Pest Management in the Food Facility of the Future

Pest Management in the Food Facility of the Future

by Patricia Hottel, BCE

McCloud Services


The 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 like 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.

In addition, the economics of performing some pest prevention tasks like cleaning, and structural repair are being cut in food plant budgets.  Sanitation and structural integrity are all critical elements of pest management which are needed for control success.  Pest populations can prosper from these cuts.

Pest Management Programs


The first step in pest management is inspection.  Inspections are important in determining pest type, size of the infestation and the development an action plan.  Current pest management programs rely heavily on monitoring in order to detect and respond to pest activity.  The necessity of monitoring will not change.  However, future technology will likely change our ability to monitor a wider variety of pests and monitor remotely.   The wildlife industry and companies monitoring bulk grain storage have been able to monitor pest activity in traps remotely 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.  Wildlife professionals have been able to utilize 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 savings costs.

There is a trend towards 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 system, it doesn’t always equate to a program in 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.  A new concept utilizes equipment where it is needed and not based on set spacing.  It is commonly called, Next Generation pest management.   The focus shifts from a set number of traps to an analysis of the facility and a custom designed program placing equipment where needed.  Visual inspections are still performed in all areas for pests.  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.

Pest management includes reducing the conditions that contribute to pest survival.  Yet the costs for services such as cleaning, which help remove pest food sources, have consistently risen.  Many facilities have reduced budgets in housekeeping staff.   Improved sanitation is especially important when stored product pests are found inside food processing equipment where pesticides 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.  With budget constraints, we will likely see more pest removal and pest evidence removal included as part of the pest management program.  Since another critical element for pest survival is harborage we will also see more and more pest management firms offer sealing.  Some firms are now offering minor pest proofing to deny pest building access and harborage.  Stainless steel meshes such as Xcluder can be used to seal small openings.  Many pest management firms will also offer door brush replacement to exclude pests like rodents.

In 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 is also likely to continue.  As pest pressures change with new invasive species, the pest management industry will respond with new techniques and materials to control these pests.