This blog looks at 9 signs of a pest infestation on your food processing or manufacturing premises, and what you can do to address them.
As a producer of food products, I know that the thought of a pest infestation can keep you up at night. Not only are the threats of decreased production, high losses, and brand damage part of the nightmare, but the health and safety risks posed by contamination and the diseases carried by pests certainly also contribute to the lack of sleep.
To be able to identify pest infestations is crucial. As with most health concerns early detection can literally save lives, and it’s no different for health and safety in relation to pest control.
To start with, you need to understand the basics of pest behavior. Simply put, these invasive creatures need 3 things: harborage or shelter (relatively undisturbed locations to live and nest), food and water. Pests aren’t as picky as humans, so food production sites frequently provide all 3 of these, but if we remain vigilant we can mitigate the risks of infestations occurring and spreading to other areas.
Let’s take a look at 9 red flags that you have a pest infestation. These are 9 signs that you can identify relatively easily, and can train your teams to look out for as well.
9 Signs of pests in your food processing plant:
Let’s begin on the outside of your facility and work inwards.
- One man’s rubbish is another pest’s buffet:
Your waste area is usually the least protected area in your facility, so if you find that your rubbish is disturbed or eaten, you can be sure that pests have found their way into this area. Pests that are usually active in waste areas include: flies, cockroaches, ants, and rodents. Please ensure that you are careful when treating this area as non-target creatures - such as stray cats and dogs - may also be foraging in your rubbish.
- Mud tubes and mounds:
These are signs of termite infestations, and usually occur on the exterior of the building but can also be found on piping, plumbing, floorboards, and small cracks internally. Termites are one the most expensive pests to treat, and so we recommend that if you do see mud tubes or mounds you book a termite inspection immediately.
- Damage to the fabric of the building:
Damage noted on the building exterior - such as gnaw marks - are a warning sign that rodents are active on the site, and damage to the roof will indicate a bird problem.
Once inside, here are some signs of pest to watch out for:
- Shed skins, exoskeletons or egg cases:
Insects shed their outer layer of skin or exoskeletons as they grow through their specific type of metamorphosis. Examples of insects which shed their skins are carpenter ants, spiders, and cicadas. Cockroaches, however, will shed their exoskeleton as they grow from the nymph phase into adulthood. In addition to this, if you find egg casings from any insect, you can be sure that there is an active infestation on site.
- Damage to packaging:
Holes and gnaw marks on food packaging and containers speak volumes about the presence of a rodent infestation on your site.
As pests eat and nest on site they are bound to leave faeces, so it is important to be able to identify the different types of pests from the droppings they leave behind.
- Live infestations:
These can take the form of eggs, larvae, pupae, or adults, so refer to our previous blog on “How pests attract more pests” where we discuss how there is never just one pest. Infestations can be noted in almost any area, however where the needs of pests are being met is usually where you will find them. Examples will be storage areas, canteens, kitchens, locker rooms. In addition, you might find nesting material, droppings, or sharp odours. These signs all mean that there is an infestation that needs to be addressed.
- Rodent runways:
Smudges or grease marks on walls or skirtings are a sign that rodents are using that area frequently to get into the various areas in the production site.
Moths utilize webbing for nesting, protection, and camouflage. Usually this kind of activity is noted in facilities with products that are stored for longer periods of time. Moths are stored product insects (SPI’s) and SPI's vie with termites for the dubious honour of being the most expensive pest.
What should you do if you see these signs of pests?
Knowing the basic needs of pests (harborage/shelter, food, and water) should guide you here. Very simply put, if we restrict access to what pests need, it’s very difficult for them to survive. There are a few simple things you can do to ensure that living conditions become almost impossible for pests. Making these part of your production operations, in conjunction with your pest management program, is your best defence against ongoing pest problems.
So here is what we recommend you do if you see any of the above signs of pests in your food processing plant:
- Educate your teams: give them the training they will need to identify pests or signs of infestation. Rentokil offers pest awareness training and we have free posters and infographics available for download that can assist staff in pest identification.
- Continuous cleaning processes: this will need to include your waste area. You don’t want to attract pests to your waste area because they will eventually make their way into places you really don’t want them.
- Product and stock rotations: these restrict pests from gaining access to your products and raw materials as frequent movement discourages nesting.
- Proofing and housekeeping: a well kept and maintained site without cracks and entry points not only restricts entry and harborage for pests but also shows pride in your business.
- Communication: If any person on your site notes an infestation, communicate the concern to your pest control service provider immediately.
Pest control is a two-way relationship between you and your pest control provider, and when you treat it as a partnership, problems caused by pests can be better addressed and managed. Communication regarding your sites and the operations that are being undertaken are crucial to managing pest control. In closing, remember the words of Helen Keller, “ Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Enjoyed learning about the 9 signs of a pest infestation? Then you may also like to download our eBook guide to Pests in the Food Processing Industry, or our Food Retailers Guide to Pest Control.
For regular updates on our content, don't forget to subscribe to our blog.
Have further questions about our food premises services? Or perhaps there is a topic that you would like for us to explore further on our blog? Send us your questions using the form below and you may find your question the topic of our next blog!