Pests and the issues they present the food industry and public health in general have not changed since the start of the current Covid 19 crisis. In some circumstances, they may even increase as the lack of personnel within a site encourages pests to spread unchecked.
It is essential that pests are managed as they:
1. Spread Disease
Rodents carry many diseases which can spread to humans, normally through their urine. including; Leptospirosis or Weil’s disease, Salmonella, Listeria, Toxoplasma gondii and Hantavirus.
Insects are also known to spread bacteria, viruses and house flies are known to be the UK’s most dangerous insect as they cause many people to experience food poisoning. Birds such as pigeons also cause Ornithosis and Psittacosis which have been proven to kill those affected if they have underlying health issues.
2. Cause Damage
Rodents can inflict a great amount of structural damage. They can cause serious fires by gnawing away the insulation around electrical cables, floods by puncturing pipes and even death by chewing through gas pipes. The insurance sector has estimated that rodent damage to wiring is responsible for 25% of all electrical fires in buildings. The presence of a large number of birds can cause an accumulation of guano which can block drainage gullies and cause floods. Such accumulations if present on walkways can cause potentially fatal hazards.
3. Cause Contamination
Pests can cause a great deal of contamination issues within the food industry. It is important that people (such as key workers within the health or food industry or someone suffering from the effects of Covid19) are fed with food that is fit for human consumption. It is also paramount that as the food industry struggles to fill our supermarket shelves and feed the nation, pest issues do not prevent production occurring.
4. Destroy Reputations
Pests can ruin an organisation’s reputation. It will be hard enough for business over the next few months/years without the further stigma of customers knowing that they had an issue with pests on site.
5. Comply with the Law
The Food Safety Act 1990 states that it is an offence to sell food that is unfit for human consumption. It is therefore a legal requirement to prevent food becoming contaminated by pests.
Obviously at these worrying and unprecedented times pest management may not be the first thing on your mind as many sites have found their sources of income evaporate completely……. something no one could have seen coming. You’d be more concerned about whether you can continue in whatever way possible (e.g. restaurants offering take away, food manufacturing sites altering their procedures to allow for social distancing).
However, don’t disregard the need for pest management throughout this period of change. You might only be able to allow access to external areas of your site. Not ideal, I know, but this is surely better than nothing as professional pest management operators can assess the rodent activity outside and risk assess whether it is likely to impact upon your business within. When the site was closed did you really have time to ensure all those jobs that normally get done in everyday life have been completed (e.g. have all the wheelie bins been emptied? Do the bins have bungs fitted to prevent easy rodent access? Are the lids closed (we don’t want to encourage winged pests from gaining access to a food source)?
If a food manufacturing establishment has to close then it will be important that you put in place a system that will allow food production to continue ASAP following the lifting of restrictions.
Mothballing your site
Prior to closure ask yourself the following: Internal Areas (including silos)
- What raw materials are on site?
- Where are they stored?
- What length of time is production postponement estimated?
- Will stored raw materials be able to be used by the time you foresee returning to business?
How are raw materials that can be used in that time period to be stored so as to reduce risk to the material?
Can the Bulk Storage of raw materials such as Flour, Grain, Yeast and water be justified (if you leave flour or grain too long within silos there will be an accumulation of condensation that may mean that instead of the horrible decision to pump silo contents out, you have the worse task on returning to site of manually having to dig the contents of the silo before being able to fill it with new material. Cooled water systems cannot be left standing for too long for fear of Legionella. Yeast solutions should also be removed.
- How good was your High-Level cleanliness? – particularly important on a dusty site (hopefully there are no major accumulations on pipework, ledges, cable trays or cable trunking). Leaving such accumulations will provide a food source for an array of pests from rodents to stored product insects.
- Have you Identified all machinery from Raw Materials to Production Lines, wrapping and collation including conveyors and robot areas? In the pest management industry, we know that it’s not the outside of a machine that stored product insects thrive in, but the hidden ledges beneath.
- Have you cleaned all hidden ledges accumulating debris? This may mean removing tracking or other product contact surfaces.
- Have you identified cable trunking that has accumulated food debris and carried out a thorough clean? A preventative treatment of diatomaceous earth may be advisable within these areas.
- Have internal fabric issues that may lead to areas with a high risk of pest issues been identified and addressed? Such issues need to be done with pest resistant materials (using filler foam is not advised as rodents can easily gnaw through this.
- Have ALL drain and gulleys been identified and left clean and with drain stops and drain covers in place?
- Have potential harbourages currently in the building been identified? Remove these wherever possible (e.g. dollies and trays, pallets) so any pests that do find themselves within a building have very few places to hide and their presence is easily identified
- Captive footwear – has it been left clean? Dried debris on footwear will often encourage a pest issue.
- Have bags of used protective clothing been removed from site by your contractor? Any food debris left on these has the potential to sustain pests
Have you checked non-production areas such as offices / canteens? – has food been removed from lockers, drawers, bins etc?
By Keeping the exterior of your premises as clean and tidy as possible will discourage pests externally and therefore reduce the pressure on the building and its interior
- External Areas – Have all waste systems such as skips and compactor containers been removed? Have ledges of compactor rams been cleaned as well as the areas beneath such systems? Have wheelie bins been emptied? Lids secured? Bungs in place?
- External Areas – Have you identified fabric issues that need addressing prior to shut down? It is essential that everything recognised as being of a high risk to the factory is addressed if you are to be more certain of protecting the area within.
- External Areas – Have you stacked pallets, trays etc away from the building? Rodents do not like to cross large areas of land so will use whatever cover is left for them to hide behind/beneath. Ensure they cannot do this close to the building.
- Delivery vehicles – Have you checked that these have been left clean and empty?
Do you have to waste product? Can it be used as good PR…. donated to charities/food
banks/handed out to staff?
Documenting why you have made the decisions you have is essential in almost all business. There is always an auditor around the corner (whether that be an EHO or a member of a third-party auditing scheme such as BRC or a supermarket).
- Have you sat down with your pest management specialist to Risk Assess the site now that production has ceased? Confirm what has changed and how this affects you and the potential pest activity on site. You might be surprised to see that instead of the number of required visits for pest monitoring falling, they might increase as having a reduced number of people on site may only encourage pests. Work with your pest management specialist to ensure that the site is monitored.
- Remote monitoring systems such as the Xignal trapping system will prove invaluable during times when access to an area is limited (this may be high level ledges but if you are mothballing a site, this will mean areas normally open to all). When a trap is triggered an email is sent to the nominated people to express the need for a visit. Equally important is the fact that you can prove to auditors that such systems are checking these traps daily with or without anyone on site.
- Have you reviewed your specification? Does it need to be the same as when you were producing food? If production is not under way is it may be possible and perhaps advisable to gain permission to use an appropriate rodenticide internally. Is it necessary to have alternate day follow ups? Weekly may be enough? Discuss with your pest management specialist.
Document everything you do and the reasons you’ve made those decisions – you will need this when you’re being audited again in the future.
The importance of continued pest management and maintenance.
A number of our clients have written to us to convey how they feel we are “critical to their business”.
Not surprisingly, as a pest management specialist company, we agree that pest management is indeed essential to the safety of food production and general public health of your staff and customers alike. We recommend that you continue with pest management inspections on site. You need to discuss this with your pest management specialist.
- With no one on site (or at least very few people regularly on site) pests can feel at home when left undisturbed. This may change their behaviours………whereas before they might not have ventured from one area (e.g. a store with an external door) to another (such as production) ………. with increased confidence, they might feel perfectly safe climbing over product surfaces.
- No matter how good your clean, there will bound to be something missed due to resource constraints, which they will take advantage of.
- If left unchecked a pest population will increase. An average mouse litter has 5 – 6 young, a brown rat litter averages 6 – 11 pups. This worrying indeed and the longer a closure continues the worse an issue n=may get if left unchecked. Insects such as Flour Beetle (Tribolium species) has a population growth rate of 60x per month…. another reason for ensuring you’ve done your best to remove food sources.
- Pests spread disease, damage wires, packaging, contaminating product/raw material. If rodents gnaw cables can you be sure that your premises will be standing when you return?
- Legally you have a responsibility to ensure your building AND your product is as pest free as possible.
Your pest management specialist will be happy to discuss any concerns and further options in this time of change. The important thing is to continue communicating.
Open for business
Hooray!!!!! The crisis has averted and everyone has been given the “thumbs up” to get on with your lives as before. The length of time it takes to get back to producing relies on a number of factors, some of them relating to pests and their management………. you want to be confident that you can begin again without having to carry out lots of remedial works relating to pest management.
- Communicate with your suppliers (including pest management company) when you are likely to start production again.
- Arrange an additional Field Biologist/Technical inspection so that any potential issues are identified and can be communicated to all concerned prior to production runs
- Reintroduce your external waste systems.
- Reorder your clean protective clothing.
- CIP pipework.
- Clean all machinery, surfaces, drains.
Flush through delivery systems prior to production runs and check overtail siftings for any contaminants (it may be necessary to have your silos professionally cleaned………easier if they were originally emptied otherwise you might well be digging out silo contents before a clean is completed).
- Prior to bringing pallets/trays/dollies into the building ensure each one is checked for activity…………. Never bring items into a factory without inspecting it outside……. you do not need to give pests a helping hand in getting in!
- Check any delivery vehicles to ensure they are pest free.
- Reinstate your usual processes and procedures.