Meat and poultry processing facilities will attract pests of all kinds due to the products they manufacture and the raw materials they use to manufacture them. For the most part, the actual processing floor is usually very clean and rarely sees an infestation due to sanitation standards required at food processing facilities, according to Shane McCoy, director of quality and technical training and Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) at Wil-Kil Pest Control. But some facilities might show greater potential than others.
“It depends on the nature of the facility. If live animals are brought into the facility for processing, there can be greater pest pressures as there are typically more open structures, manure and other wastes,” says Patricia Hottel, board certified entomologist (BCE) and technical director at McCloud Services in South Elgin, Illinois. “There is a bigger potential for pests when both access to the structure and food sources are in greater supply.”
The best way to control pests in a processing environment is to not let them into the facility in the first place. Pests can enter a plant in several ways and are attracted to specific problem areas. The biggest offenders are German cockroaches, according to McCoy and Hottel. Boiler rooms, rooms containing the electrical breaker boxes for the plant, and similar areas that are warm often house pests.
“With deliveries they hitchhike into places and may be in the boiler room or something like that, but they do get in periodically,” McCoy says. “One of the biggest ways they get in also is from employees. There are employee breakrooms and lunch rooms where food, backpacks and coats, thermoses and whatever are kept. So, that is always an issue also.”
Keeping the problem areas clean and keeping all employees aware of the need to do so will aid in limiting access to pests in the first place.
“Sanitation and exclusion are key in interior and exterior pest management programs,” Hottel says. “Pests have a basic need for food, water and shelter. The more a food processor can do to reduce these resources for the pest, the more it will help reduce the potential for pests to survive and increase in numbers. This strategy should be directed at reducing pests both on the exterior and interior.”
Hottel goes on to explain the importance of exterior maintenance and the role it plays in limiting potential food sources for pests. Dumpster and compacter areas, as well as overall waste handling, require special attention as they have the potential to attract insects, rodents and birds. The food and shelter pests find in these areas make regular cleanings a top priority, but other areas need attention beyond the attraction of food.
“Because some insects can also be attracted to a structure’s lights, facility managers should consider using lights with reduced attraction,” Hottel says. “Additionally, mounting lights on poles directed toward the building are recommended over structure-mounted lights. Mercury and halogen lights are more attractive than sodium vapor lights. In fact, mercury lights can be 112 times more attractive to insects compared to sodium vapor lights. LEDs also can reduce the number of insects drawn to a structure.”
Once insects find their way into a facility, management and employees must all take the necessary measures to eradicate and prevent future entry. McCoy says food processing facilities typically have area clean outs roughly once a month in which everything is removed from locker areas, breakrooms, etc., and appliances like refrigerators and microwave ovens are given thorough cleanings. And anyplace where food and beverage items might spill and leave residue are susceptible.
“One thing that’s typically overlooked is the vending machines,” McCoy says. “We get broken cans of soda in there, then we get food that may have broken up because of the vending process. So, vending machines can definitely harbor pests. You also have a motor in the vending machine, so there’s a warm spot. And if there’s any kind of liquids or anything like that that’s been spilled, that can be very susceptible to German cockroaches and other pests, such as ants.”
Pests will migrate in the fall months when temperatures start falling and staying lower. Hottel says many types of insects will overwinter in structures and that rodents especially deserve focus in the fall.
“This pest can be more problematic in certain locations due to fall harvests, especially when facilities are in rural areas,” Hottel says. “Previous rodent history and trends can help alert plants to their risk. It is critical that facilities make sure exclusionary efforts are in place and exterior monitoring and control devices are functioning correctly.”
Facilities should start with the same strategy used for insects, exclusion, as the first defense against rodents. Spaces where light can get in are large enough for mice and sometimes for rats. Maintenance crews must make sure doors and openings close all the way and make the tightest seal possible. But just as important is not to attract rodents to the facility.
“You don’t want to have a lot of pipes and things laying around on the outside that can harbor rats and mice,” McCoy says.
Facilities need their dumpsters at least 100 ft. away from the building, according to McCoy, and they need to rest on a concrete pad. The concrete pad provides a cleanable surface in which spillage cannot seep into the ground to attract rodents, but also acts as a deterrent to burrowing.
McCoy includes employee education as one of the best ways to prevent pests at food processing facilities. Keeping employees aware of their behavior and how it affects pest management makes a big difference in environments where pests cause problems.
McCoy suggests pest management training about once a year, usually about 20 or 30 minutes in April or May, that focuses on basics such as not propping open doors and an overall awareness of pest behavior and how the employees can take simple measures to avoid bringing bugs into the facility unknowingly.