Each year, about 48 million people get sick and more than 3,000 die due to food poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the first two months of 2012 alone, sliced herring, eggs and prepared salads were recalled due to contamination with listeria, the same bacterium that caused the great cantaloupe recall of 2011. And listeria is only the tip of the food contamination iceberg.
After several instances of salmonella (seen on the right) and E. coli contamination, in addition to the listeria problems, the government took action. In January 2010, the Food Safety Modernization Act became law, considered to be the most comprehensive food safety legislation in more than seven decades. The law seeks to shift the focus from food contamination response to prevention and gives the Food and Drug Administration enhanced enforcement authority.
Key aspects of the law require FDA registration of food production facilities that gross more than $500,000 per year, ensuring that smaller food producers can no longer evade inspection; hazard analyses and subsequent written control programs covering all types of potential contaminants, not just microbiological sources; and paper or electronic records maintenance of food safety efforts. Implementation is being phased in.
During his presentation on “Trends in Food Plant Pest Management” at PestWorld 2011 in New Orleans, Greg Baumann, vice president of training and technical services for Rollins, stressed the pest control industry’s role in reducing potential contaminants, especially in light of the new legislation. “We, as an industry, have to understand what the food industry is dealing with every day and know that what we do can greatly affect how they do,” he said.
Our Role. Pest control companies that service food industry accounts must distinguish themselves from the competition, helping food plant managers understand how important a good pest control plan is to their overall safety efforts. While large food producers seem to be aware of the crucial role of pest management and often have comprehensive programs in place, some mid-size or smaller companies may need to be educated.
One regulation that pest management experts can help the food industry meet involves compliance with record-keeping. “We’re going to be part of the pest management program out there, and we have to maintain the pest management records showing what we’re doing and how our program integrates into their program,” Baumann said.
The new law also updates lab testing, auditing and import standards. In terms of auditing, the new standards will help create a more universal set of guidelines. This could prove helpful to pest control companies that answer to numerous customers, each audited by different organizations. With more standardized rules in place, expectations will become more uniform as well. In addition, the law requires an FDA inspection every five years and gives the administration authority to recall failing items.
Regarding the increased emphasis on import standards, which will increase oversight of thousands of imported foods, Baumann says, “my advice to you, until this program gets implemented here, is if you get something from another country, cook it really, really well.” The good news, he notes, is that import companies are beginning to require their foreign producers to increase standards in light of increasing inspections.
Baumann also explained how the new Food Safety Modernization Act ties in with the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Launched in 2000, the initiative encourages collaboration between food safety experts from retailer, manufacturer and food service companies; and service providers associated with the food supply chain, international organizations, academia and government.
“It was kind of frightening because we had standards for pest management in food plants, our own company standards, NPMA standards and then the Global Food Safety Initiative was adopted,” Baumann said. “They adopt other standards, and these other standards can be more specific.” For instance, he noted that GFSI has adopted standards set by the British Retail Consortium, Food Safety System Certification 22000, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (“So if you’re raising shrimp, that’s what you have to comply with,” noted Baumann), the Global Red Meat Standard, the International Food Standard, the Safe Quality Food Institute and others.
“The bottom line is, you don’t have to memorize all this stuff,” Baumann said. “The Global Food Safety Initiative says, ‘We’re going to look at mechanisms already in place and decide whether we find them acceptable.’”
The thrust behind this structure is the “food safety without borders” concept. The initiative seeks to bring the highest level of management to the table in looking at the entire supply chain, from raw materials to finished products.
Between the Food Safety Modernization Act and GFSI, safety inspections and the auditing landscape are quickly changing. Four major auditing bodies provided safety inspections prior to the new standards: AIB International, Silliker, NSF International and ASI Food Safety Consultants. “Now there are 19 groups approved just under the Safe Quality Food Institute, which is a division of the Food Marketing Institute,” Baumann says. “So you’re going to see this explosion of various auditing groups. We have a choice: We can either do whatever they say, or we, as an industry, can mobilize, get together and produce our own standards. And that’s what we’re going to have to do if we’re going to deal with all this.”
PMP standards. Many pest management companies already participate in NPMA’s QualityPro certification program. And while this is known as “the mark of excellence in pest control,” Baumann warned that QualityPro certification alone does not guarantee compliance with the Food Safety Moderization Act or other food safety programs. The primary reason it may fall short is because standards continue to evolve even after pest management professionals are certified. Therefore, an individual who was certified some time ago may need to brush up on the newest changes in the field.
However, as an industry, NPMA standards for food plants will ensure compliance with GFSI. Yet “as an industry, we’re in a very delicate position,” Baumann said. “The standards are not very visible, and they need to be re-energized and reintroduced. We’ve got to update the standards and get back into the limelight with these inspection groups, otherwise they’ll be telling us what to do instead of us telling them what we can do and what we’ve agreed to do as an industry.”
For instance, auditors will be paying more attention to how personnel are trained in good manufacturing practices and food safety beyond past training efforts. The NPMA standards, if followed, will ensure compliance in this area. Other parts of the pest management business touched by the standards include security, rodent and insect control program requirements, and reporting.
Baumann also emphasized the importance of keeping clear, organized and up-to-date records for everything from pest sightings to service protocols to treatment records. Electronic records can be maintained online in proprietary links from the firm’s website, accessible only by personnel and customers. Paper records remain acceptable, although they must be readily accessible to the customer upon request.
As the pest control industry moves ahead in step with current food safety initiatives designed to help transition to a more prevention-oriented culture, professionals must be prepared to present and explain a comprehensive company program. In most cases, such programs will easily exceed GFSI standards.
Pest management companies also will transition from mere service providers to partners in meeting the new standards with their customers. In that sense, it will be important to communicate regularly about audits and specific auditor requirements in order to prepare for inspections from various auditing groups. Understanding new types of control measures also will be key for achieving today’s zero-tolerance thresholds.
Baumann sees a bright future for the industry if professionals embrace their new role. “It’s not going to be business as usual,” he notes. “There are new laws out there and outside groups setting the standards for pest management, since we, as an industry, had not done it. So it’s important that we update those pest management in food plant standards and bring them back into the limelight.”