If you’ve been a longtime reader of World Grain, you may have read a few articles from me on how to handle different pest control issues in your food processing facility.

Pest management should be a priority for food processing facilities, as it can affect everything from audit scores and your reputation to the safety of your products – pests like cockroaches and flies can all transfer harmful bacteria, and rats and mice can even spread Salmonella, E. coli and more than 35 diseases.

Taking the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into account, food processing facilities have every reason to strengthen their proactive pest control program and documentation efforts to not only follow and implement a risk-based prevention program to protect their product and consumer base, but also be audit-ready at any time. Success on your third-party audit hinges on documentation, and the pest management portion can make all the difference in your score – it accounts for up to 20%.

What should a food processing facility’s pest management program look like? An ongoing, comprehensive and well-documented Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, which focuses on risk-based preventive strategies like sanitation and facility maintenance to help prevent pest activity, is ideal.

But how do you pick the right pest management partner to implement such a plan?

Begin with the end in mind

If an efficient, effective IPM program for your facility is what you want, search for your pest control provider with that in mind. It’s important to find the right, licensed pest management professional who will partner with you and your staff to implement a customized IPM program for your facility and help keep pest problems away.

So, ask about IPM right away. IPM is the recommended pest management practice for complementing food safety requirements and is designed to meet and exceed the requirements of third-party auditors. If IPM isn’t in your prospects’ pest control vocabulary, it’s best to move on to a pest management provider who can tailor an IPM program specifically to your facility and your needs.

With IPM as your prerequisite, you can narrow your search with these guidelines.

Talk to your peers

When looking for a pest management provider, it never hurts to ask around. Your industry colleagues can discuss the successes – or struggles – they’ve experienced with their provider.

You may even find an IPM program or at least a few tactics you’d like to emulate at your facility. Also, if your facility is part of a larger network, there may also be a preferred vendor you can work with.

Insist on an inspection

Now that you have a list of prospective providers, it’s best to invite them into your facility for a thorough look around. A full inspection and assessment of your facility – including identifying potential areas where pest activity may present itself – is crucial.

There’s no need to choose a pest management provider sight unseen. After all, a cornerstone of IPM’s foundation is that a plan is customized for your facility’s specific needs. A thorough inspection will help the potential provider determine what type of services you need in yours.

Set up thresholds

With an inspection in the books, pest management providers should be able to identify your facility’s weaknesses and suggest steps to fortify them against pests. But even with a proactive, responsive pest management partner, creating a pest-free environment can be difficult but achievable.

To get to this goal, thresholds should be set. Thresholds dictate how much pest activity and what types of pests are tolerated and acceptable before corrective actions need to be taken. Thresholds are best set by working with your pest control professional because there are several factors that come into play.

For instance, if you’re in an older facility or located in an environment that is more favorable to pest activity, such as areas that are near water, heavily wooded or warm, you may face more pest pressures than a newer facility in a less conducive area. Your thresholds may be different from those set for a newer building. With this in mind, pest management professionals may want to counter these challenges with exclusion recommendations that can include extensive building maintenance and repairs.

If you’re in a newer building and don’t currently battle any major, present pest issues, it may be perfectly reasonable to move forward with a “one pest is one too many” threshold. You can continue partnering with your provider to adjust your thresholds and IPM program over time to ensure that your pest management program stays effective.

If you are currently battling pests, it will take time to reach your threshold goals – even with a sound IPM plan in place. Talk with your pest management provider prospects about creating a timeline for steady and reasonable improvement.

Getting it in writing

Because pest management can account for so much of your total audit score, a lot rides on the success of your pest management program. In fact, FSMA requires food processing plants to develop and execute written risk-based preventive food safety plans that detail likely hazards, corrective actions and results. You want a provider that not only documents every pest activity sighting or – if needed – product application, but also uses the documented information to determine pest trends and aid in decisions about how to best manage pest activity going forward. Your pest management professional should also work with you to ensure all documents are in proper order and audit-ready at any time.

Speaking of audits, look for a provider that can help you get prepared for third-party auditors – or even give on-site support on the day of the audit – based on the food safety standards with which your facility is required to comply.

Keep your staff in mind, too

One of the most overlooked variables when choosing a pest management provider isn’t how it works in your facility; it’s how the provider works with your staff. For your new pest management program to be effective, your staff has to buy in – and your new provider can help.

Employees play a big role in reporting pest sightings and keeping your facility clean. With this in mind, make sure to ask about resources a pest management provider can offer your staff. Many providers offer staff training and educational resources like tip sheets and checklists at no extra cost.

Once you choose a pest management provider, keep communicating to help determine the roles of everyone involved. Set benchmarks for your pest management program and establish specific times throughout the year to evaluate the program’s success and areas of improvement with your provider.

Next thing you know, you will have helped build a solid partnership with your next pest control provider – and your facility, audit scores and reputation will all be better for it.