the media and the public, the last thing any food manufacturer needs is a pest infestation. Not only does infestation harm the bottom line because of lost raw materials, spoiled product and infestation control costs, it can send any respected manufacturer, its brands and its reputation reeling.

The good news is that whether it’s birds, bugs or other vermin, tools are available to help food manufacturers keep their facilities clear of pests. With careful planning and thorough follow-up, food manufacturers can find the hotspots and keep pests out of their plants.

A technician performs maintenance on a bait station outside of a facility.  Source: Copesan Services Inc.

Keep out

Experts say the best way to eliminate pest problems is to prevent them from accessing the facility in the first place. If the pests can’t get in, there can be no infestation, and contamination concerns can be eliminated.

“First thing you need to think about is attracting as few pests to the building as possible,” says Stoy Hedges, manager of technical services, pest control, for Terminix.

It must be the number one priority, agrees Jim Sargent, director of technical support and regulatory compliance, Copesan Services Inc., Menomonee Falls, WI. “Whether it’s a mouse or a flour beetle or a bird or a spider or any other pest, they carry animal-borne pathogens, bacterial pathogens like Salmonella. You don’t want them inside, you want to prevent them from coming in,” Sargent adds.

The challenge is finding ways to secure food facilities that are often several-thousand square-foot structures. The vast number of species in nature and the average number of potential entry points in a manufacturing facility can create a monumental task for plant engineers and pest management professionals. But with good planning, routine inspection and perseverance, pests can be kept out of facilities.

“People really want to try to get their facilities as tight as possible to make sure that insects and vermin and such” don’t make their way inside, said Jack Harris, vice president of Insect-O-Cutor, Stone Mountain, GA. Plant managers can do that in a number of ways. Windows and ventilation systems should be screened to deny access by vermin, birds and insects. Structural deficiencies should be addressed, with repairs made as needed.

“A dock door (that) doesn’t come all the way down flush to the floor-and that small 1- or 2-cm. crack or less can allow mice and different rodents to come in,” states Deni Naumann, president of Copesan. It can also be a hole from a forklift, an open window, or leakage that’s coming in from the roof that causes concern, she adds.

Air pressure within the facility can also impact pest management performance. “A frightfully expensive process when you get into large-scale operations and facilities,” says Harris, is ensuring positive air pressure.  But it makes a difference, he says.

“A lot of processes, especially in packaging, create negative air pressures in the building. As you walk past an entry door, you feel this air being pulled into the facility,” Harris explains. Localizing the air pressure causes the air - and pests that may be trying to enter - to blow out of the door instead of being pulled in.

An installer secures part of an all-around bird control system on the rooftop of an industrial facility.  Source: Bird-X Inc.

New elimination methods

Many proven methods are available for pest control, from traditional bait stations and traps to insect light traps. Ultrasonic technology is being used to repel birds, and recent developments in electronics have been effective in repelling rodents, cockroaches and other insect pests, says Joe Seid, director of sales for Bird-X, Chicago, IL. Pest management methods continue to evolve, in part because of regulation and in part because of the pests’ ability to evade.

New technology includes mating disruption pheromones, says Dr. Zia Siddiqi, director of quality systems for Orkin Commercial Services. For example, pheromone traps, which are often used to deter moths, are really not traps. Users dispense large quantities of pheromone into the facility. When disruption pheromone is used, it creates confusion among both male and female moths and makes them unable to mate, Siddiqi explains.

“We can reduce the population of these moths in a warehouse that is storing food ingredients by not applying any pesticide, but applying these mating disruption pheromones,” Siddiqi says.

Lasers are being used to repel birds from inside some facilities, Seid says. With their very keen eyesight, birds see different color schemes and from different angles than do humans, he adds, and when something startles them, “they tend to choose to go to an area that’s more comfortable and less frenetic.” A drawback to the lasers? They only work indoors, not out, Seid says.

Another recent development that is useful in production areas is a quick-freeze material known as Cryonite. According to Hedges, the version Terminix uses is a liquid CO2 material that sprays onto surfaces as a dry-ice snow, killing insects on contact. It then evaporates, leaving no mess behind.

“We can have the machine opened for us, vacuum it; we can apply (the material) and vacuum again, and then they can be back up and running,” Hedges explains. “Don’t have to shut down, don’t have to do any special kind of cleaning, because the dry-ice snow just evaporates into CO2.”

Another area of innovation in pest management is sustainable and safe practices. With the emphasis on food safety, the push for non-chemical pest management methods continues to increase.

“It causes us to be more sophisticated and more intelligent. The pests have not gone away just because we’ve changed our strategy to (be) a little bit more sustainable or more environmentally friendly,” Sargent says.

Sustainability and “green” manufacturing practices differ from one organization to the next, and it is no different in pest management.

When we talk about “green,” there is no clear-cut definition, Orkin’s Siddiqi concurs. “Everybody has their own definition.” Processors ask, “How can you reduce the use of pesticide in my place? That’s the focus happening, and a lot of that depends on reducing or eliminating the conducive conditions at these plants,” Siddiqi says.

“Organic programs have taken it a step further, where conventional insecticides are pretty much not used at all,” adds Hedges. “The focus is on using non-chemical means, through changing the environment, exclusion, sanitation, harborage removal, redesign in construction, better cleaning practices.”

Non-chemical materials, like the liquid CO2 spray that many companies use, are in great demand as food manufacturers strive to meet growing sustainability initiatives.  Source:  Terminix.

Inspection is key

In many cases, the facility itself may not be the source of the pest infestation. As processing plants take delivery of raw materials, attention should be on the receiving areas.

“One of the biggest problems is when pests are brought in with deliveries. We can make the structure sound or tight, and keep pests out. But if the deliveries are infested, then we’ve got a problem,” Sargent says. “There are two things that can be done to keep pests out: Increase inspection of incoming shipment; and from an engineering point of view, the use of vestibules for deliveries, and even for people entering the facility, is a big help in keeping pests out.”

According to Siddiqi, some locations use a double-door system, or a corridor where one set of doors opens to let trucks in. A second set of doors then opens, allowing the shipment into the facility. Keeping the first set of doors closed can minimize what comes in from outside, he says.

An important, if not too obvious, part of product inspection involves employees. They have to know what to look for when receiving materials, Naumann states. If they fail to recognize things like gnaw marks or droppings, the inspection effort is wasted.

It’s never too soon to begin considering how your facility is going to deal with pests. One thing is certain, though. Pest infestations can leave your plant out in the cold with customers.

Banning birds from food manufacturing facilities

Birds may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering pest management. But with the threats they pose to a food manufacturing facility’s sanitation and food safety efforts, plant managers cannot disregard their presence in the plant. Food Engineering asked Joe Seid, director of sales for Chicago, IL-based Bird-X, about the dangers birds pose to food processing operations and how to eliminate them.

FE: In what ways do birds typically find their way into manufacturing facilities?

Seid: It’s open areas. It’s through loading dock doors. They can come in through air vents; they can come in through ceiling systems. Any small crevice where a bird finds it easy to get in; any kind of vent areas that are supposed to let air in and out, but are small enough and not screened properly, or if they’re not maintained well, can let a small bird in and out.

FE: Why do birds seek shelter inside manufacturing plants?

Seid: They have survival instincts that tell them a man-made area (or a building) has something that allows them or helps them to survive, be it food, water, shelter or a place to reproduce. If they find that convenient or if it’s a generational behavioral thing, then they’ll follow their ancestors, and it just becomes a repeating pattern if they’re in the area.

FE: What threats do birds, in particular, pose to sanitation and food safety in food plants?

Seid: Bird droppings can get into anything. It can get into food processing areas. It can get into loading areas; on top of boxes. It can get into equipment areas because it drops from above. It’s even more hazardous and can pose more problems than mouse droppings because mouse droppings are usually on the floor. There are 60 transmissible diseases carried in bird droppings that cannot only affect food product or machinery or processing equipment, it can also affect human beings, and respiratory systems.

Once bird droppings become dried, it has the consistency of dust. We call it fecal dust. Any kind of air movement, like an air-handling system, can make that fecal dust airborne, and once it’s airborne, it’s microscopic. Then it’s really a problem.

FE: What are some effective ways for food manufacturers to keep their facilities free of birds?

Seid: We use natural sounds of predators like hawks and falcons. Birds respond to the sound of a natural predator. They recognize it as a sound that is not friendly to them. The sounds of predators can make birds flee an area quickly, especially inside a plant or inside a covered loading dock, where they may be seeking shelter.

Pest Control Suppliers to the Food and Beverage Processing Industry

Bird-X Inc
300 N. Elizabeth 2N
Chicago, IL 60607

Copesan Services Inc.
W175 N5711 Technology Drive
Menomonee Falls, WI 53501

Ecolab Pest Elimination
370 Wabasha Street N
St. Paul, MN 55102-1390

1641 Lewis Way
Stone Mountain, GA 30083-1107
800-966-8480 or 770-939-2835

2170 Piedmont Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30324

Terminix Int’l Company
860 Ridge Lake Blvd.
Memphis, TN 38120

Western Pest Services
800 Lanidex Plaza
Parsippany, NJ 07054