Preventing pest problems

by World Grain Staff
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Benjamin Franklin famously remarked that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." While he probably didn’t have sanitation, pests or grain in mind when he said it, his quote accurately applies to the value cleanliness plays in preventing pests from infesting grain processing and storage facilities.

Grain operators recognize the dangers of pests — they can harm a reputation, bring unwelcome attention from regulatory agencies and the media, and even lead to a product recall or a lawsuit. Pests also can cause expensive structural damage and, in some cases, threaten employee health. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that rodents alone cause hundreds of billions of dollars per year in worldwide damage and destruction, and medical entomologists have determined that insects carry serious disease-causing organisms like Hantavirus, E. coli and salmonella.

What makes grain processors so susceptible to pests, including some of the filthiest like rodents and birds? For starters, the heat and odors from grain processing machinery can attract insects and rodents looking for food and shelter. Meanwhile, frequent deliveries require doors and loading bays to stay open for long periods of time. Plus, fresh food sources on the processing floor, in the break room and elsewhere make the plant even more appealing to a pesky pest. Once pests get inside, large warehouses, storage facilities and processing equipment create many hiding spots where infestations can go unnoticed.

So, what’s a modern-day Benjamin Franklin grain operator to do? While it’s nearly impossible to keep a large facility completely clean all the time, processors can focus on sanitation to prevent potential pest problems. Stringent sanitation can help remove the visible grime but also the invisible dirt, debris, food particles, bacteria and other microorganisms that attract pests and contaminate products.

You should include sanitation action steps as part of your complete Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, which is a pest control approach that emphasizes environmentally friendly, proactive measures in lieu of pesticides. Focusing on sanitation will help eradicate pests’ three most important survival needs — food, water and shelter. Best of all, cleanliness is relatively cheap, and you can easily focus efforts on a couple of key facility areas.

IPM is an approach to pest control that combines all available methods of preventing pests in a given environment. In Orkin’s IPM programs, pesticides are used only when necessary to achieve acceptable levels of control with the least possible harm to humans, non-target organisms and the environment.


The problem:

  • Open doors, cracks, crevices and even certain types of landscaping can send an open invitation to pests.

The sanitation solutions:

  • Keep gutters and rooftops free of debris, especially leaves that collect moisture and attract pests.
  • Pressure-wash the building exterior and sidewalks. Pay close attention to remove any bird droppings, which may carry harmful bacteria. Use appropriate personal protective equipment and precautions when removing these droppings.
  • Frequently clean and rotate outside waste dumpsters and keep them as far from the building as possible. Regular cleaning and rotation will help prevent grimy buildup and lingering odors, both of which attract pests.
  • Trim all of the landscaping back at least two feet from the building facade, and consider installing a 30-inch gravel strip around the immediate exterior of the building to create a barrier that discourages pests from getting too close to the building.



The problem:

  • Food, dirty dishes and debris will almost surely attract ants, flies, cockroaches and other pests.
  • Once inside, these insects will find a way to other parts of the facility and could contaminate stored grain or finished goods.

The sanitation solutions:

  • Take the trash out daily, and tightly line and cover all facility trash cans to limit exposure.
  • Thoroughly sweep and mop break rooms and disinfect countertops and other surfaces regularly to remove the tiniest food debris (dust can even be a food source for insect pests like cockroaches).
  • Educate employees on sanitation benefits and encourage them to clean up after themselves at all times — especially when it comes to dirty dishes or open food and drink containers.


The problem:

  • Pest infestations in storage areas can go unnoticed and quickly cause contamination, mold or odors that reduce grain and flour quality or prevent its use altogether.
  • Stored product beetles and moths are particularly prone to invading grain storage areas.

The sanitation solutions:

  • Before you place new grain in a bin, truck, elevator or hopper, thoroughly sweep, vacuum and, if practical, wash the storage container. Where feasible and appropriate, the area within 10 feet of the container should be kept clean and free from residues.
  • While the grain is stored, inspect it regularly for signs of infestation. Consider the use of appropriate pheromone (scent) monitors inside the bins and in interior storage areas.
  • Keep any interior storage areas and waste holding rooms as clean as possible. Remove cardboard boxes and unused machinery or equipment since cockroaches and other pests like to harbor and breed in these items.
  • Store all mops and cleaning equipment on racks off the ground. This will reduce standing water and the formation of pest-attracting bacteria on the mops themselves.


The problem:

  • Large equipment and grain offer ample hiding places and food, so stored product beetles, moths, cockroaches and rodents can go undetected for months.
  • If untreated, pest infestations will spread into your product, so prevention is critical.

The sanitation solutions:

  • Clean machinery frequently and keep the areas under equipment free of debris. Your entire product inventory may be properly stored, but even tiny amounts of food residue on equipment will attract pests. Vacuum, sweep, mop and clean surfaces and equipment after use and use a disinfectant solution where needed. This will help remove harmful bacteria and pests.
  • Clean up grain spills immediately, wherever they occur. By eliminating unintended sources of food or water – especially standing water – you take a big step toward keeping pests at bay.
  • Follow a frequent and consistent sanitation schedule and pay special attention to hard-to-reach areas. Regularly remove drain lids and clean drains to keep debris from building up out of sight. Drains can be a breeding ground for certain flies and other pests.
  • If you work with your employees and pest control provider to follow these sanitation action steps, you’ll protect your inventory from contamination and prevent larger pest issues in the future. Or as Benjamin Franklin might say, "An ounce of cleanliness in a grain facility is worth a pound of pest management."

Dr. Zia Siddiqi is Director of Quality Systems for Orkin, Inc. A board-certified entomologist with more than 30 years in the industry, Dr. Siddiqi is an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. For more information, e-mail or visit