A few years ago, I was providing a pre-audit for a whole corn holding facility in Central America. Sitting down with the sanitarian before doing the physical inspection, reviewing the pest control service reports, I asked if they had fixed the issues with some cleaning in the work room at silo No. 3 and other issues that the service technician had recorded. The answer was yes, of course. My reply? Prove it! I do not see any recording of that action. Because of the lack of that documentation, I dug deeper to see what else had not been done.

Unfortunately, many items in your facility make the perfect meal for pests such as cockroaches, rodents and stored product pests. Even one tiny insect or insect part in a box of cereal can impact your reputation. Grain handling facilities are often one of the first stops along the food supply chain, so a strong pest defense sets a good foundation for the other stages.

With products consistently coming and going, it’s possible you don’t have time to prioritize your pest management program and leave it in the hands of your pest control provider. While your provider is the expert when it comes to pests, your partnership is critical. You should have an active role in preventing pests. This means maintaining open communication, especially when it comes to food safety audits, so you are aware of what’s going on and don’t get any bad news from a third-party auditor.

If you already have a proper Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in place, you’re heading in the right direction. IPM programs help deter pests from entering and destroying your product by using preventive measures such as sanitation schedules, regular facility maintenance evaluations and exclusion techniques.

The last thing your business needs is a failed audit due to preventable pest issues. Failing a first-, second- or third-party audit can lead to long-term consequences such as a damaged reputation, reduced profits and worst of all — lost customers. In the short term, your operations can be halted, and the food supply chain disrupted yet again.

Some regulatory agencies and food safety auditors are or will be resuming on-site audits but the opportunity to conduct virtual audits or a hybrid option still exists. Keeping up with these audits ensures food safety regulations are being upheld and that your facility is running smoothly. The pest control portion of these audits should not be taken lightly. After all, pest control plays a significant role in all major food safety audits and can account for up to 20% of your score.

Get documentation in order

Your documentation is one of the most important parts of your food safety audit. Whether virtual or in-person, an auditor will want to see evidence that you have a proper pest management program in place. Digital copies of your documentation will be easiest for a virtual audit. However, having hard copies isn’t a bad idea, either.

Most pest control providers now store documentation for their customers digitally, so ask your provider about how you can take advantage of this. There are many types of documentation you’ll want to have available, including pest control service reports, pest sighting logs, and pesticide use records just to name a few. Even if you have an established IPM program for your facility, it’s easy to lose points on your documentation, so ensure this in order at all times.

Keep staff in the loop

Your staff knows your facility just as well or better than you do, so it’s essential to keep them involved in any audit preparations. Because audit preparation isn’t just a periodic task, you should make sure your staff understands the importance of pest control for your business’ success. Speak with your pest control provider to see what staff training options they can provide for your team. Most will do them for free.

These trainings can show your staff what types of pests to look for, what the early warning signs are of pest entry as well as the process of recording pest sightings and other important information. Staff training in pest control is especially important if you’ve had to make adjustments to your workforce during the pandemic and have different shifts working at times they’re not used to.

Practice audits

As mentioned earlier, food safety audits require constant readiness. Part of that could involve holding practice audits, and one of the best ways to do these is through quarterly and annual assessments. During these assessments, you should meet with your pest control provider for a physical inspection of your facility — inside and out. You should also review your documentation together and fill in any missing gaps.

A reliable and knowledgeable pest control partner will be able to identify any potential issues for your audit and encourage you to keep up with these practices to ensure you’re prepared for the real thing. In the event you have an audit coming up soon but have not held a test audit in a while, you should focus on the following steps at least one week prior to your audit:

    Conduct an interior and exterior facility inspection

    Review your documentation with your pest control provider

    Make sure you are familiar with how to access any digital documentation portals

    Check all monitoring devices to make sure they are still present and in working condition.

Implement an IPM plan

At this stage, you should already have an IPM program in place. If you don’t, or if your current program isn’t providing the results you expected, contact your pest control provider as soon as possible to get an effective program in place. Your auditor will want to make sure you are proactive with your food safety efforts when it comes to keeping pests out of your facility. Your IPM contract should detail you and your pest control partner’s roles and responsibilities, a risk assessment plan and the scope of service. Not sure what’s in your contract? Schedule a meeting with your pest control provider.

Your pest control partner knows that food safety is a top priority for your business and that your reputation depends on it. As the industry continues to navigate operating in a pandemic, maintaining an effective pest management program and current records will give you a solid foundation when it comes to audits, no matter the format.

With public health concerns still high, consumers and suppliers alike will be grateful for your increased attention to maintaining industry regulations.