The Role of Pest Management in Food Processing

By understanding the common pests and associated risks, implementing preventative strategies and bringing in pest experts when needed, food processing professionals can safeguard public health and ensure their facilities remain pest free.

Erni Adobe Stock 55022935
Erni AdobeStock_55022935

Food processing facilities often operate in the background of consumers’ lives, but they play a critical role in society. With more than 40,000 food and beverage processing plants in the United States alone, this important industry provides people across the country with the sustenance and nutrition they need. However, with great importance comes great scrutiny, and food processing facilities must abide by strict guidelines and regulations to keep the public safe.

Professionals in the food processing industry have a responsibility to manufacture goods that don’t present a health hazard to humans. That means there’s an often-unseen risk that must be monitored to reduce the risk of illness: pests. For food processing professionals looking to keep their facilities pest free, it's important to understand the common pests in food processing, the risks they present to their business, and strategies for mitigation are critical for complying to regulations and preventing illness.

Common pests and risks in food processing plants

Pests, including insects and rodents, are drawn to food and water sources. Unfortunately, food processing facilities contain large quantities of both. Because of this, facilities offer plenty of breeding and feeding grounds for pests such as:

  • Flies. Sometimes mistaken for gnats, flies are drawn to germy areas (i.e. trash areas and drains) and contaminate the clean surfaces they land on. In addition to presenting a health hazard, fly infestation can also hurt your chances of passing a food processing audit, so it’s important to get fly populations under control through proper sanitation techniques.
  • Rodents. Rats and mice can squeeze through holes a fraction of their size and transmit, either directly or indirectly, more than 30 types of diseases. With the risk of transmitting salmonellosis, typhus, Hantavirus, and more, rodents have no place in a food processing facility.
  • Cockroaches. The three main types of cockroaches (American, German, and Oriental) seek out cracks and crevices, such as near processing equipment where there are plenty of crumbs and moisture, making them particularly troublesome for food processing facilities. In addition to their unappealing presence, they often climb through sewage, bringing with them bacteria, pathogens, and parasitic worms. German cockroaches actually secrete an odor that can affect the taste of foods, so food processing plants should prioritize cockroach prevention and mitigation measures to prevent contamination and maintain quality.
  • Beetles. Of the many kinds of beetles, including Confused Flour Beetles, Red Flour Beetles, and Saw-Toothed Grain Beetles, several feast on stored food products, like flour, grains, and other finely milled starches. They lay eggs and secrete liquids (known as quinones) into the food where they congregate, which further exacerbates an infestation and damages the quality and flavor of grain products.
  • Weevils. Weevils are arguably one of the most detrimental pests in a food processing facility. Feeding on grains, beans, seeds, dried vegetables, and even pastas, an untreated weevil infestation can cause major inventory damage and often leads to downtime, which results in reputation damage and profit loss.

Preventing food processing pests

  • Maintain a clean facility. The first step in preventing pests from seeking shelter in your facility is keeping it clean. This includes quickly wiping up crumbs and spilled water, keeping trash cans tightly closed and routinely cleaned, and elevating storage boxes off the floor. You also want to make sure you’re eliminating breeding areas, such as standing water and food spillage, to help prevent reproduction.
  • Seal off entrances. Rodents and insects alike can squeeze through even miniscule openings, so you must identify where your facility is at risk and seal off entry points. Since pests are attracted to moisture, you should also seal around pipes, open expansion joints, and other areas that can lead to moisture buildup.
  • Keep an eye on your product. You might notice signs of a pest infestation before you actually see the pests, so make sure you’re monitoring your food products for any noticeable changes in temperature, moisture, or mold. This can indicate an infestation is already underway.
  • Seek professional help. Unfortunately, many pest infestations are difficult (if not impossible) to prevent entirely. If you find yourself in a situation where your facility has been infested, consult a pest management professional who is well versed in the different types of pests that impact food processing plants and knows how to mitigate damage, whether through exclusion or extermination methods. 

In the essential and highly regulated world of food processing, preventing and mitigating pest infestation is of the utmost importance. The health and safety of the public depends on the production of quality food, so pest control isn't just a regulatory requirement; it's a moral obligation.

Insects and rodents both pose a threat not just to the bottom line of food processing facilities, but to the health and well-being of consumers nationwide. By understanding the common pests and associated risks, implementing preventative strategies and bringing in pest experts when needed, food processing professionals can safeguard public health and ensure their facilities remain pest free.