By Shonda Dudlicek
Meat processors can win the battle against pests with high-quality sanitation, inspection, and documentation.
With the animal waste, warm temperatures, and high humidity, a meat-processing plant looks like a Club Med location to pests. Add easy access, food, water, and shelter to the list of pest “amenities,” and these guys won’t want to leave.
To fight a pest problem, companies need to be proactive, keeping plants as sanitary as possible. Any pest is a threat to a meat-processing plant, says Eric Eicher, president and chief operating officer, Pest Prevention Division of The Steritech Group Inc., Charlotte, NC.
“Pests are a major problem because conditions are ideal for them to thrive — food, moisture, and harborage are abundant,” Eicher says. “To complicate matters further, regulations limit the use of many pest-management products in production areas, requiring companies to be creative and diligent in developing specific programs to address these issues.”
Keeping pests out of a facility is critical, says Zia Siddiqi, Ph.D., quality-assurance director at Atlanta-based Orkin Inc. “Pests are more of a problem in the warmer months, but if the plant is in a place like Georgia or Florida, then it’s a problem year-round. If you’re in a place like Nebraska or Iowa, then your problems are less from October through March.
“But, if you have a population of flies that got in the plant, where it’s always kept at 75 degrees and 50 percent humidity, then the flies are having fun, and they don’t have to go outside in the cold winter.”
A good pest-management program prevents pests from becoming a huge problem, says James E. Sargent, Ph.D., director of technical support and regulatory compliance at Menomonee Falls, WI-based Copesan. “Pests and sanitation go hand in hand. Meat-processing plants are a challenge because they are big, wet, and open. Pests love that kind of environment.”
To some extent, pest problems are dependent on the facility, Eicher says. Many factors can play into the success of a pest-prevention program, such as structural condition of buildings, thoroughness of sanitation efforts, environmental pressures, regularity of service, and management’s buy-in to the importance of pest prevention.
“The warm, moist areas adjacent to the exterior of many meat-processing facilities are often the most problematic areas for processors,” Eicher says. “Rendering facilities can attract pests from the surrounding areas. Kill rooms, evisceration, and first-stage processing should receive major attention. Plants with animal holding have challenges that further-processing plants do not face because of the constant presence of live animals and their waste products. Insect and rodent pests are attracted to the odors and the byproduct waste generated by animals and their slaughter.
“For these reasons, kill plants must be especially diligent about pest management and sanitation.”
An ounce of prevention
Pest prevention is like insurance — usually people aren’t interested unless it’s required or they’ve had a major problem, says Sargent. “Intelligent meat-processing plants realize that dollars spent on pest prevention is far better than spending many times more dollars to correct a problem,” he says. “The large remedial cost does not include the cost to a company’s reputation or the cost of a recall resulting from pest infestation and contamination.”
Progressive meat-processors seek more information and documentation, which can be provided by customized programs on handheld computers, Sargent says.
Orkin’s handheld instruments lead the quality-control manager to ask questions based on what they see at the plant. The data is recorded and stored in a manageable form. The QC manager can then e-mail the information and create charts, alerting a company to what plants need attention.
Bar-code monitoring streamlines service and offers more reporting options, Eicher says. “When you consider that many food-processing facilities can have bait stations numbering in the hundreds, bar-coding is a reliable way of tracking information, spotlighting trends and quickly identifying areas for potential improvement.”
Orkin’s latest technology emphasizes its Integrated Pest Management principles, an ongoing cycle of seven critical steps: inspection, preventive action, identification, analysis, treatment selection, monitoring, and documentation. Orkin also has developed a Gold Medal program specifically for food processors, customized for each facility complementing food safety and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) requirements.
“Meat processors ask for pest control/prevention services,” Siddiqi says. “At the same time, they need details of the pest-control program, observations, and recommendations, and action plans that the meat plants can follow that will allow them to complement the program.”
Meat processors need thorough, detailed documentation to substantiate efforts of pest-management programs, Eicher says. “In short, meat processors are demanding more aggressive approaches to eliminate problems. While no facility wants to admit to having pest issues, the introduction of pests is sometimes viewed as a simple fact of working in the food business.”
In the words of Sargent, “sanitation, sanitation, and sanitation,” are the best ways to prevent pests in sensitive environments such as a meat-processing plant. “Sometimes individuals differ in their understanding of sanitation. However, there needs to be ‘better’ sanitation if pests are a chronic problem. Sanitation means reducing pest attractants like food and water and pest breeding sites, even in hidden areas,” Sargent says.
Eicher says processors and pest-management providers must work closely on structural, storage, and sanitation issues. For instance, cracks and crevices must be treated and immediately sealed to prevent future infestations.
“Of course, even the most well-protected plants will experience the occasional pest sighting,” Eicher says. “The key is to have the tools in place to stop these occasional stray pests from ever becoming a problem. Beyond preventive maintenance, a solid pest-management program should attempt to anticipate problems and stop at nothing to solve them.”
Regular cleaning and monitoring to identify hot spots that require special attention, as well as rigorous cleaning at times when the plant is shut down, are recommended, says David Cary, business development manager at U.K.-based Exosect.
Consumers are concerned about public health and safety. And, Eicher adds, meat processors don’t want pest control to be a security or food-safety issue. “Regulators have adopted a zero-tolerance approach to pest control and won’t hesitate to shut facilities down for code violations,” he says. “Under the public scrutiny and the watchful eye of regulation, the industry has responded by demanding higher standards and more effective pest management. Documentation has become one of the most necessary tools in a pest-management program.”
As the global marketplace continues to expand and North American meat products become worldwide commodities, processors will need to meet more requirements. Avian flu and bovine spongiform encephalopathy can transcend borders, making documentation critical in protecting public health.
“While it may seem like it has nothing to do with these issues, ensuring and validating that your plant is producing uncontaminated, pest-free products is a critical factor in how your facility will be viewed by those looking to ensure food safety and public health,” Eicher says.
Consumer attitudes and governmental regulation have discouraged using certain powerful pesticides.
“While ‘industry’ likes the idea of ‘environmentally friendly,’ they don’t like it more than the idea of being pest-free,” Eicher says. “Being able to achieve pest-free without overusing or unnecessarily using pesticides is a clear win, but it falls on the shoulders of the pest-management industry to figure out how.”
Temperature control, mass trapping, cleaning, and ventilation are examples of the type of pest-control methods now favored, Cary says. “However, they are not all practical in the food industry.”
Consumers want a “greener” approach to pest control, Sargent says. “There is also a rise in demand for organic meat products, including organic pest management in the plants as well as the stores. This leads to more time spent on inspection, exclusion, inspection, sanitation, inspection, targeted applications — mainly baiting, monitoring, and more inspection,” he says.
To be truly environmentally responsible, the emphasis first should be on eliminating situations that are conducive to pests. Only after that should pesticides be used, Eicher says, and in small doses to target specific pests. This method uses fewer pesticides and produces better results than widespread insecticides, he says.
“It is not only a more effective way to approach pest management, it’s a responsible way. Modern science has shown that reliance on pesticides alone could be detrimental in the long run,” Eicher says. “Insects, like humans, can adapt and develop an aversion or resistance to some pesticides, making those products ineffective in a pest-management program.” NPPests of prominence
All pests can create huge problems for a meat-processing plant. But the following list highlights seven pests particularly capable of hijacking production in a plant through infestation.
Rodents. “Rats are the most common rodent, because typically a meat-processing plant is not in the middle of a city, it’s in an area with open fields,” says Zia Siddiqi, Ph.D., quality-assurance director at Orkin Inc. “A meat-processing plant has a lot of natural attractions because of the slaughtering and the animal waste.”
Flies. “Flies pose the greatest threat to a meat-processing plant and to food safety,” says James E. Sargent, Ph.D., director of technical support and regulatory compliance at Copesan.
Eric Eicher, president and chief operating officer, Pest Prevention Division of The Steritech Group Inc., adds, “Flies can be especially difficult pests to control because of their mobility — they can be introduced easily through an open doorway or window.”
Ants and cockroaches. “Three pests that can carry and spread bacteria and cause costly shutdowns are flies, cockroaches and rodents,” Eicher says. “The USDA can shut a facility down for a single live fly or cockroach in production areas.”
Moths, beetles, and weevils. “They create webbing and infect ingredients and finished foodstuffs with their frass (debris or excrement produced by insects) and dead carcasses,” says David Cary, business development manager at U.K.-based Exosect. “The extent of the problems can vary, depending almost entirely on how proactive and rigorous the food processor is in pest management.”
Eicher adds, “Each of these pests can harbor bacteria, so even if they go unnoticed by inspectors, they can contaminate product and put processors at risk for damage to their reputation or even lawsuits.”
If proper steps in housekeeping, sanitation, and structural maintenance are not followed regularly, these pests and others can become a large problem, Siddiqi says. “Meat-processing plants offer natural attraction to most pests just because of the nature of business.”