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Put effective pest management on your radar

01 April 2021

Dee Ward Thompson outlines some of the key issues that food and beverage processors should consider to ensure they are protected professionally. 

Pest control is a crucial issue for the food processing industry, where robust procedures are expected to be in place to protect both businesses, customers and consumers.

Unsurprisingly, food processing businesses are attractive environments for a wide variety of pests, including the world’s ‘most expensive pest’ - Stored Product Insects (SPIs).

While SPIs pose no significant health risk to humans, they eat and breed in foodstuffs, leaving a considerable amount of product unfit for human consumption and causing operating costs to increase.

These pests cost the industry billions each year, and any food processor that handles cereals, grain or dried food products needs to be taking measures to prevent the risk of infestation.

Bigger pests, rodents, and especially rats, are more prevalent when winter draws in. Wetter and colder weather, coupled with the cutting of crops, will drive them inside in search of warm spaces near a food source. Rats urinate everywhere they go and carry diseases which can be passed to humans through contact with the rat or its urine in a food preparation area.

Mice also spread disease to humans through urine, droppings and bedding. They build nests near food sources and will mark their territory with urine and carry dirt and bacteria as they travel.

Pigeons, gulls, house sparrows and starlings also all have the potential to carry food-borne diseases and should be kept away from food production and storage environments.

Research suggests wild birds can pass diseases to humans through direct contact or via their droppings, with more than 110 pathogens reportedly carried by pigeons.
Pests and the law
The proprietor of a food business must demonstrate good practices within their premises. Engaging a pest control professional is part of, but does not constitute, due diligence.

The regulatory framework set out in the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Hygiene Regulations 2005 made under it, deems food unsafe if it is considered to be injurious to health or unfit for human consumption.

The regulations set out general hygiene requirements for all food business operators. The layout, design and construction of food premises should permit good food hygiene practices, including protection against contamination and, in particular, adequate pest control.

Procedures should be based on the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principle, used to examine processes and identify hazards, so measures can be taken to reduce risk.

Pest management is part of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for food businesses, which is a prerequisite for HACCP-based procedures. As an integral part of the GMPs, it should be carried out with due diligence.

Pest Control in the Food Industry (revised 2015) guidelines drawn up by the National Pest Advisory Panel (NPAP) of the CIEH are aimed at the food-manufacturing sector.

The principles are the same at all stages of processing, from production (farmers and growers), raw material and ingredient suppliers, to warehousing, distribution and retail, but the level of pest control contract specification will vary.

Preventative steps
A vital step in professional pest control is to ensure that buildings are proofed to a very high standard to stop pests gaining access.

Doors with a 5mm maximum gap can prevent rats or mice getting in, while fly screening may be needed in critical areas, with fly killers inside in case the screen is breached.

For manufacturing units, a glue board system may be an alternative to high voltage grids that tend to explode a fly when it’s electrocuted. It is good practice to analyse and identify fly species caught, as this may indicate where they are coming from as part of the HACCP process.

Raw produce should also be scrutinised as it arrives to allow immediate identification of infestation, and stock should be accessible for inspection at all times. Storing produce against a wall prevents clear examination of it – making detection of any infestation difficult.

Proper disposal of food waste is vital, as pests are quick to collect around it. Pests cannot access food waste that is stored correctly and disposed of regularly by waste disposal contractors.

The value of a maintenance cycle
A maintenance cycle strategy based on targeted, regular activity by a professional pest controller is essential to keep food processing environments safe and secure. Regular inspections of premises and reporting on pest infestation status should form part of a maintenance cycle.

A British Pest Control Association (BPCA) member will be able to carry out a full survey of food processing premises and present a clear report with action points, recommendations and firm quotation of costs. Reports will also detail the programme of treatments and chemicals used to help maintain health and safety, giving clear accountability on both sides.

Defined contract terms will specify the pests covered, frequency of visits and responsibility for preventative measures, and arrangements for additional treatments or emergency call-outs. Contract terms should be reviewed at least every 36 months.

Following a visit from a professional pest controller, it is advised that recommendations are prioritised and actioned, where reasonably practicable, before the next visit. It is also wise to ensure staff report any issues between visits. Always seek advice from your pest controller if a situation is thought to be urgent.

An on-going cycle of visits, recommendations and action, with the right contractor, enhances protection from pests and creates a trusted route to compliance.

When choosing a contractor it is important to understand their credentials, experience, and the services they offer.

Research into the wider industry allows proprietors to specify exact requirements, such as BS EN 16636. BPCA operates strict membership criteria designed to deliver peace of mind to end-users, with members having adequate public liability, product liability and employers’ liability insurance cover.

A range of resources and initiatives for food processors are also available via BPCA, to support them in understanding the work of pest control professionals.

Dee Ward Thompson is technical manager at the British Pest Control Association (BPCA).

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