[Tech Talk] Sanitation is Essential to Pest Management

Columns - Technically Speaking

January 31, 2012

Sanitation used to be called “housekeeping,” a term many experienced pest management professionals (PMPs) still prefer because it implies reducing clutter; picking up messes; sweeping, cleaning and keeping everything in good repair.

We’ve all seen homes that could have been models for Good Housekeeping magazine. We’ve also seen homes where “housekeeping” meant something much different. Then, there’s the occasional news story about a home so cluttered you couldn’t walk, that was horribly infested by cockroaches, rodents and other pests. Just as people’s definitions of a clean house vary, employees at food plants (or any type of facility), often do not share a common view of sanitation or good housekeeping. So, when you tell a client to “clean up,” what do you mean and what does it really mean to the client?

What is “Clean”? You might discover an area that looked clean, but had trash hidden out of sight. Or, sometimes a problem isn’t deliberately hidden. For example, almost all maintenance personnel can tell unbelievable stories about what they have found inside a void (e.g., a wall), when working on repairs. In the Midwest, siding installers talk about finding the space beneath old siding packed with dead boxelder bugs . . . and live warehouse beetles. It’s surprising; but no more surprising than to hear occupants say, “I had no idea they [the pests] were in there.”

There’s no question that sanitation affects pest management. It’s not a guarantee that a great sanitation (housekeeping) program will prevent all pest problems. However, a poor sanitation program always increases the risk of major and expensive pest issues.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) needs to be part of the daily culture at your customer’s facility. Beyond sanitation, IPM means conducting thorough inspections that focus on exclusion, as well as sanitation.

Simple Structural Improvements. Imagine the huge number of critters that can enter a facility during a single warm night. You need to convince the client that repairs and sealing of openings should be done immediately. It doesn’t cost any more to fix something right away than a few weeks later. Long delays in simple repairs (e.g., closing a gap underneath a door) can negatively impact your customer through product claims, regulatory actions and/or loss of business, in addition to other reactive costs of solving a pest problem that could easily have been prevented.

Beyond pest exclusion and sanitation, changes in rodenticide label wording further complicate things. Last year, EPA passed a new Rodenticide Risk Mitigation Decision for 10 rodenticides (www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/rodenticides/finalriskdecision.htm) to mitigate associated risks to non-target animals outdoors and fifty (50) feet away from buildings.

This change will impact rodent prevention inside your customer’s facility, as well as how you and they deal with garbage, storage facilities, and other equipment and structures not part of or attached to buildings. Rodents may travel as far as 500 feet to seek food or when dispersing, however 50 feet is close to the length of a tractor/trailer rig, creating the potential for a greater number of rodents closer to buildings while it’s unloading. No facility can let a rodent problem become established indoors, especially in food facilities. So, what can be done to mitigate these changes to your client’s defensive perimeter?

The remaining lines of defense need to be strengthened such as:

a. Add more rodenticide and trap stations near plant openings (e.g., doors).

b. Add rodent devices on the interior, especially near doors and outside openings.

c. Monitor the interior more thoroughly and more frequently to detect pest incursions more quickly.

d. Inspect the entire facility on a planned rotation basis so all areas are thoroughly assessed every few months. While looking for evidence of rodent presence and other problems, include places that are usually overlooked (e.g. voids, non-food areas, employee desks and lockers, etc.).

Keeping rodents outside the building is your goal and your client’s goal. Identify gaps, cracks and crevices, and other openings for pests. Look for holes and gaps in screens, door sweeps and thresholds, drop-ceilings, and dock plates. Report them to the client for immediate sealing and repair.

Outside, document and report weeds, brush and bushes that provide rodent harborage. Often, sanitation outdoors is just as important as indoors. For example, abundant bird droppings in the parking lot or near entrances is a major sanitation concern that needs to be addressed.

Remember, it’s illegal to apply a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with the label. So, in consideration of the changes to rodenticide labeling, you need to evaluate your rodent management program and protocols. Keep in mind the following key questions:

  • Will rodenticide label changes impact my client’s pest management and sanitation program?
  • Will increased rodent pressure from outdoors increase contamination issues in food or sensitive areas in my customer’s facility?
  • Although trapping is the first choice indoors, when would I consider or allow the use of a rodenticide indoors? What if 20 mice were trapped in one week? What if there were fresh rodent droppings every morning but none were being trapped?

In summary, inspect, document and work closely with your customer to identify and resolve pest issues. And be careful of saying “that could never happen here.” The impact of poor sanitation or not addressing exclusion issues has ruined unprepared facilities and caused the loss of good clients. Apply your knowledge and expertise and deliver the brand protection that your customer deserves.

The author is president of Copesan Services, a member of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) Commercial Division, a member of Pi Chi Omega and an “honorary” member of Copesan’s Technical Committee, (where she hangs out with and learns from these technical experts and entomologists!) To learn more about Copesan, visit www.copesan.com.