By Lisa Lupo

We asked the pest management industry one question: Can a food processing facility be “pest free”? Then we asked for an explanation of the response:

  • If yes, what does it take?
  • If no, why?

Along with yes and no receiving an equal number of responses, a few experts did not commit to a solid yes or no, explaining that it depends on a number of variables.

But regardless of the side they took, the experts from the pest control companies and product manufacturers provided valuable insights on the potential causes of pest entry, critical steps that food facilities can take for control, and solutions for significantly reducing the food safety risks from pests.

Following are their responses.



Absolutely! A properly maintained, inspected, and managed facility can be pest free, but only as long as these are continuously done. Most pest problems stem from a lack of maintenance, poor inspections, or poor management that leads to a failure in the “system” and a pest problem to develop. As individuals in a pest population gain access to a facility, the inspection and maintenance practices should intercept these individuals before they can become a large reproducing population, thus keeping the facility free of pest infestations. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” – Janis Reed, Technical Services Manager, PCO, Control Solutions, Inc.

Yes, but it requires the proactivity, education, and commitment of employees and service providers, including the PMP. Even if there is no rodent issue today, a lack of vigilance will lead to a problem tomorrow. All must know what conditions are conducive to pests and be able to report or take action when something is amiss. For example, the receiving department must be aware that rodents and pests can enter the facility as stowaways on incoming shipments and know how to identify and deal with problem deliveries. Ongoing exclusion is also essential. Entry points must be sealed with rodent-proof material and regular inspections conducted to ensure that entryways remain sealed and no new entryways have developed. – Dave Colbert, Vice President Sales, Xcluder

There will always be some type of pest pressure, but with diligence you can keep any type of infestation from becoming established. It takes monitoring for pests and a knowledge of past issues and conducive conditions that lead to pest pressure. For example, is there is a history of house fly problems? Have entry points been properly addressed? Are there enough light traps? Has sanitation outside the facility been addressed? Different facilities and locations have their challenges. Spending the right amount of time on an account, with the right materials and cooperation of customers is what makes a pest-free facility attainable. – Mel Whitson, Senior Field Technical Service Manager, Zoëcon Professional Products

Although pest pressures in food processing plants are always high, a facility can achieve a “pest-free” condition. To reach “pest free,” the partnership between the facility staff and the pest manager, throughout their respective organizations, must be committed to this goal. Key stakeholders on both sides must instill a sense of value and commitment to observation, reporting, communicating, and action when existing or conducive pest conditions exist– Joe Barile, Technical Service Lead, Bayer Environmental Science’s Professional Pest Management Team

Yes. When you have proper sanitation programs, excellent pest exclusion, sanitary design, and a well-documented HAACP program, you can keep pests out. Protection from food contamination is a continual challenge for food manufacturers. However, it’s a beautiful thing when a pest management professional works closely with key personnel such as the quality assurance team, the sanitation manager, maintenance, and the plant manager who are all concerned with food safety and a pest-free environment. It also helps having FDA and its Food Safety Modernization Act as a regulatory body that holds food companies accountable for preventing food contamination. – Shane McCoy, Director of Quality and Technical Training, Wil-Kil Pest Control



Being pest free can be a challenge. Inherent in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are concepts of economic thresholds — the cost of pest control does not equal or exceed the cost of product damage. An IPM program includes action thresholds to prevent overreactions and underreactions to pest issues in order to not exceed economic thresholds. For instance, if you have a single rat inside of a food processing facility, immediate action will need to be taken as it poses a health risk to employees, could result in damaged products, and could negatively impact an audit. However, if you have house flies outside near trash containers, a higher number may infest the area before action is needed. – Jerry Heath, Entomologist, Industrial Fumigant Company

It depends. Birds pose problems for facilities on the interior and exterior. Most interior problems occur because birds are comfortable on the exterior, then find their way inside, through open doors, cracks, ventilation, etc. Birds should be discouraged from landing on exterior features (lights, signs, ledges) near ingress points. This is easily done with optical gel, spikes, and electrified track. Once inside, food and water should be eliminated. Birds should be removed using mist nets and live capture traps, and openings should be closed off. If it’s not possible to stop their entry, sensitive areas of the facility can be bird-proofed. More areas can be added going forward. – Cameron Riddell, President, Bird Barrier America

There are many factors that influence the presence of certain pests in a food processing facility. Although it is hard to see a 100% pest-free environment, our goal is always to keep pest populations in check and below expected levels. In a commercial facility of this nature, an integrated pest management approach that pays close attention to hygiene, exclusion, and prevention is crucial for a successful control program. In addition, it is very important that food processing facilities work together with a certified pest management professional to develop monthly pest control protocols and services that fit their needs. – Freder Medina, Technical Market Manager – Pest Control, BASF

It depends on how you define “pest-free.” For example, it is completely realistic to expect food products manufactured inside modern facilities to be free from pests. In other words, no pests should be present in the food. However, pests are going to interact with, and likely penetrate, even the most structurally sound buildings through frequently used doors, inbound ingredients, utility penetrations and so on. The key is to have detection systems in place to forewarn pest professionals when pests infiltrate the facility. Perhaps more importantly, have a solid corrective action plan to proactively address pest activity when it is found. – Dan Collins, Regional Technical Director, McCloud Services



I do not believe a food processing facility can be completely pest free, as we exist in a world where insects are all around us, including those that are too small to see. However, with dedication and adapting integrated pest management practices like exclusion and sanitation techniques, facilities can keep insect population levels at a very low level; one that will not cause economic loss. Constant monitoring and communication between on-site employees and pest professionals is key to maintaining control of insect pests. – Cassie Krejci, Animal Health Technical Field Specialist, MGK

A food processing facility can’t be truly pest-free just due to the nature of the business. You have people, raw ingredients, and packaging components moving in and out all day, increasing opportunities for pests to be transported into the building within a standard ingredient or process. We call this phenomenon the “trojan horse concept.” The trojan horse is a real danger to any pest control program because we cannot inspect 100% of every shipment or the people visiting. Additional challenges include the constant opening and closing of doors; or worse, doors not closing when they should, increasing risk; and the power of the building’s attractants to pests which includes smells, waste, warmth, and lighting. These factors cannot be eliminated entirely, so pest activity will always be a risk. – Dominique Sauvage, Senior Director of Quality, Training, and Field Operations, Copesan Services and Terminix Commercial

YES!...Now close the facility doors forever and write your pest management professional a blank check! No facility can become truly “pest free.” The real question should be “What modern techniques and programs would enable us to become ‘pest prevention oriented’?” I see those as being:

  1. A properly performed facility risk assessment detailing every known risk observed and the potential for risk.
  2. An integrated pest management (IPM) program with executive level backing, budgetary funding, and a focus on the pillars of IPM: detection, identification, biology, risk, etc.
  3. A prevention-minded process for incoming goods and exterior pest pressures.

– James Miller, Market Manager-PCO, Trécé

The ultimate answer is no. In the real world of shipped raw materials, palletized goods, aging facilities, and human error, it is only a matter of time before an unwanted pest finds its way into the most secure food-processing operation. However, for practical purposes, it is possible to virtually eliminate risk to facility products with a proper reaction to pest pressure. The critical factor is early detection. This can be accomplished reliably with a thorough quarantine and monitoring protocol, regular inspections, and aggressive control measures when pest thresholds are breached. – Eric Paysen, Technical Services Manager, Professional Pest Management, Syngenta

A completely pest-free facility is probably not possible due to the large quantity of raw materials, packaging, and supplies being transferred into the facility. Even with very tight supply-chain specifications and controls, this is likely not realistic or at least cost attainable, though tight controls can minimize the likelihood of incoming infestations. It is possible for facilities to proactively prevent pest entry from the ambient environment and create an environment within the facility wherein any pests are eradicated before they create a hazard. Both would require an integrated approach including environmental, mechanical and chemical eradication, coupled with a strong monitoring program, sanitation and “pest proofing” specific susceptible processes and areas. A wide range of resources are available to create such a program. – Cisse Spragins, Founder/CEO, Rockwell Labs Ltd

No, food processing facilities are under constant pest pressure. Penetration or introduction into a site is always a threat. The problem is only mitigated through a complete partnership between the pest management professional (PMP) and the staff of the facility. That arrangement works on a day-to-day basis with both teams assessing and evaluating the site and working toward the goal of keeping pests out. – Ethan Vickery, President, VM Products

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at