Food Pantries: A New Rodent Battleground

Food Pantries: A New Rodent Battleground

Killum Pest Control is using ActiveSense as part of its efforts to keep rodents out of a food pantry.

September 25, 2020

(Pictured: Because of their climbing ability roof rats are often found up high and can access structures by climbing on power lines or tree branches to get on the roof. Photo courtesy of Bobby Corrigan, from the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, 10th edition.)

Editor's note: August was PCT's annual rodent control issue, featuring several business and technical articles on rodent control. In addition to this coverage, Corteva Agriscience, manufacturer of ActiveSense, provided PCT with the following "online extra" article about Killum Pest Control’s use of ActiveSense as part of its efforts to keep rodents out of a food pantry. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced the vital role food pantries play in the community. With Feeding America reporting a 50% increase in the number of people seeking assistance, the pandemic has also brought with it an influx of produce and other perishable donations from restaurants, groceries and food manufacturers, which may be leaving food pantries more susceptible to rodents.

While delivery doors are remaining open longer, allowing for an easy rodent entry point, rodents may also be gaining access to these food-sensitive sites as stowaways in the donations that arrive at their doors. With fresh food and easy access, food pantries are unwittingly creating an ideal environment for rodents to thrive. 

For one Texas food pantry, the “stowaway” theory leading to ongoing harborage became quickly apparent thanks to insights from an electronic remote monitoring (ERM) system. Killum Pest Control in Lake Jackson, Texas, was hired by the director of the local food pantry to resolve an ongoing rodent issue after its current provider didn’t seem to be getting results. 

Pantry management did not realize the extent of the rodent issue at hand, believing they were dealing with an isolated issue when, in fact, it was much more widespread and getting worse. Evidence suggested the pantry was dealing with a roof rat (Rattus rattus) infestation.

Identifying the rodent narrowed down potential entry points. Roof rats’ climbing ability and preference for harboring in trees and shrubs meant they were less likely to gain entry through common pest-conducive conditions such as a gap in the door sweep or open delivery doors. 

While a gap in the door sweep or open delivery door are still common entry points, the Killum team identified additional potential entry points: tree branches overhanging the roof or as a stowaway in food donations. When the team learned some of the food donation packages arrived with gnaw marks, the evidence pointed to the latter. 

To rule out all potential entry points and to gain a window into after-hours rodent activity, the Killum team installed ActiveSense ERM sensors on snap traps placed both within the warehouse and the drop-ceiling in the office space. The sensors operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, keeping an eye on activity even when no one was around. And, it didn’t take long for the sensors to record activity. 

An hour or so after the food pantry volunteers would leave for the day, the real-time alerts would come flooding in. Because the alerts include the location of the trap activity in the building, the Killum team knew instantly where the activity and potential catches were located. The sensors revealed that the rat activity was mainly in the drop ceiling of the office space and led to the discovery that the rats were feeding in the warehouse before returning to their nest in an office wall void. 

Armed with that knowledge, the Killum team was able to institute a service package to increase trapping in the drop ceilings and retrieve dead rats before they begin smelling and attracting flies. This was preferable to the pantry because it removed the randomization of their pest management and made it activity-based and targeted. In addition, staff and volunteers were no longer tasked with removing dead rats, much to their delight.

The rodent removal service meant that for every real-time alert received, a Killum technician would visit the site prior to the volunteers’ arrival to clean out any pests. Each visit stemming from an activity alert brought in additional revenue above and beyond the initial install and monthly service fees.    

In just three weeks, the Killum team caught 26 rats in total. Each activity alert was confirmed as a catch by a technician who visited the site to check the traps. Due to the frequency of catches in those first few weeks, a technician only made visits when the system indicated a need to remove rodents. Eventually, the Killum team had eliminated the infestation and reduced their visits to the site. 

With no additional signs of activity, the food pantry still opted to follow Killum’s recommendation to keep the remote monitoring in place. The additional monitoring gave both the Killum team and the customer the confidence that the root cause had been identified and the problem was resolved.