Small steps prevent big pest problems

Pest control is a challenge for all food processors, but meat and poultry processors may face even more pressure given the pest-attracting odors and waste their facilities produce. Unfortunately, there is no one quick fix when it comes to keeping pests out of your processing plant and away from your products. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead, in a meat or poultry processing plant, the devil is in the details. The biggest challenge is that the factors contributing to pest problems can be easy to miss, tedious to fix and tempting to ignore. However, with pest control counting for up to 20 percent of your third-party audit score and pests threatening the safety of your product, customers and reputation, these little things can add up to one big problem.

Pests are looking for the three elements necessary for their survival: food, water and shelter. And your processing facility provides all three. Meat- and poultry-processing plants emanate odors and heat, which signals to pests that an inviting environment awaits inside. And in some cases, it takes very little to gain entry — just one-sixteenth of an inch for a cockroach and a few centimeters for a rodent.

Once inside, pests can quickly cause problems. Insects like flies and cockroaches carry bacteria like E. coli on their bodies and can shed these disease-causing pathogens wherever they land or crawl — creating an opportunity for cross-contamination with your products or sickening your employees. Rodents also can spread disease, and in addition can cause structural damage to your building. Rats are constantly gnawing and have been known to spark fires by chewing through electrical wiring. Mice can reproduce very quickly leading to large populations in a short time.

The best approach to keep pests out is to follow the principles of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program that is tailored to the unique needs of your facility. IPM seeks to eliminate pests’ access to food, water and shelter through sanitation and facility maintenance. Traditional pest-control methods are used after exclusion and sanitation measures and, if needed, are applied in a targeted manner.

This approach is particularly important for food-processing environments where pest-control products may not be allowed. While your first reaction might be to dismiss this as something you already have in place, are you approaching sanitation and facility from the enemy’s point of view?

While it may seem obvious to fix a large problem like a broken door or a hole the wall, pest-size problems are easy to overlook. Common pest entry points include gaps around doors and windows, utility penetrations and loading docks. Patch up any openings that offer access and incorporate copper mesh to prevent rodents from gnawing through the sealant.

If you haven’t done so already, install weather stripping around doors and windows, and door sweeps on the bottom of doors. Check to see that loading dock doors and plates are flush. Dock load levelers tend to gather debris underneath and can be a haven for rodents. Clean under the levelers frequently.

For extra protection at entryways that are frequently used, consider installing a double set of doors to provide another barrier from flying pests or install plastic strip doors on the interior, which can block flying pests.
You can also use the power of positive airflow so that currents of air move out from a building rather than being pulled into a building. To test whether or not you have positive airflow, stand inside your facility near an open door with a strip of paper. If the paper blows toward the open door, your airflow is positive. If not, you have negative airflow and should consult with an HVAC professional. To further utilize the power of air, install an air curtain, which consists of two fans on either side of a doorway blowing out the door. The current of air produced reduces the chance of flying pests entering.

As a meat or poultry processor, you know that sanitation is paramount, but the nature of your business makes keeping spotless environment more challenging. Unfortunately, a pest doesn’t need much food to survive, so ensure all food particles are cleaned from floors, equipment and drains. Using an enzymatic cleanser, especially in floor drains, can help to naturally break down food particles and drain build-up that pests feed on.

Outside the plant floor, educate employees to keep the break room and locker room tidy, as pests can often find food here first and move throughout the building. Don’t forget the outside of your building either. Dumpsters are a paradise for pests so work with your waste-management company to clean and rotate Dumpsters frequently. Inspect for and remove any spilled refuse.

If there are outdoor break areas, make sure to collect trash regularly and pressure-wash tables and trash receptacles. Make sure that all trash or recycling receptacles are covered. Clean up any pools of standing water that may collect around the building, particularly around leaking HVAC units. Screen any air intakes on the roof so that insects are not pulled into the building.

Other outside elements that can attract pests are dense landscaping and certain types of lighting. Rodents don’t like to be out in the open so maintain a foot-wide gravel strip around the perimeter to deter rodents from coming close by. Keep ornamental shrubs away from the building and don’t allow these to get too dense. Trim back tree branches that might provide a bridge to your building for rodents and insects. Replace fluorescent lights around the building with sodium vapor bulbs, which produce a yellow light less attractive to flying insects.

While these many small steps may seem tedious, prevention is preferable to dealing with pest infestation that can interfere with your production, damage your product and sully your company’s reputation.

Partner with a reliable pest-management provider that’s trained in IPM and is familiar with the pest-management standards of your third-party auditor. He or she should also be able to provide you and your staff with IPM training to help ensure everyone is aware of what attracts pests, how to spot these elements and know how to report issues.

Working with a provider that is a true IPM partner helps to ensure that your facility and products won’t be

“bedeviled” by pests.

Greg Baumann is director of technical services for Orkin. A degreed chemist and licensed pest-management professional, his global pest-management experience spans 30 years. For more information, e-mail or visit