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For some food facilities, fumigation is a critical process to ensure against pest contamination. For others, the pest control service is against company or federal regulations. For still others, it is a practice that may warrant consideration, but they know too little about it.

This 2021 State of the Fumigation Market, sponsored by IFC, includes a focus on each of these, as revealed through a third-party survey of QA readers. But, before we get too far down the road on results of the survey, it is important that all readers understand what fumigation is and why it is being used.

As defined by the Nevada State Department of Agriculture (bit.ly/nevadafumigation), “A fumigant is a chemical which, at a required temperature and pressure, can exist as a vapor or gas that, when released, penetrates objects or enclosed areas in concentrations that are lethal to pest organisms.” Additionally, at the required temperature and pressure, it “exists in the gaseous state in sufficient concentrations to be lethal to a targeted pest,” according to the Department of Agriculture’s Fumigation Handbook.

Fumigants, and the fumigation service, must be handled by only trained, certified professionals as there are some hazards associated with the service. Most fumigants are highly toxic, making it “a highly specialized operation that requires equipment, techniques and skills not generally used for applying other types of pesticides,” the Nevada manual states. Additionally, while fumigation can be more time and labor consuming than other pest control methods, “when needed, fumigation is more effective and efficient than any other means of control in structures and commodities and may be the only way to control pests in stored commodities, dried fruits and nuts in warehouses, food plants and bulk grain facilities.”

When properly used by trained, licensed personnel, fumigation can be a very effective means of pest control as, according to the University of Kentucky (bit.ly/ukfumigation), it achieves the following:

  • Fumigation can quickly eradicate arthropod and/or rodent infestations in commodities and structures.
  • It can penetrate cracks, crevices and some packaging materials that may limit the effectiveness of insecticide sprays and dusts to control pests.
  • Fumigation will leave no unsightly, odorous or hazardous residues if the site is aerated properly.
  • It should not change or harm the treated commodity in any way.

Throughout this report, we will discuss fumigation at food facilities, with further insights from survey respondents whose facilities use — or do not use — fumigation services.

Current Status

When discussing any form of pest control, it is interesting to note who performs that service (i.e., a pest control company or internal employees/department). And — in this day and age — it’s worth understanding the effects (if any) of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A large majority (68%) of the respondents to this survey outsource all their pest control, with all services conducted by a third-party pest control company only. However, nearly one-fourth (23%) have a hybrid approach, with some pest control conducted through a pest control company, and some by internal employees/department. Only 8% have all their pest control conducted by internal employees, while 1% responded that there is no pest control conducted at their facility at all.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic had significant impacts on the food industry as a whole, more than four-fifths of respondents (81%) stated that it had no impact on their pest control service.

Of the 19% who said there was some impact:

  • 13% reduced frequency or type of service.
  • 2% cancelled service temporarily.
  • 1% switched from external to internal service.
  • 1% switched from internal to external service.
  • 4% had other impacts.