While rodents are a year-round problem, these pests should be of particular concern to food manufacturing facilities as we move into the fall and winter months. The threat of infestation is heightened during this time because cooler temperatures can drive rodents into your facility in search of food, water, warmth and shelter to survive the winter.
The presence of rodents, such as rats and mice, pose numerous threats to your facility. In addition to negatively affecting your audit score — pest control can account for up to 20 percent of your third-party audit — rodents can damage or contaminate inventory and products, resulting in disposal and even rejected shipments. They can also cause structural and equipment damage resulting in financial loss, and affect customers downstream resulting in erosion of your brand. Furthermore, rodents can pose serious health threats to your employees. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rodents are known to spread more than 35 diseases worldwide, including Hantavirus and salmonella.
Rodents are rapid breeders – particularly mice. Mice reach reproductive maturity approximately 6 – 9 weeks after birth. One mouse and her offspring can potentially produce 28,000 mice in one year.
By implementing an IPM program, or working with your pest management professional to assess your current IPM program, you can address the threat of a rodent infestation before it happens. Have you ever heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure?” Rodent management is a perfect example of this principle: $2 of caulking can prevent tens of thousands of dollars of damage down the line, and yet, all too often, very simple preventive measures are often skipped to save time or money.
Take preventative measures
The best way to ensure that rodents are kept out of your facility is to take preventive measures to deter them from entering in the first place. Implement the following preventive measures to ensure your facility is safe from the threat of rodents.
- Close or seal any points of entry. Rats can squeeze through holes as small as a quarter and mice can enter through holes as small as a dime. Caulk and seal any holes or cracks that could be used as entry points. Also, keep doors closed whenever possible; rodents can enter when deliveries of goods are made and when your staff are moving in and out of your facility. If necessary, you can also install plastic strip curtains or double doors in frequently used entrances. Have an internal food safety committee, in addition to your pest manager, assess the integrity of your facility on a routine basis (quarterly, for example), as buildings constantly change.
- Train and educate your staff. Your staff are your first line of defense against the threat of rodents in your facility. You have a greater chance of preventing infestations before they start by making sure everyone knows what to look for and why they should be looking. Be sure to make the stakes clear. Work with your pest management professional to conduct an IPM training so your staff can help identify the signs of an infestation before it happens.
- Implement sanitation checks. Rodents are attracted to trace amounts of food and debris that can be left behind in food manufacturing facilities, so it’s important that you implement routine maintenance and sanitation checks, and periodically assess these to identify needed improvements. Work with your staff to check for spills and debris. Be sure to clean up spills immediately, clear all employee break rooms of food and seal garbage cans tightly. Also, keep garbage dumpsters as far away from your facility as possible as they could be an attractant for rodents.
- Check equipment and machinery often. Rodents will chew threw almost anything, including electrical wiring on your facility’s equipment and machinery. Also, as they search for food, they can easily get in between the nooks and crannies of equipment and machinery where liquids and products can build up if not cleaned properly and often. Be sure to check and clean equipment and machinery often, internally as well as externally.
Monitor your facility for signs of rodents
In addition to proactively implementing tactics to prevent rodents, you should also monitor for signs of rodents. The following details what you should be on the lookout for.
- Droppings. Droppings are typically the number one sign that a rodent infestation may exist. Mouse droppings can be as small as a grain of rice and rat droppings are typically the size of a raisin.
- Teeth marks or holes on product and inventory. Rodents may damage product or packaging in search of food or nesting material, so be sure to inspect your product and inventory for gnaw marks or tiny nibbles that could indicate that rodents are present.
- Grease or rub markings on the walls and inventory. As rodents move about they pass along walls or brush up
- against your products and inventory. Be aware of dark, greasy markings on walls or other permanent/semi-permanent surfaces – these may be the accumulation of rodent oils.
Protecting your facility against the threat of rodents this fall can not only save your facility time, but also money. Work with your pest management professional to ensure you are taking the proper measures to combat a rodent infestation before it begins. And, if you’re already seeing signs of a potential infestation, consult immediately with your pest management professional on a customized treatment plan as every infestation and facility are different.
John Kane is a Technical Specialist and board-certified entomologist for Western Pest Services, a New-Jersey based pest management company serving residential and commercial customers throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Learn more about Western by visiting www.westernpest.com.