U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors can be very specific when locating this problem in a food processing facility, and they tend to exit with precise counts of the evidence, such as the number of rodent excreta found at every location. These are pests that might carry foodborne pathogens, or, at a minimum, result in food becoming adulterated from insect eggs, rodent hairs and/or larva skin. There’s nothing easy about it. Take rats and mice. Rats, who have been known to chew through concrete, typically have seven litters a year. Mice have about two litters a year. In the science of pest control, among the various attributes used to describe pests is endophily, meaning the willingness to go indoors. It means, according to Pat Hottel, an entomologist and technical director at McCloud Services, “… there are pests that will enter structures in search of warmth for the winter.” A century-old pest management service based in South Elgin, IL. McCloud serves an eight-state region heavy with agriculture and food processing. “There are large numbers of insects that spend the winter as adults inside structures and can do so in large numbers,” Hottel says. “Examples include cluster flies, brown marmorated stink bugs, multicolored Asian lady beetles and boxelder bugs. Boxelder bugs have been particularly active these last few weeks in Illinois, which is a little late in the season, but we’ve had unusually warm weather.” While rodents are active this time of year, they are a year-round threat and do not necessarily have a peak, she says. “A facility may see these pests enter in equal numbers in the spring and fall,” Hottel says. “However, in certain areas and often tied to agriculture and harvest, we are more likely to see some spikes in activity both inside and outside. Seasonal pressure would be higher numbers during a particular season. Year-round pressure would not have peaks during one time of year.” Pest management companies are in the process of explaining new requirements which the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is imposing on producers of both human and animal food. “Under FSMA,” Hottel notes, “there is a strong emphasis for prevention. So exclusion of pests becomes even more critical. There are requirements under the revised cGMP’s (Current Good Manufacturing Practices) that state a pest cannot be found anywhere in the plant. That language is broader than what was found in the previous cGMP document. Increased pest management efforts will be needed.” FSMA is also expected to put more pressure for maintenance on building owners, she points out. “We always say that pest management works best when there is a partnership between the client and the pest management firm,” Hottel adds. “Proper building maintenance through sealing of doors to exclude pests, sealing of cracks and crevices on the interior, and other pest-prevention efforts will provide more effective and longer-term control. It can be more costly in the long run for them not to participate in the program.” Once sealed, food production or storage facilities have options for more perimeter controls. Hottel says rodent traps and bait stations now come with tracking and trending technology, with some using a cell phone signal to notify the pest control company when a “capture has occurred.” “Reductions in the numbers or pieces of equipment has also changed with greater emphasis on analysis of site and placement where conditions and historical evidence indicates monitoring equipment is needed,” she adds. In addition to causing trouble with FDA and/or state and local regulators, pest control failures cost the food industry millions of dollars annually and sometimes cause permanent damage to companies and brands.
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