Last year proved to be one of the most challenging years for every industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plant closures, employee sick leave and social distancing made it especially difficult for food processing facilities to keep up with the demand.

On top of this, many facilities experienced an increase in pest control issues as rodents and other pests became more desperate and bolder in their search for food sources in light of reduced foot traffic. The past year has emphasized the importance of working with a licensed pest control partner and making prevention a top priority in the new year.

As we head into 2021, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Frequent Invaders.

Understanding the pests that frequently invade food processing facilities and the threats they pose can help facility managers identify and address any issues that may arise before an infestation has a chance to take hold. Food processing facilities present the perfect conditions for various pests, including rodents, flies, cockroaches and stored product pests to thrive thanks to an abundance of food, shelter and moisture. These pests can cause serious issues as they contaminate food with their droppings and are known to spread many diseases to humans, including E. coli and Salmonella. While pantry pests do not transmit disease, they can still infest ingredients.

Pest Control Partner.

The best way to address any pest issues and prevent new infestations is to work with a reliable, licensed pest control partner. Professional pest control was deemed an essential service during the pandemic by the Department of Homeland Security, allowing companies to continue their vital work.

A commercial pest control partner will help develop an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan specially designed for your facility and its unique needs to ensure compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations. IPM is a pest control method that focuses on three basic techniques: inspection, identification and treatment.

Hiring the best pest control partner should be at the top of every manager’s 2021 to-do list. To determine which company is the best match for your facility’s needs, there are a handful of things to consider.

Evaluate pest control companies that are members of national, state or local pest control associations. Being a member of these means the company is committed to protecting public health and property and has a desire to receive ongoing education. It also means these companies strictly adhere to state and federal regulations.

Research companies and ask for recommendations from others in the food processing industry as they face similar challenges. When meeting with a prospective pest control partner, always ask questions about their practices and other food processing clients they serve.

Before finalizing the agreement, carefully read contract terms to fully understand what pests and services are covered, as well as any guarantees that may be given. Be sure to negotiate and ask questions, if necessary.

Pest Prevention Tips.

In addition to continuously working with a pest control professional, there are simple things facility managers can do to help prevent an infestation in the new year.

Look for signs of a rodent infestation such as live or dead rodents, nests or gnaw and rub marks. Pay extra attention to machinery, kitchens and bathrooms for signs of a cockroach infestation such as droppings or eggs. Carefully inspect storage areas where materials may be packed close together, providing cover for a multitude of pests. Finally, scrutinize any shipments for pests before bringing packages and deliveries inside. Clean machinery and high-volume areas, such as employee break rooms and kitchens, daily. Keep trash receptacles closed and regularly remove garbage from inside and outside the facility.

Keep food sources sealed because pests are attracted to food processing and service facilities where food is in abundance. It’s important to discard any food that is expired, left uncovered or shows signs of infiltration, and to store any usable food items in sealed containers.

On the exterior of the building, seal any cracks or holes, replace any weather stripping or loose mortar around the foundation and windows and repair fascia, soffits and rotted roof shingles. Also, ensure tree branches and shrubbery are well-trimmed and kept away from the building. Inside the facility, keep food storage areas, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.

While food processing plants may continue to experience the effects of the pandemic, there are steps facility managers can take now to help prevent an infestation in the new year. By proactively partnering with a pest control company now, you can ensure the safety of your employees and products both next year, and beyond.