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The need to protect our food resources from invading pests has been a laborious process since the beginning of humankind. Long ago, pest control practices were reactionary to specific pests, geared toward specific conditions, and not as strategic as practices used today.
Even into the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, eradication was the primary response to pest-related issues. Fortunately, cooler heads began to understand that managing pests through control strategies, rather than annihilation, was the key to success. Thus, integrated pest management (IPM), as the new approach was known, began to develop into today’s strategies.
In some instances, food manufacturing companies, including their warehouses and distribution centers, have chosen to utilize internal personnel to manage all aspects of their IPM programs. More commonly today, each facility manages their IPM program with the assistance of a contracted pest management provider. In both cases, there is at least one pest management professional (PMP) who is assigned to each facility’s IPM program and works with the facility team.
This article will discuss the differences between pest control and IPM, the common strategies of robust IPM programs, common pitfalls in IPM programs, and pesticides. The goal is to help facilities improve their understanding of “the why behind the what” regarding IPM strategies, to share some best practices, and to draw attention to common IPM pitfalls.
What is the difference between a pest control program and an IPM program of control?
Some facilities may operate a pest control program as opposed to an IPM program because they take the approach of “see a bug, kill a bug.” They have a generally reactive posture toward pests. Additionally, these facilities have often incrementally shifted ownership of the program to the contracted PMP. These facilities are easily identified through their heavy reliance on pesticides as well as high catch rates for rodents and insects. To the keen eye of a professional upon approaching the property, many visuals will point to their program. If the facility’s focus is strictly pest control, there can be accumulations of leaves and trash around the building, poor storage practices, trees and shrubs growing against the building, tall grass, and standing water long after the last rain. Once inside the building, one can spot poor housekeeping, inadequate building maintenance, and poorly maintained pest management devices. Dead insects in multiple light covers and dark, dust-covered cobwebs in warehouses are also some of the easy-to-spot indicators.
Facilities that operate a robust IPM program have the attitude that taking a holistic approach to pest prevention pays greater dividends than solely reacting to pests when they appear. They own the IPM program and are in partnership with the PMP. These facilities embrace and utilize strategies and programs that:
The main strategies of an IPM program are to:
When intentionally and intelligently executed within an integrated approach to pest management, these programs reduce contamination of food by pests and minimize the use of pesticides. Let’s look closer at these strategies.
“Long ago, pest control practices were reactionary to specific pests, geared toward specific conditions, and not as strategic as practices used today.”
Exclude and restrict pests by eliminating primarily food and water as well as harborages on the property and around the building:
Exclude and control pests by maintaining the building exterior and roof:
Exclude, restrict, and control pests by maintaining the interior of the building through established procedures, well-managed building structures, and sanitary conditions:
Rodent control programs often, but not always, take the form referred to in Figure 1:
For insects, the layered approach is also employed, where light traps are placed at strategic locations within the facility (Figure 1). Please keep in mind that certain exterior lights, as well as insect light traps (ILTs), can attract insects from tremendous distances. Therefore, placement and types of light are critical. Do not utilize ILTs on the exterior of the facility as these will attract insects to the property, building, windows, and doors. Here are common layers of insect protection from ILTs:
Here are some additional thoughts about IPM devices with focus on risk-based prevention:
FIGURE 1. Sample Blueprint of a Rodent Control Program
Everyone who works in a food facility can either directly or indirectly participate in an IPM, and the most effective IPM programs are those in which everyone is aware of their role. At a minimum, this starts with new-hire orientation and then annual refresher training on IPM. A reputable IPM provider/contactor can supply this training to the facility, and this training should be in your contract key performance indicators. Unfortunately, not many associates remember this training for the other 364 days in a year. Like all effective training, reinforcement must be incorporated into everyone’s daily activities. A successful IPM program includes frequent reminders to associates that they are controlling pests when they:
IPM has been around for quite a while. When it’s executed well, there are few pest problems. Consequently, facilities sometimes take it for granted or get distracted and lose focus. These facilities can fall victim to the following pitfalls:
If you want to improve your facility’s IPM program, self-assessing against these pitfalls is a great place to start.
This section provides an overview of pesticide selection and application that may provide some insight and value. For all details regarding pesticides, always refer to the product label, the applicable regulatory agencies, your facility quality system, your IPM provider, and your customer requirements as well as other internal and external stakeholders for specific regulations, requirements, and guidelines.
Pesticide applications are one part of the IPM toolkit, but they should not be considered a first resort for maintaining an effective IPM program. Rather, they should be a last resort and utilized only as an assist in the eradication of existing pest populations to bring them to a manageable level wherein exclusion, restriction, and control become effective. Their use should not be an alternative to the IPM approaches discussed above.
Businesses and facilities should carefully identify and control which pesticides are used. This control can be easily managed utilizing a master approved pesticide list (MAPL). This MAPL should be formulated by the facility in conjunction with its IPM provider. It becomes especially important for management of commodity tolerance levels as well as compliance with “organic” and “natural” label claims. In addition, an approval procedure should be in place to vet whether a pesticide that is not on the MAPL may be used in temporary and exceptional situations. A company/facility would also be wise to have a risk assessment procedure to follow in the unlikely event that a nonapproved pesticide is found to have been applied.
How is an MAPL created? Many criteria need consideration and consultation. Among the most relevant are:
Employee, customer, or consumer health
Targeted pests (e.g., bird, rodent, insect, flies) and various herbicides
Residual versus contact
Application methods (e.g., crack/crevice, space applications, fumigants, contact, broadcast, etc.)
Remember, the pesticide label dictates its conditions for use.
A final thought came to mind as I wrote this article. I went camping 40 years ago with my brother and his wife in northern Minnesota. Our camping supply outfitter instructed us to hang our food packs up in the trees to keep bears from getting into them. The outfitter said bears are cowards and that if we found them trying to get to the packs, we should just throw stones at them to chase them away. Fortunately, we saw no bears, and it was never demonstrated that I was far more cowardly than they were. Rather, I was quite willing to sacrifice the food packs to the bears or to deer, squirrels, or any other critters with more than two legs. My “bear plan” was to just run faster than either my brother or his wife. In retrospect, the outfitter had suggested a very primitive form of pest control. It was shortsighted, focused on limited circumstances, based on questionable pest knowledge, and a terrible strategy at its core (seriously, throwing stones at bears?). Even four decades ago, this was a foolish pest management approach and certainly nothing like the much more enlightened, integrated approaches we have today in modern food manufacturing facilities.
Today’s food manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers have integrated approaches to pest management, and everyone associated with these operations should understand their role. The main strategies are to exclude, restrict, and control pests. The facility owns the IPM program and works in partnership with the contracted IPM provider/contractors to get the greatest return on its investment. When necessary to regain control over pests, thoroughly document and judiciously use only approved pesticides. When pesticides must be applied, they are only applied in accordance with applicable regulations and always as directed by the product label. Rather than follow the pest control strategy of “see a bug, kill a bug,” an IPM program proactively addresses all the conditions for the pest attraction, entry, and harborage.
Duane Grassmann is a corporate hygienist, Nestlé USA & Canada.