Enhancing the Pest Management Program in Your Food Processing Facility

In order to properly manage pests, you need to get everyone on your staff involved with your facility’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Pest management plays a key role in food safety and product integrity, and protecting your entire facility from pests can help boost audit scores.

Imagine you’re putting together a company team for a hot dog eating competition with a grand prize of $100,000. You’re allowed up to 10 people on the team, and everybody has to work together to finish 100 hot dogs.

Before the competition, you find out your company only told two people about the competition. You’re now short-handed and have no chance of success, leaving you to wonder – why wouldn’t you do everything possible to get the maximum number of people involved?

Though significantly less appetizing, pest management presents a similar situation. In order to properly manage pests, you need to get everyone on your staff involved with your facility’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Pest management plays a key role in food safety and product integrity, and protecting your entire facility from pests can help boost audit scores.

A Quick Refresher: Integrated Pest Management

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of how best to get employees on board, here’s a little background on what an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program entails.

IPM is a proactive approach to pest control that incorporates strategy, knowledge, intelligence and timing to help prevent and solve problems. It relies on strategies like exclusion and facility management, stringent sanitation practices and ongoing inspections to keep pests away, using chemical treatments only as a last resort in targeted applications.  

The first thing that you will want to do is identify all of the high risk areas both inside and outside of your building. Set up an inspection with your pest management provider to put together an IPM program that is tailored to your facility’s specific needs, and make note of the high risk areas. Once you know these high risk areas and how to protect against them, you’ll want to bring in your employees.

The bigger your facility, the tougher it is to manage. Everybody knows this, but few consider what this means for pest management programs. Educating employees is the most important thing you can do to protect your facility, as they are the eyes and ears on the ground level who will most likely be the first to discover pest issues. Every good IPM program features strong staff training.

How to Begin Staff Training

When training your staff, you’ll first want to teach the key components of your IPM program. Employees should be taught about the high risk areas around your facility and what to do should they encounter pests. As with the hot dog competition, the more employees on board, the better.

Many pest management companies offer complimentary employee training, so talk to your technician about the possibility of an onsite session for your team. A pest management professional can teach employees where to look as specified in your IPM program – many employees might be surprised at the number of areas that pests can sneak in through or find desirable to call home.  They can also teach you about the pests that may be specific to your industry, how to recognize them and their warning signs, and what to do (and NOT to do) when a problem occurs.

Establish a Protocol for Pest Problems

After employees understand where to look for pests, they will need to be taught the proper steps to take should they encounter some. Even the best IPM program can’t keep all pests out forever, so everybody needs to understand what to do when pest issues arise.

To do this you and your pest management provider can create an action plan that gives employees consistent, step-by-step directions. Go through this plan as a group, preferably when your pest management professional can be around to handle any questions that arise.

When they do encounter pests, employees should try to capture one to show your pest management professional, as this can help them put together a more appropriate solution. Document everything, including where and when the pest activity occurred and how many pests were spotted.

It can also be helpful to give employees designated roles that coincide with their everyday duties. For instance, you could instruct your exterior maintenance team to walk around the building once a week to check for holes or gaps that might be a doorway for inquisitive pests. Landscape crews can trim back vegetation and check for pooling water that might attract swarms of flies, mosquitoes and even rodents. Breaking things down into one or two easy tasks that flow with the work day will make employees more likely to make pest management a priority.

In food processing, warehousing, pharmaceutical and other industries, you might consider forming an IPM committee to meet at some regular interval. This committee should include members from each department and participation by your pest management professional, which will encourage ongoing involvement and awareness.

Keep the Momentum Going

Pest management is an ever-changing challenge, so you’ll want to make sure to continue educating employees in order to stay one step ahead of pests. Tip sheets and checklists are a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page while keeping things simple and coordinated – many providers offer these. Consider updating information on a monthly basis and highlighting the tips most relevant for the pests that your facility encounters the most.

Keep your pest management professional in the loop as well. An open, ongoing line of communication between management, employees and your pest management provider can help you solve problems more quickly and help to prevent additional problems moving forward. These channels of communication should be as open as possible for employees, even if that just means coming to managers with problems as soon as they happen. The longer pest issues go on, the more of a danger they pose to your facility.

The more proactive your staff is against pests, the more effective your IPM program will be.

About the Author

John Kane is a high-level problem solver with more than 12 years of experience in the pest control industry. He has a Master’s Degree in Entomology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he also worked on several research studies, taught graduate-level courses, and co-wrote the 10th edition of an integrative biology textbook. John is an expert in sensitive environments like hospitals, food facilities, and museums, as his love of biology drives him to find precise solutions to tough situations.

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