[Stored Product Pests] Reducing Customer Complaints

Features - Stored Product Pests

Stored products are threatened by pests from the time they leave the field to the time they are consumed in the home. Here’s how identifying pest issues will lead to reducing customer complaints.

October 23, 2013
David Mueller

Pest management is about long-term solutions to pest problems. In the past 100 years it has often been convenient to fumigate or spray away a pest problem only to have the problem come back in days or months. However, the conditions that caused the problem to occur in the first place remain. The survivors begin reproducing to restock the problem in a short period of time.

Stored products are threatened by pests from the time they leave the field to the time they are consumed in the home. Pest management is not about a product, it is about a path of continuous quality improvement to solve pest problems. Future generations of pest managers will likely control pests by managing environmental conditions that allow pests to exist and thrive. They will observe food safety issues, examine or test package quality, observe insect behavior and populations more closely. When all the elements of food storage and protection are in place with the highest of standards, consumer complaints will be reduced and perhaps only focus on issues of minor importance and less on issues that can affect our quality of life.

Symptom of a Condition. Problem solvers and pest managers interpret clues that permit the conditions in which these pests thrive and eliminate these conditions to discourage these unwanted guests.

In order to reduce customer complaints we should always begin with the insect or other pests first and study what they like and don’t like. We then can offer them an environment in which they are uncomfortable and will then leave or die.

Companies that put their brand on their service or product are selling more than just the service or product — they are selling their reputation. Protecting this brand integrity is essential. The expectations of food purity laws and food safety standards are changing. Recently, highly published deaths and human suffering from food-borne diseases will force food manufacturers to review their food safety programs and make adjustments. Additionally, pest management professionals will become better than ever before.

Peanut butter is used in thousands of brand foods. Peanut butter contaminated with salmonella was traced back to a food processor in Blakely, Ga., as the single source of one deadly outbreak. After all was calculated, more than 1,900 products were recalled and the front pages of major newspapers in the United States accused the food industry of negligence in protecting the country’s food supply.

The food industry is often given notice through customer complaints that something may have allowed a food product to be contaminated. The manufacturers have an obligation to investigate and gather critical information about a customer’s complaint. For example: What kind of insect/defect could it be? Can they get the sample of the pest/defect? Where was it purchased? When was it purchased? What was the package condition? Is there a code date visible? How long have you had the product? These types of questions help the manufacturer as well as the pest management provider and individual companies involved with the food chain to examine their practices and make improvements, if it is deemed to contribute to the problem.

As companies discuss risk management, pesticide application has become a sector in which they can lower their risks by out sourcing these jobs to qualified service providers who specialize in this area. Overtime costs can be reduced. Service providers like specialized pest management companies, in turn, have become risk managers and risk takers in order to provide services to accommodate the company and reduce lost time accidents by reducing personnel. In addition, service providers are educated, insured and licensed to do a job that involves risks like fumigation and confined space entry into hazardous environments. These services are normally performed on holidays, requiring climbing ladders, entering hot dusty locations and handling chemicals.

Fifteen years ago, fumigations and foggings were often performed by in-house pest control departments. It is estimated that 80 percent of the work was performed by the company. Today an estimated 10 percent of the major food and stored product brand-name companies perform their own pest control and fumigation. Commercial pest management is a competitive and growing part of the service industry.

Trends. A trend in the last two decades is to contract pesticide applications in post-harvest stored product protection to a select few specialized fumigation and food safety companies. General pest control companies that perform pest management and pest control for residential accounts have gotten out of the fumigation business for the most part. The cost of the license, minimum insurance, continued education and capital cost of new fumigation equipment, including expensive monitoring equipment, has eliminated the small player from this expensive, educational-intensive and potentially high-risk business. Structural fumigations for stored product protection are performed mostly on major holidays and weekends when food plants are closed. In the past, most pest control companies carried fumigation and food-processing licenses, but today only a few very specialized companies exist in North America.

In a continuous quality improvement program, stop to ask: What is the cause of each and every customer complaint? Is it the vendor who produces a failed package or is it the homeowner who stored his or her products in infested conditions? Does the package allow the odor of the food to seep out and be detected by a fertile female Indian meal moth looking for a place to deposit her eggs after it is unsealed? Is a door on the top floor of the food-processing plant left open at night for an employee to keep cool or take a convenient “smoke” break? Is it the lights placed above the doors that draw light- attractive insects into a food-processing facility? Is it the spiders and their webbing that station themselves near that door to capture and eat the light attractive insects? Identifying these pest issues will lead to a reduction in customer complaints.


This is an excerpt from Mueller’s book, “Reducing Customer Complaints in Stored Products.” To order, visit http://bit.ly/15ehqNb.