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As temperatures plummet during the winter months, pests like rodents, cockroaches, and nuisance wildlife move indoors in droves in search of warmth, shelter, and food. Food processing facilities provide an abundance of these three essentials, making them the perfect place for pests to take refuge. Once inside, these pests pose a significant threat to human health and safety and can cause extensive property damage. To prevent an infestation from taking hold this season, following are the top pests to look out for and prevent from gaining entry to your facility.

1. House mice are the most commonly encountered rodent in the United States and, despite their name, they are a frequent invader of commercial facilities. They usually nest in dark, secluded areas like storage rooms and basements. These pests can cause serious property damage by chewing through drywall and wires which can then spark electrical fires. House mice also pose a significant threat to food processing facilities as they are known to contaminate food and spread disease. House mice have been implicated in the spread of Salmonella through their feces which can then sicken humans who consume the contaminated food.

2. Norway rats. Similar to house mice, these rats often nest in basements, piles of debris, and in other undisturbed areas and materials. They have a propensity to gnaw through almost everything, including plastic and lead pipes, which can damage food processing machinery and spark dangerous electrical fires. Norway rats are also carriers of serious diseases including jaundice, rat-bite fever, cowpox virus, Trichinosis, and Salmonellosis.

3. German cockroaches are the most common species of cockroach found throughout the world. They prefer to live in secluded areas close to food and moisture and are commonly found in kitchens and bathrooms. This species reproduces at a rapid rate of up to six generations per year, so infestations can quickly get out of hand if not treated by a professional immediately. These pests can cause serious issues in food processing facilities as they can transmit 33 kinds of bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella, six kinds of parasitic worms and at least seven other kinds of human pathogens.

4. Nuisance wildlife, such as squirrels and raccoons, can cause significant disruptions in food processing facilities. These pests will rummage through garbage in search of food and will enter facilities through roofs and other entry points, damaging insulation and electrical wires along the way. These pests are a threat to facility employees as they can carry dangerous diseases like rabies, so should be handled by a professional if found indoors.

To protect your facility from a pest infestation this winter season, follow these eight best practices for prevention:

  1. Trim back trees and foliage that are close to the foundation.
  2. Seal any cracks or holes on the outside of the building.
  3. Repair any broken vent covers, loose siding, or shingles.
  4. Keep storage areas clean and organized to eliminate any potential nesting grounds.
  5. Properly ventilate storage areas and machinery to prevent moisture buildup that can attract pests.
  6. Keep food products sealed and stored properly in air-tight containers.
  7. Clean high-volume areas often, including employee break rooms, bathrooms, and lobby areas where crumbs and trash accumulate daily.
  8. Dispose of garbage regularly and store in sealed receptacles placed at a distance from building entrances.

In addition, it is imperative for facility managers to work with a licensed pest control company to implement an integrated pest management (IPM) plan designed specifically for their facility. Utilizing a three-part practice consisting of inspection, identification, and treatment, pest professionals will assess the facility and pinpoint and address any problem areas, helping to protect from the threats these pests pose to property and health.

Cindy Mannes, Vice President of Public Affairs, National Pest Management Association