By Patricia Hottel, BCE
In the fight against food facility pests, prevention is the best tool. Excluding pests must be the focus of any food facilities prevention plan. Pests can enter a facility in one of three ways: through openings in the structure from the property exterior or sewer systems, by employees bringing in pests like cockroaches and bed bugs on personal belongings, and via incoming shipments.
This article will focus on combatting the third challenge by conducting a proper inspection of incoming goods to prevent pest introductions. In a recent survey of food facilities, 9% of respondents indicated that they found rodents on incoming shipments. The survey’s results highlight the frequency at which pests may be introduced.
Elements needed in establishing an inspection of incoming goods program.
- Ranking the risks. Not all shipments pose the same level or risk when it comes to pest activity. Determine what suppliers and products have the highest pest potential and instruct staff to inspect according to risk factors.
- Proper training. Staff must be trained on how to perform an inspection and how to identify pests and their signs. A variety of identification charts are available through manufacturers and pest management firms to assist as a training reference. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has an excellent app which includes detailed descriptions and information on biology and behavior.
- Acquire and maintain the necessary tools for the inspection. At minimum, this will include a good flashlight, an inspection form for recording findings, vials for collecting specimens, a cutting tool for opening shrink wrap and boxes, and a hand lens for getting a closer look at the evidence found. In some circumstances, black lights are used for detecting fluorescing rodent urine. Pheromone lures for certain stored product pests can also be carried to help detect adult stored product pests like Indianmeal moths, cigarette beetles, and warehouse beetles.
Ranking the Risk Factors
All shipments will not be the same when it comes to the potential for pest infestation. Recognizing which shipments have the highest potential for pest infestation can help staff focus their inspection time where needed.
The following considerations should be made when apportioning time for detailed inspections upon receiving shipments of incoming products:
- Shipments made during periods of seasonally high temperatures and humidity are more prone to pest problems. Many pests thrive in warmer weather and shipments can be at greater risk during this time.
- Products arriving from geographic regions with varying climates, sanitary practices, and type of pest species present experience greater pest pressures. Some regions have pests which are under quarantine. Quarantine pest status is given to a pest to prevent its spread within the U.S. and globally. Preventing the introduction of a quarantine pest can have significant economic benefit. For example, consider the Asian long horned borer effects on the landscaping and forestry industries. These beetles arrived on wood packaging materials into the United States with devastating consequences.
- Pests can come along shipment routes that require a product to stay on a vessel, ground transport, or railcar for extended periods of time. A shipment can be shipped without pests and then accessed by pests in route. The longer the route, the greater the pest risk.
- Shipment of goods conducive to pest activity include grains, grain-based products, and seeds. These products are more prone to both stored product pests and rodents. This does not mean that pests will not arrive on non-food products. Pests, especially rodents, can arrive on a variety of items, including laundered uniforms and packaging materials.
- Not only is it important to know the sensitivity of a product to infestation, but also the type of packaging used to protect the product. Materials used to contain the product will vary in their level of pest resistance. Products not packaged in metal, thick plastic jars, or glass are more susceptible to infestation.
- Food product bags and boxes that have imperfect seals are more prone to insect penetration. Sewn bags and partially glued seals are a couple of examples of packaging which may allow pest entry. Products packaged with multiple layers will be more resistant. So, a tightly sealed bag inside a well-sealed box is better due to the multi-levels of defense.
- Vendors who have shipped infested products in the past should be looked at more closely. Knowing your suppliers and their history of pest activity can help in allocating more time to their shipments. In addition, consider some proactive steps for these suppliers, like in-trailer pheromone monitoring, controlled atmosphere treatments, or fumigation.
- Unsanitary conditions or infestation present on transport vehicles should result in concern. Failure to clean and maintain trailers in good condition can equate to more pest activity.
What to Do If Pest Activity is Found
When pest activity is found, all unloading should cease. Any off-loaded products must be retrieved. A policy must be in place for staff regarding alerting management for further action.
For example, one pregnant mouse arriving on a pallet can produce an average of six pups every three weeks. Populations can build quickly and may go undetected in pallet stacks until the problem has spread to multiple areas. This can result in high costs of added pest control services, labor for cleaning, product losses due to contamination, and potential regulatory action. Utilize a thorough inspection of incoming goods program to help avoid these series of events.
Hottel is a technical director with more than 35 years of experience at McCloud Services, a pest management company headquartered in South Elgin, IL. She is a board certified entomologist and a member of the National Pest Management Association’s Commercial and Fumigation Committees. Hottel is also a former member of the board of directors of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the Illinois Pest Control Association (IPCA). She has served on the board of directors for the professional pest management fraternity, Pi Chi Omega, is a past chair of NPMA’s exam review board, and the NPMA Technical Committee. Hottel holds a bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Central Missouri.