Keeping your products safe from contamination is a major concern for any food processing facility. Facility managers must pay close attention to the way products are produced and stored or risk potential food safety concerns, especially when it comes to pests. But what happens once you need to move products?
Whatever the exact method, ensuring that your grain products are protected takes a team effort from all employees in the facility, and it means that a calculated, proactive approach is necessary. You all have a food safety plan in place — at least if you’re compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) — to make sure this is the case.
But often facility managers overlook the importance of extending their proactive plan outside of their facility doors to the loading and unloading areas where pests can thrive. Pests are just as happy hopping into a storage container as they are inside your facility. As long as they can find the food, water and shelter they need to survive, pests are going to be quite content with contaminating product by the truckload.
While there are many pests prevalent and active enough to contaminate product, there are a few you’re more likely to deal with as a grain-oriented business. These pests are common across the United States and can prove costly if they aren’t found and removed promptly.
Stored Product Insects
These types of pests come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but they all have similar specialties. Typically, stored product pests are difficult to spot — as many are around three millimeters in length — and they can cause an infestation throughout stored products if they aren’t detected quickly. Often, these pests will reproduce quickly on grain products if temperatures are good.
Some of the most common species of grain processing facilities include the weevils, flour beetles and Indian meal moths. These pests may develop inside kernels of grain (in the case of weevils) or take advantage of broken grains, even those damaged by other insects. Once inside, they’ll leave behind frass (insect feces), insect damaged kernels (IDK) and silken webbing that could be visible on product.
These pests are exactly why all incoming and outgoing shipments need to be inspected closely. Stored product pests sneak in on truckloads or by infesting spilled grain outside. So, if they’re in your facility and then shipped out to a partner, pests will spread into the partners’ stored products, too. Imagine the cost to your facility or a partner’s if an entire shipment has to be thrown away for a stored product pest infestation, not to mention the reputational damage that occurs.
Rats and mice carry disease-causing pathogens, which can potentially contaminate any surface when a rodent simply comes into contact with something. That makes them a big risk to your facility, especially if they’re hanging out around loading areas.
Rodents are such a big problem because they’re able to fit through small gaps and they can use their teeth to gnaw through openings. Since rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter and mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime, it’s easy to see how rodents can be a major risk. Think of all the small holes in an old grain bin, or the gap under a door, or even open elevator pits. These are all potential entry points for rodents to get in and find an almost infinite food source.
To prevent rodents, you should minimize attractants like spilled grain, buildup around pits and elevators, even exposed garbage from employees. Otherwise, rodents will smell and pursue the source of the odors, which could lead them right to your loading areas and onto your outbound trucks.
Birds are pretty and everyone likes them, except when they are eating spilled grain and leaving droppings all over the place. Bird droppings are not only a contamination issue, they can contain pathogens and are caustic, which over time can eat away at concrete and metal.
Pigeons, sparrows, and starlings are three of the big pest species we encounter in the United States, though there are many other species that can be a problem. Most species of birds are federally protected, so physically harming them in any way is prohibited. That leaves trying to scare them away or preventing them from being around in the first place.
For this reason, many facilities have set up sealed-off areas in the loading dock where more sensitive products can be loaded and unloaded. In other areas where birds may be gathering, removing the food source is the first step to getting them out of the area. Keeping doors closed and roosting spots netted to prevent them from nesting also will help reduce overall numbers. This is a great idea not only for birds but for many other pests as well.
To reduce the risk of any of the pests getting into or contaminating your shipments, a proactive plan is the first step. But as part of that proactive plan, you should heavily consider placing pest monitoring devices around loading docks and other key areas to track activity. Placed strategically by a professional, these devices can help you assess the hot spots around your facility and identify the problem species. Over time, the trend data will be enlightening.
While there might be different monitoring devices to consider inside the building, let’s look at just a few of the monitoring devices to consider around loading areas.
First, let’s look at a way to help reduce those tiny, tough-to-detect stored product pests. Perhaps the best way to monitor stored product pests, pheromone traps will alert the pest management professional to the presence of stored product pests using their own chemical cues; either sex or aggregation pheromones. In this way, they trick stored product pests into snaring themselves.
Typically used for monitoring and reducing rodent populations, bait stations are another useful tool that can be placed outside a facility. Based on the amount of bait eaten, you’ll be able to get an idea of how many rodents are living in the area. In addition, you can track the stations with the most bait eaten to identify hot spots. If you’re looking for something to capture and remove rats and mice, however, you will need to place some rodent traps. These capture rodents and allow for quick removal.
Glue boards or glue traps are simple monitoring devices that do exactly what you’d think. Pests blunder into them, and then they become stuck — unable to wreak any more havoc on your facility. Thus, glue traps are great for catching mice and insects and can be moved frequently to get closer to problem areas.
With all your efforts, don’t forget to keep careful documentation of the pest problems you’ve faced, and the strategies and tactics implemented to combat them. Document it all — even the preventive measures you have in place like aeration, turning grain bins, and temperature monitoring. That will go a long way if an auditor comes by, and it will help keep your team accountable when there are clear, actionable items to resolve.
Remember: pests aren’t going to wait for the perfect time to infest product. They’re going to persistently pursue the attractants they detect, whether that’s inside your storage or processing facility or on the next shipment out to your supply chain partner.