By Chad Gore, Ph.D., Entomologist, Rentokil Steritech

Pest management is a perennial task in food processing environments. The pests of concern may vary, but spanning all food processing segments, no matter what the products being produced, rodents take top billing as a pest of concern. Across North America, pest management experts have noted an uptick in rodent activity in the warm weather months of 2019 – levels typically seen in the fall. Unfortunately, this could mean an increase in rodent issues for processors this fall and winter.

What's behind the rodent boom? A combination of factors: construction in urban areas, continued land development, warmer winters that don't allow for a natural die-off of pests, and a general malaise about structural and sanitation concerns that attract rodents.

While processors may not be able to control 3 out of 4 of those factors, they can rectify the last factor. Don't be complacent. Now is the time to prepare and take steps to secure your facility against rats and mice. Rodent-proofing facilities should be part of a routine maintenance plan. It's as important as cleaning and sanitizing equipment.

Before cool weather sets in, take these 4 actions to prepare your facility.

  • Do a thorough exterior inspection and seal openings – before the first frost. Mice can squeeze through holes as small as ¼-inch. Seal cracks with pest-proof material such as 1/8-inch wire mesh, flashing, hardware cloth, or silicone caulk. Look high and low. Don't forget to inspect the roof; rodents can climb!
  • Pay attention to changes to the structure since last winter. Temperature swings and construction can leave structural gaps due to expansion that give rodents a perfect opportunity to enter.
  • Trim back vegetation. This is one of the best rodent deterrents available. Leave at least an 18-inch vegetation-free zone between structures and landscaping. Clean out under shrubbery to eliminate rodent hiding places. Ensure trees are trimmed back away from rooftops.
  • If a facility has seen increased activity this summer, increase the rodent protection. Install additional rodent management devices to help monitor for activity. A program should be dynamic and device placement needs to match the risk and data. Some pest management companies now offer digital rodent monitoring that can alert 24/7 to any rodent activity.

Pay attention to the environment, neighboring properties, and process changes in the areas around a facility and be in communication with the pest management provider about them. This knowledge can help the provider implement the best preventative measures. While this isn't a comprehensive list, these types of activities can increase rodent pressures:

  • Has there been unusual weather or flooding this year?
  • Is there construction or renovation happening nearby – even as far as a mile away?
  • Is it time for seasonal mowing in neighboring or adjacent fields?
  • Is there a new neighbor on adjacent properties?
  • Have suppliers changed recently?

With increased vigilance and a scheduled preventative maintenance plan, any facility can prepare now against an onslaught of rodents this winter.

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