It’s human nature to want to improve and get better. Whether it’s your career, your relationship with family and friends, or your health and physical fitness, being further ahead tomorrow of where you are today is always a goal.
The same holds true for a food processing or distribution facility’s pest management program. The facility may be successfully passing audits and experiencing low pest pressure today but what about tomorrow?
Pest pressure can change with the season, invasive species can be introduced and other non-pest influencers – sanitation and cleaning programs, facility maintenance , a change in what food products are produced in the facility, changes in staffing, and changing regulatory mandates and audit standards – can impact a pest program’s performance.
That’s why it’s critical for QA and facility managers and pest management service providers to strive for continuous, steady improvement of pest management programs.
Determining if continuous improvement is being achieved can be measured in a variety of ways and it starts with a risk assessment, according to Lance Van Zant, service manager for Clark Pest Control in Auburn, California.
Van Zant says when he performs an IPM risk assessment he asks the following questions:
- Why are there multiple pest monitoring devices in areas without any activity?
- Why are there only rodent monitoring devices and never any stored product pest monitoring devices?
- Why are there calendar scheduled treatments (fogging, spray, fumigation, etc.)?
- Where’s the validation that comes from the collected data, inspection/service reports, trend analysis reports, and assessments?
- Why hasn’t the program changed in 10 years?
“Problems can arise when the pest management provider isn’t evaluating the program and analyzing data on an ongoing basis and making adjustments,” says Van Zant. “Why aren’t they moving monitoring devices in pest vulnerable zones (PVZ) and high risk areas? Why do they leave them there and make technicians continually check the same trap over and over, week after week, month after month, without every capturing anything.”
Van Zant says a technician’s time in an account is valuable and the aforementioned example of deploying traps in low pressure areas rather than in more vulnerable and higher risk areas - zones 1 and 2 areas of a food processing plant – diverts the technician from investing time to perform more thorough inspections, identifying conducive conditions and having a conversation with the client.
Moving the Needle Forward
Taking the proper corrective action when there is a pest capture and identifying the root-cause of the problem is a critical first step.
“Did the corrective action taken improve the program and make the service proactive?” says Van Zant. “If a mouse is caught most pest professionals will add more interior traps but does this fix the root-cause issue? No it doesn’t. Now you just have more traps to check and you haven’t taken the necessary action to prevent another rodent from gaining access to the facility.”
In this case, the correct pathway for continuous improvement would be to identify all conducive conditions and investigate the true source of the problem – poor sanitation, lack of exclusion, infested incoming shipments, etc. and make the needed changes and/or recommendations so it doesn’t happen again.
Using pest trend analysis and risk assessments can also identify areas for improvement within the facility. A savvy inspector or technician will know to ask the following questions:
- When was the last time someone checked the boneyard, storage areas, attics, and roof for pest activity? Does this need to be part of the ongoing service?
- If only mice monitoring devices are being used, how would you know that there’s not a rat running around or if stored product pests are present?
“When doing an assessment, we review the trends in the data and evaluate the risks,” says Van Zant. ”That assessment is what validates the program, but also allows it to change based on the data.”
Van Zant says validation of a pest program is measurable, it’s not a gut feeling and it’s not a scheduled treatment without any data supporting it.
Where and how many monitoring devices need to be put out in a facility, is based on a risk assessment - an assessment that needs to be performed regularly. Clark provides this service four times a year for most clients and may change the program four times based on the assessments.
“The service program a pest management company initially sets up should change, otherwise it’s not improving,” says Van Zant.
Every facility has pest captures and will have to take corrective actions. If a second- or third-party auditor sees zero captures of any kind in a plant and never any corrective actions, they normally see this as a red flag.
“If you have real information, then a facility can evaluate their program and make the needed changes to improve on it,” adds Van Zant.
For continuous improvement to be achieved reliable data is needed. If the correct capture data isn’t obtained, the trend analysis is flawed and you can’t properly analyze distorted or missing information.
For example, if a facility has a mouse issue during the summer months don’t assume it’s because the exterior bait box material usage is higher and there isn’t enough bait available. How much of that bait was replaced due to it being melted, old, and/or eaten by insects?
“True data is when a technician knows the differences between mice and rats consuming the bait, and that from insects,” says Van Zant.
In this case adding additional bait boxes is not the answer. The solution could be removing those stations and replacing them with exterior multi-catch devices in order to obtain true numbers.
Being proactive and flexible with a facility’s pest management is the name of the game.
“The weather changes, new vendors are added, new processes come into play and we need to adapt,” says Van Zant. “GFSI and FSMA require IPM programs and to have risks assessed regularly and for the program to continually improve.”
If you are looking for a pest management partner that understands your business and can help you design and deliver an effective rodent or insect management program, learn more about Clark Pest Control Commercial Services or request a commercial pest inspection.