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Food processing facilities play an integral role in ensuring the nation’s food supply remains intact amid the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery. For seamless food processing, it is critical that facility managers work to maintain compliance with the rules and regulations required to operate a sanitary facility. To do so, one of the most important steps no food processing facility can afford to overlook is proper pest control.

To help safeguard food processing facilities from potential pest threats, such as mice, rats, cockroaches, and ants, and the diseases they carry, plant managers should proactively partner with a pest control company that can assess the property and establish the plant’s integrated pest management (IPM) plan. As a holistic approach to pest control, an IPM plan is comprised of inspection, identification, and treatment to help keep commercial facilities safe, clean, and profitable.

To ensure an IPM plan is successful and to get ahead of any pest problems before they have a chance to take hold, managers must also prioritize inspections themselves. Because food processing plants play host to a wide variety of hospitable environments for pests to take up residence, a few areas that should be regularly inspected to maintain a pest-free environment include:

Grounds. It is important to keep the grounds surrounding the facility properly maintained, as overgrown vegetation can attract pests to the property. Consider installing a gravel perimeter to help discourage vegetation growth that could attract and harbor pests. Excess moisture is also a big selling point to pests looking for a new home, making proper drainage key. Make sure gutters along the building are clear of debris and downspouts are properly diverting water away from the building’s foundation.

Exterior lighting fixtures are also a beacon for pests such as spiders, ants, and flies, as these pests are extremely attracted to mercury-vapor bulbs. If you must use these, make sure that they are set at least 150 feet from the facility; otherwise, opt for a less-attractive option like low-sodium bulbs whenever possible.

Building Exterior. Inspect along the building’s exterior to ensure there are no entry points where pests can sneak in. Mice and rats can fit through holes the size of a dime and quarter, respectively, so places where pipes and utilities enter the building or gaps or cracks in the foundation should be sealed immediately. Once inside, rodents pose a significant threat to humans, as their droppings can spread diseases such as salmonellosis and hantavirus.

Entryways. Many food processing facilities operate 24 hours a day, which means employees are constantly entering and exiting the building as shifts change, making it difficult to ensure preventive measures are always being taken. Implementing a “no-prop” door policy can help reduce the chance that pests will get inside. There also should be a waste management protocol in place for proper removal and disposal of garbage. Trash inside the building should be stored in sealed containers and removed from the facility regularly. Any on-site dumpsters should have lids and be located as far from building entryways as possible.

Building Interior. Because of their warm temperatures and damp processing areas, food plants provide an ideal environment for pests to thrive if preventive measures are not taken. Plant managers should install floor drains where needed and monitor for condensation buildup, removing any unnecessary sources of moisture to reduce the likelihood of an infestation. Also, be sure to properly store empty containers and boxes, as these make an ideal home for rodents. Food odors throughout the plant also can attract pests like cockroaches that can potentially contaminate food and spread diseases, so it is crucial to properly store food products and monitor all food and material pickups and deliveries.

Equipment. Food processing equipment can be one of the greatest sources of a potential infestation due to the many cracks and crevices into which food can slip during production. All food processing equipment should be easy to clean, and any enclosed areas should be easily and quickly accessible. One way to simplify the equipment-cleaning process is to replace any metal cover plates with plexiglass, allowing for an easier inspection without having to disassemble the equipment. Refrigerators also should be clean and condensation-free to prevent pests from moving in.

Plant managers have an enormous responsibility to maintain safe and sanitary food processing facilities, making proactive pest prevention efforts imperative to success. By taking these steps each day and partnering with a licensed professional pest control company to develop a plan specific to your facility, you will help ensure the future safety of your employees, customers, and company.