The term integrated pest management (IPM) has been around for decades. It has been interpreted and deployed many different ways by both pest management professionals and their food industry counterparts.
What does IPM mean in this era of heightened food safety awareness and more stringent regulatory mandates?
“There are a lot of misconceptions on what is a true IPM program,” says Travis Mickel, branch manager for Clark Pest Control in Auburn, California. “Food industry professionals are looking for continuous improvement and an IPM program can help them accomplish that goal.”
With a global initiative from regulators (i.e. U.S. FDA, USDA, etc.) as well as corporate management and food industry leaders to establish universal audit and inspection standards, the food safety movement continues to gain momentum.
“Consumers around the world are demanding food that is not only nutritious and tastes good but that is free of pests and the diseases they can transmit,” says Mickel. “The food industry must remain proactive and vigilant in their food safety efforts, and a properly designed and executed IPM program will put them on the right track.”
With technology such as remote monitoring devices, camera mounted drones and handheld mobile devices setting the pace, pest management professionals are collecting and analyzing large amounts of data on pest activity, identifying trends and making adjustments to improve IPM programs.
“Pests are always looking for ways to ‘beat the system’ and food processing, distribution and storage facilities need to embrace today’s technology-driven IPM programs,” says Mickel.
When designing an IPM-based program for a facility, food industry managers and their pest management services partner need to ensure the following elements are included:
- Exploration and investigation of current pest pressures and conducive conditions.
- Ongoing monitoring of pest populations and detailed record keeping.
- Regular analysis of information gathered, including quarterly evaluations, trend analyses, and annual assessments.
- Establishing thresholds and action plans.
- Employing a variety of control strategies including biological, physical, mechanical, educational and chemical methods, with an eye towards using the least toxic/disruptive solutions possible that are effective against the pests.
- Evaluating the collected data to determine the effectiveness of control solutions implemented.
- Regular education of key personnel as to progress.
Defining Action Thresholds, Pest Prevention and Zones
Within an IPM program’s core elements there are three areas Mickel feels need special emphasis:
- Action Thresholds- This is the number of pests, or the level of pest damage, that would require some specific action. In some facilities, this number may be one insect or rodent, while in others, it may be several. Action thresholds can also be a set of conditions (i.e. health/safety issues, environmental conditions, legal considerations, etc.), that necessitates a responsive action prior to an actual pest occurrence. They can vary by pest, by facility, by season, and even by geographic region.
- Pest Prevention - Prevention is a key mandate of FSMA and IPM programs should be designed to prevent pests from being a problem, even before there is an infestation. Examples include landscaping that incorporates IPM principles, exclusion, cultural practices, etc.
- Pest Zones- It’s important to differentiate the IPM requirements and action thresholds for specific zones in a facility. For example, in a food processing facility, action thresholds are going to be much different in food processing areas as compared to the exterior or warehouse areas where equipment is stored.
“Including action thresholds in an IPM program provides a clear road map to follow when specific circumstances occur, and helps ensure that necessary situations are responded to appropriately,” says Mickel. “It is one of the reasons trend analysis and annual assessments are so important.”
Designing an Effective IPM Program
When designing an effective IPM program for your facility, Mickel says facility management and pest professionals must consider a wide range of factors that could impact the end results. From building design and human behavior to the importance of stressing prevention, an IPM program is a living, breathing “document.”
“Most companies are familiar with the idea of continuous improvement in other areas of their business and they can translate that to their pest management programs,” adds Mickel.
What steps can food industry professionals take to ensure their pest programs are being true to IPM principles?
- Develop an official IPM Policy Statement and program that is well-written and easy to follow.
- Choose the right IPM coordinator who will ensure the plan is communicated effectively and proper education is offered to all employees.
- Identify roles and responsibilities of all individuals involved, from the IPM Coordinator, to the facility’s decision makers to the maintenance staff, front line workers, etc.
- Set IPM objectives for various zones/action thresholds with specific action steps, including response times, and detailed instructions for specific pests.
- Establish a schedule for periodic inspections, monitoring, reporting and assessments. Be flexible and make revisions to the plan as necessary, based upon further data analysis.
- Partner with a professional pest management company that has experience in developing and supporting a true IPM program with strong communication skills and the ability to educate and train clients.