May 6, 2020

Protecting produce from pests

Traceability throughout the supply chain is critical to ensuring quality produce from farm to table. Each stage is only one link in the global supply chain. However, effective monitoring, documentation and communication is a shared responsibility to avoid any food safety concerns. That responsibility includes proper pest management as pests pose potential threats to produce as it moves.

Many common pests can easily contaminate fruits and vegetables throughout the manufacturing and shipping process. If everyone isn’t on the same page with pest management protocols, it can directly impact your bottom line if you have to reject and replace shipments. If produce makes it all the way to consumers with pests, it can tarnish your brand’s reputation, especially with today’s connected world of online reviews and social media.

Proactive approach

Monitoring and traceability are important, especially when it comes to proactive pest management. Monitoring helps detect pest issues early, before they become widespread, and can help trace issues back to their origin. Having this monitoring network helps focus on traceability. It helps determine where along the supply chain pest issues originated, leading to quicker resolutions for pest problems and mitigating the negative side effects.

Team effort

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) emphasizes customized, proactive, integrated solutions whenever possible. This program is most effective when there’s a strong partnership between management, employees and the pest management professional to implement and continue to improve your program over time.

Get employees involved by scheduling a training session with your provider. Go over the basics of pest management and issues specific to your facility. A critical point to make is that everyone is clear on their role; specifically, how to report a pest issue (or even signs of activity) immediately and how to properly document it. Ensure everyone knows what to look for, including the pests themselves and any secondary signs (like chew marks). It can even be taken a step further and include conducive conditions (conditions that a pest could take advantage of), like a broken door sweep (entry point) or a sanitation issue (food resource).

Inspecting incoming shipments are also a team effort. Anything coming in needs to be inspected, which can mean taking samples off the truck or railcar or ensuring there are no pests or signs of damage to the packaging. That all needs to be documented, passed along and multiple teams and individuals may be involved. Spotting pests early, before they can even enter your facility, helps minimize the threat of pests spreading and establishing.

Monitoring devices

One of the great ways to make informed, strategic decisions to help eliminate the threat of pests is by working with your pest management provider to set up monitoring devices. Like using all the eyes of the employees, these are an extra set of passive eyes! These should be in key areas, such as loading docks, near personnel doors and other high-risk areas, to track activity. Over time, this will help identify trends, hot spots and problem species.

Rats and mice, for example, can carry and spread disease-causing pathogens. They can quickly become a major threat because they’re capable of squeezing into tiny openings (mice as small as a dime!), and they can also gnaw their way in and put produce at risk. Traps and bait stations are useful tools to utilize as they monitor and reduce rodent activity. Bait stations are placed around the exterior of facilities and traps are place along the interior perimeter of a facility often by dock and personnel doors.

Similarly, insect light traps can be used to attract and capture flying insects such as flies and occasional invaders. The information gathered from these can lead to corrective actions to reduce these pests and provide key insights that help strengthen your pest management program. Monitoring devices can help you stay ahead of potential pest problems by proactively identifying sanitation or structural vulnerabilities and allowing you to remedy issues quickly.

Documentation

With employees spotting pests and monitoring devices working 24/7, that data needs to be captured. When pests are found, note how many and what type, and work your pest management partner to help you determine corrective actions. They will help you interpret the data, look at trends and determine appropriate responses. There’s no traceability without monitoring, documentation and communication, so all of this information — from pest activity to conducive conditions to corrective actions — must be recorded.

It’s required to keep some key documents on hand for reference and for auditing purposes:

  • The food safety plan for your facility. Remember that pest management is part of this.
  • The annual IPM assessment. This should include the risk assessment, trend reports, details on corrective actions and any proactive measures done to protect produce from pests.
  • A supply-chain program overview. This includes suppliers and ingredients.
  • Receiving records for incoming shipments. It’s vital to show that you’re inspecting shipments and documenting concerns.
  • Monitoring records. This include a current site map of devices and pest sightings around the facility.

These documents are a crucial part of ensuring pest issues are traceable. With them on file and up-to-date, you’ll be able to quickly escalate concerns and remedy issues as early as possible. That will go a long way if an auditor comes by, and it will help keep your team accountable when there are clear, actionable items to resolve.

Pests aren’t going to wait for the perfect time to infest produce. They’re going to persistently pursue the attractants they detect, whether that’s inside your storage or processing facility or on the next shipment out to your supply chain partner. So, talk to your partners about implementing these same standards for pest management, and remember, traceability is an integral part of a strong IPM program and a top-notch food safety plan.

— By Chelle Hartzer, the technical services manager for Orkin. Hartzer is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of operations, marketing and training. For more information, email [email protected] or visit www.orkincommercial.com.


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