Occasional Food Plant Pests Bring Unpredictable Problems

August 31, 2020 / Media Mention / Food Processing 

Pat Hottel, technical director for McCloud, contributes to Food Processing’s article “Occasional Food Plant Pests Bring Unpredictable Problems”

Certain species are ‘accidental invaders’ that, in a way, are harder to predict and more disruptive than the more common ones.

Sometimes drop-in guests can be more annoying than the ones you know are coming. That’s as true for food plants as it is for vacation homes.

Pest-control programs are often aimed at eliminating obvious pests, like rats and cockroaches, that pose a constant threat, seasonally if not year-around. But certain kinds of bugs and other critters can invade facilities seemingly at random, at any time. These can be, in some ways, harder to deal with than the species that are constant threats.

These kinds of pests are sometimes called “occasional” or “accidental” invaders. They comprise a wide variety of species, including ground beetles, ladybugs, crickets, boxelder bugs, stinkbugs, mites, centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, springtails, sowbugs, pillbugs, clover mites and earwigs. What they all have in common is that, even from their own perspective, they have no business in a food plant; there’s no reason for them to be there and, in most cases, little or nothing for them to survive on.

Accidental invaders are insects and other arthropods that wander into structures without any specific benefit from a survival standpoint,” says Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services. They get in, in other words, entirely by chance. Weak fliers might literally get pushed in through an open door or other entry point by a gust of wind; others might be attracted to indoor water during a dry spell, or the opposite – they seek indoor dryness during rain.

However they get in, for whatever reason, their unpredictability is what makes them a special source of concern, because it makes them hard or impossible to plan for.

Unlike more common pests like rats, occasional invader species do not thrive or even reproduce indoors, mostly because plants usually don’t have sources of standing water to sustain them. (If they do, that almost always indicates a leak or other problem.) Most of them don’t find food indoors either, although there are exceptions.

Most occasional invaders are not as actively harmful as pests like rats, which can devour product, bite or bring disease. Still, the presence of any bug or other critter inside a food plant is unwelcome, because even the ones that are small and don’t bite can get into the food or packaging.

Keeping Them Out

Because accidental invaders are so unpredictable, the best way to deal with them is to keep them out in the first place. That usually means keeping things that might attract them away from the building’s exterior.

Mulch is a big potential problem; it’s a perfect harborage for some insects. If it must be used, it should be kept away from a building’s immediate perimeter, and it should be changed out; new mulch should not be thrown on top of old.

Vegetation and landscaping around a plant should be chosen carefully to avoid attracting occasional pests (as well as more constant ones like birds). Hottel suggests not letting a lawn grow more than two feet closer to the building’s foundation, perhaps with a rock barrier to prevent encroachment. Tree limbs should not be allowed to touch the structure, and flowering or fruit trees should be avoided, since they attract aphids and other insects that secrete honeydew, which in turn can attract accidental invaders.

Lighting is another concern. Whenever possible, lights should be mounted on poles or other external fixtures, not attached to the building. Mercury lighting should be avoided; if LEDs are used, they should be on the spectrum least attractive to insects.

Trash is another potential “attractive nuisance” for insects, which should be obvious but is often neglected, Heath says. “A huge deficiency across the industry is waste management and the accumulation of aromatic organic residues on waste-handling equipment, dumpsters, compactors, etc., which attracts flies and other pests that will invariably invade.”

Another prevention method should be standard: making sure the plant has no unintended ingress points. That means door sweeps are installed and in good order, no ripped window screens, no crevices around windows and doors, and no other breaches. Other potential problem areas include gaps in corrugated metal fabricated buildings and in the juncture between the foundation and an exterior wall.

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