Whether a food warehouse, processing facility or storage facility, one of the largest threats rodents pose is the actual damage they cause to the food. Rats are capable of consuming 30 grams of food each day – meaning 50 rats in a food facility can demolish 23 pounds of food per week. Regrettably, it is not just the direct feeding that causes problems, any products near the direct feeding are also at risk of contamination.
In addition to food product damage, rodents can cause severe structure damage in these facilities. All rodents have a pair of incisors that never stop growing and jaws that can exert up to 7,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. Their constant chewing can gnaw through actual structures and the wiring in a facility. A statistic claims that 20% of unknown fires are suspected to be caused by wires that have been chewed or frayed by rodents. That said, not only do rodents present the possibility of structural damage, but fire damage as well.
Furthermore, there are multiple health issues associated with rodents that can be a threat to food processing facilities. Rodents have been linked to food poisoning, rat-bite fever, hantavirus and the bubonic plague. Rodents can easily spread diseases across multiple areas of a facility in a short period of time.
The good news is that these threats are all manageable and preventable. To protect your reputation and bottom line, a proactive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan is key. An IPM plan emphasizes preventative techniques, including exclusion, maintenance and sanitation to proactively prevent rodents from becoming an issue. An effective IPM strategy includes learning the signs of rodent activity, identifying the rodents that pose a risk and rodent-proofing your facility.
Signs of Rodent Activity
Spotting a rodent is the most obvious sign of a problem, but through education and vigilance you can spot additional subtle signs that you may have an issue.
- Burrows and nests: Mice build nests from shredded material such as paper, cloth and cardboard. Some rodents like to nest underground, in which case you might see excavated holes along the building’s perimeter.
- Grease marks: Rats and mice are creatures of habit and will frequent the same path. In the process, their dirty bodies leave behind greasy, dark rub marks on walls, stairways and burrow openings.
- Droppings: Rodents leave behind as many as 50 pellets per day. These droppings, which tend to be capsule-shaped, are most commonly found in areas with high rodent activity.
- Gnaw or chew marks: Rodents’ teeth never stop growing, so these pests constantly gnaw to wear them down. Rodents’ gnawing leaves behind shallow, parallel grooves that can be found on wooden structures, plastic, cardboard, aluminum and even lead. As previously mentioned, they also chew through electrical wires.
The first step to controlling an infestation is to properly identify of the types of rodents at your property. Here are the rats and mice you’re most likely to see scurrying around your facility:
- Norway Rat: Burrow underground and can get in through foundations and openings as small as an inch (24mm).
- House Mouse: Nest in any area they can find, especially if it is close to their food source.
- Roof Rat: Found up high and are great climbers. They nest up high in trees or rafters of buildings.
In a successful IPM plan, an inspection is essential to help identify and evaluate sanitation and structural conditions that could attract pests. Pay attention to hard to reach places including dumpsters, sewer and drain pipes, floor-wall junctions and beneath and behind equipment.
Implementing sanitation and exclusion practices is the next step to preventing rodents. Key techniques include:
- Inspect and clean all areas, and try to get to those hard to reach places
- Place dumpsters as far away from the building as possible
- Address spills immediately
- Check outside faucets and gutters or leaks/puddles
- Seal and holes and cracks with weather-resistant sealant
- Install a gravel strip around the facility's perimeter to help prevent rodent burrowing and access
Another effective and important way to prevent rodent activity is ongoing monitoring. Utilize pest monitoring devices to capture and track populations. A current and accurate site map should list the locations of all pest monitoring devices used, and findings should be documented according to the frequency defined by the IPM program. Additionally, trend reports should be compiled from service visit findings to respond with (and validate) appropriate corrective actions.
At the end of the day, a successful IPM requires a team effort and strong leadership. Your employees should understand your facility’s IPM program and their role. To help them help you, offer pest sighting logs for employees to report issues, establish reporting procedures and ask your pest management provider about complimentary staff training.
Food processing facilities may offer the ideal habitat for rodents but by following these steps you will be able to prevent rodent threats from negatively affecting your reputation and the success of your business.
Chelle Hartzer is Technical Services Manager for Orkin. She is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of operations, marketing and training. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.orkincommercial.com.
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