Navigating an ever-changing health pandemic while keeping the food supply chain running is no easy task. With a COVID-19 vaccine now available and signs of the hopeful end to the pandemic on the horizon, now is the time to adapt your pest management plan for a post-pandemic food industry. Upon entry into “normalcy,” the last thing you want to deal with is a pest infestation that impacts your bottom line.

Consumer demand for food products will always be high and so will the importance of employee safety. Operators may have to revise their employees’ schedules to ensure enough staffing to meet demand. Cleaning and sanitizing procedures may have changed during the pandemic, and many of those changes could now become part of the “normal” routine. Proper pest management programs are needed now, more than ever. In a heavily regulated industry where food safety is a top priority, having an effective pest management plan focused on prevention is essential for success.

An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is one of the most effective measures grain processing facilities can implement to help ensure food safety. Because dealing with ingredients used to make food products requires a specific environment, pesticides should be used only when necessary as a treatment. IPM focuses on using preventive tactics such as exclusion, sanitation, and regular maintenance to keep pests from entering businesses and causing problems, not just pesticide application. Pests aren’t always immediately noticed when they enter a facility and the longer the delay before they are spotted and addressed, the more expensive the outcome.

As your facility navigates post-pandemic operations, here’s what you need to know to adapt your pest management program and help protect your bottom line, products and reputation.

Pandemic altered pest behavior

Shelter-in-place orders and in-flux operational schedules made it difficult to maintain a consistent pest management program in some cases, which could have opened the door to certain pests. For example, rodents and cockroaches may have changed their habits and behaviors and become a bigger issue for businesses since the start of the pandemic. Each could pose a serious threat to food safety and your products.

Due to limited access to their usual food and water supply, pests may have had to go into survival mode and find these resources in unusual places. The warmth and moisture once provided by the machinery and the crumbs from ingredients being prepared on the production floor may not have been as readily available. Your facility still had the resources needed, just in different areas.

In addition to being a nuisance for your employees, pests can spread harmful bacteria and diseases through their droppings and urine. In fact, one cockroach or rodent visit to your storage room could result in thousands of dollars in lost products due to contamination, structural damage, and reputation management if it becomes public knowledge.

Given these risks to your business, it is important to know what you are dealing with and how to prevent these problems.

Rodents can get into small spaces by chewing their way through materials such as cardboard or even interior walls in search of food and shelter. Cockroaches that typically stay outdoors, can venture indoors for food and water. They like to take refuge under appliances, in drains and cabinets, so make sure you regularly inspect your storage and production areas.

With so many ingredients and products available in your facility, it is essential to know what signs of pest activity to look for so you can alert your pest control provider immediately if a suspicion arises. Whether pests are sneaking in from deliveries or coming out of unfilled cracks and crevices, here’s what you should look for:

  • Gnaw marks from rodents
  • Droppings
  • Grease rub marks along wall/floor intersections
  • Cockroach casings
  • Dead insects
  • Musty odors depending on the type of cockroach

Actions to take

Knowing what to look for is only part of the solution when it comes to pests. Here are some measures that can be taken to continue to protect your business from these harmful insects and rodents.

Boost your exclusion tactics: Keeping pests out of your facility should be your main priority and will save you a lot of money in the long run. Your facility is probably still operating on an abnormal schedule, which might make it difficult for your pest control provider to do interior service with little disruption. From your dumpster and loading dock to your entrances and windows, regularly inspect your building’s exterior for repairs and replacements.

Shore up sanitation efforts: If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that proper hygiene is important. In addition to ensuring employees practice frequent handwashing and keeping break room areas tidy, make sure your product floor is as clean as possible and free of debris at all times. The less opportunities for pests to find food or water, the less pest pressures you’ll encounter.

Enlist a knowledgeable pest control partner: Food safety will be even more important in 2021 as public health remains a top priority. Having a pest control partner that understands the food processing industry and has experience dealing with third-party auditors will give you a head start in acing your next audit. From accurate and up-to-date documentation to audit test-runs, an ideal pest control partner should be able to assist you with the pest control portion of your audits.

Your facility may already be back to operating business as usual, but for many others, including your suppliers and customers, business operations across the industry will look a little different post-pandemic. By ensuring you have an effective pest management plan in place, your business partners will appreciate the peace of mind when working with you. The future may be uncertain, but pests will certainly always be an issue for businesses.

Frank Meek is a technical services manager for Rollins. As a board-certified entomologist and 30-year industry veteran, he is an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. For more information, email or visit