Supply chains are global. That’s nothing new. But now more than ever, food processing facilities are being held accountable for contaminated products, and the standards have never been higher. A proactive approach to food safety isn’t just a good idea anymore. It’s a necessity. Thus, monitoring and traceability are critical, and both help protect products from a prevalent contaminator: pests.

When thinking of food contaminants, what comes to mind? For many, it’s foodborne illness and the potential for disease.

Insects, rodents and numerous other pests are all known disease spreaders and can contaminate a product batch by simply coming into contact with the product or leaving behind a single dropping. Around the world, pests pose a significant health and safety threat to the food supply. Grain-focused facilities are no exception.

That’s why monitoring and traceability have become so important, especially when it comes to pest management. Monitoring helps spot pest issues early, which can help save a facility managers’ budget and protect a company’s bottom line. At the same time, traceability is an underrated part of a food safety plan. Having a supply chain network focused on traceability helps determine where along the supply chain pest issues originated, which can lead to quicker resolutions for pest problems.

So, let’s dive deeper into monitoring and traceability, and look at some things you can do to improve both in your facility to mitigate the risk of costly pest issues.

Starting inside your own facility, you should implement regular training sessions for employees and promote participation. Something as simple as a poster featuring the “most wanted pests” in breakrooms or locker rooms can help train personnel to recognize the signs of common pests around the facility. There isn’t one template for this sort of thing, as pest pressures are different for every facility and education materials should speak to the risk areas and common pests around your facility.

Make it clear that each employee is a big part of your program – they should feel comfortable to speak up. Ensure you have a pest sighting log and all personnel are aware of its location and the process for reporting pest sightings. Their help will be vital to calling out pests and ensuring sanitation is up to standards and identify high-risk areas. Many pest management companies offer free training for you and your staff, which can be a great way to facilitate engagement with your pest management, and by extension, food safety programs.

Monitoring devices

But employees can’t do it alone, and we live in an automated world these days. Using monitoring devices is always a good idea, and there are quite a few to consider for your facility. They include:

  • Pheromone traps: one of the ways to monitor for many stored product pests, which are a major concern for grain facilities. Pheromone traps will alert the pest management professional to the presence of stored product pests early, which can make a huge difference when dealing with these pests. These pests are tiny and some species live in the product itself. They can spread between products easily, so watch out for your warehoused goods.
  • Bait stations: used for reducing rodent activity, bait stations generally are placed strategically outside a facility. These stations help to ensure rodents never make it into a facility, and the amount of bait taken can give you an idea of how many rodents are lurking around the building. Keeping the population managed and small on the outside keeps the chance of rodents getting inside smaller. Following which stations have the most bait eaten also can lead your pest management professional to areas with burrows or sanitation issues on the outside that can be addressed to further reduce the population.
  • Rodent traps: strategically placed on the inside, these devices can intercept rodents that may get inside before they have a chance to contaminate product. Traps may be single-catch or multi-catch, depending on the needs of your facility. These filthy pests also will gnaw through packaging to get to product, so it’s important to know where they’re coming from so they can be blocked out promptly.
  • Fly lights: the ultimate fly (and occasional flying insect) catching tool, fly lights use a light source to attract flying pests to a glue board, where they become trapped. Not only does this help reduce pest populations around a facility, but it gives your pest management professional insight into where flying pests are most prevalent.

Record everything

The tools above can help you reduce pest populations and keep a pulse on pest pressure around the entire facility. Rodents and insects can potentially spread diseases, so preventing them should be a priority. Stringent sanitation will help reduce the food and water buildup attractive to pests, but monitoring gives you a better idea of what’s going on when you’re not looking. Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove all attractants when you’re dealing with food products.

Tougher to detect than rodents, stored product insects cause problems when unnoticed for longer periods of time. Indian meal moths, sawtoothed grain beetles, granary and rice weevils, flour beetles, and many others fall into this category, and your stored grain products look like paradise to them. Don’t wait until it’s too late to set up a proactive program.

Anything coming from outside a facility needs to be carefully inspected. This may mean taking grain samples off the truck or railcar. Or it could mean inspecting an incoming shipment of packaging material for your outgoing finished product. If you can spot pests early, before you even let them into your facility, you’ll have an easier time keeping them from getting in and reaching infestation levels.

Anytime pests are found, note how many and what type, and get a pest management professional’s help when needed. Look at trends: how many did you catch last week or last month? Are the populations going up or down? Look for “hot spots” where pest numbers have suddenly increased and look all around that area to find conducive conditions like sanitation or exclusion issues. There’s no traceability without monitoring and documentation, so record everything.

Thus, it’s recommended to keep some key documents on hand for easy reference. It’s best to have the overarching food safety plan for your facility, an overview of the supply chain program, including suppliers and ingredients, receiving records for incoming shipments (note any pests) and monitoring records, including pest sightings around the facility. With these documents handy, you’ll be able to quickly escalate concerns. The quicker you can act, the better. Pest issues only get worse with time if left unchecked.

Talk to your supply chain partners about implementing these same standards for monitoring and documentation, and work on forming open lines of communication. If you all have careful monitoring procedures and the documentation needed to trace problems to their source, you can work together to determine the source of any food safety concerns and eliminate pest issues faster. That’s better for everyone involved.