The first thing the inspector from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported seeing in the food storage warehouse was the trapped dead rodent behind the pallet of five pound bags of sugar.
Then two twitching rodent legs were seen sticking out of a multi-catch trap that was part of a pest control station.
FDA’s routine visit came at a difficult moment for the two-year old modern 100,000 square foot food storage warehouse. It was trying to take down a breeding pair of roof rats that found their way into the building from some major “habitat” disruption across the street and next door when the neighbors removed an old building and log sorting yard.
The food warehouse located off one of the harbor waterways in Tacoma, WA –not far from the wreck of the once popular streamlined ferry MV Kalakala–had earlier passed inspections by the state and USDA.
But FDA sent an Aug. 8 warning letter about the warehouse rodent infestation went to the The North West Company (International) Inc. in Anchorage, AK. It’s the Alaska, Pacific and Caribbean arm of Canada’s 340 year old North West Company.
North West Company is a $1.5 billion operation known for doing retail sales in difficult to get to places. With 31 Alaska, seven Pacific, and five Caribbean stores, the North West Company has a long history of warehouse and shipping operations from Puget Sound.
FDA’s inspection of the Tacoma warehouse came last April 9 to May 6 as the North West Company was experiencing success in controlling the problem–except for a stubborn pair of breeding rats.
It had already deployed everything its profession pest control company had suggested, and according to Bob Cain, the company’s vice president for logistics, was considering fumigating the entire warehouse when FDA arrived on the scene.
At the time, Cain says the warehouse was not “infested” with rats–just unable to capture one breeding pair after using all “allowable methods.” The traps were getting the juveniles, but not the more wily adult pair.
The North West Company voluntarily agreed to destroy multiple bags of flour and one bag of dog food. It also corrected gaps around doors. Cain says the modern food warehouse is “tight” and operational procedures keep all doors closed when not in use.
FDA said it would evaluated the effectiveness of the company’s corrective actions during the next inspection of the facility.
“We are clean,” says Cain, adding that the company welcomes re-inspection at any time.
The Anchorage-based unit requires warehouse space on Tacoma’s harbor in order to serve its Quickstop, AC Value Centers, Cost U Less, and Island Fresh stores.
The flour was destroyed after FDA found that rodents — which later proved to be rats — had gnawed on both 10-pound bags and five-pound bags, which were stored on pallets last April 26 and 27.
Rodent pellets were found on the plastic shrink wrap used to pack four 10-pound bags of flour.
Rodent excreta pellets from more rats were also found in at least nine other locations, including underneath racks and on brown paper used to wrap bagged granulated sugar, FDA said.
The gaps were found around a personnel entry/exit door, bay doors 13, 21 and 22. There was also a gap around a gas line that enters the south wall.
In addition to the rat infestation, FDA found grass and sewer flies, fungus gnats, and dead crane fly on warehouse floors and around pest stations.
The North West Company, in both Alaska and Canada, serves communities with populations ranging from 500 to 7,000.