Question: Dan, I just picked up a food processing account that has a history of stored product pest (SPP) issues. Is there anything special I need to do here?
— Mulling Over the History
Answer: The first thing you need to do, MOTH, is not focus too much on the “stored product” part of the “SPP issues” designation. Certainly, knowing exactly what food materials present SPP gives you an advantage by allowing you to implement inspection and monitoring programs tailored to the expected pests. And sure, you’re probably dealing with beetles, moths, rodents, and other typical SPP. But under the right conditions, anything from bacteria to elephants could be a problem.
There are a few simple truths when it comes to SPP issues in a commercial setting. First and foremost is that pest management professionals (PMPs) can neither prevent nor eliminate an SPP infestation on their own. A corollary to that is that most of the work involved in prevention and elimination must be performed by the client. Your expertise is invaluable in designing and implementing a prevention program, but your client must do the heavy lifting. (You could provide a bid for all the additional labor, but since it is doubtful the client would take you up on such an offer, we will just move on.)
KNOW YOUR TRUTHS
In previous columns, I have discussed the need for establishing a strong relationship that focuses on open communication with clients well in advance of any sort of pest issue. This is true in all circumstances, but especially when dealing with SPP problems. It means more than just knowing who your account contacts are; you must establish a relationship with them that supports your position as an expert in pest prevention strategies. You need their support and advocacy as you work with various parts of the operation to introduce and sustain the prevention program.
That leads us to the next truth: You must exercise your intellectual curiosity and learn everything about their operation. Where did their materials originate? How are they shipped? How are they brought into the building? How are they inspected? How are they stored? How long are they stored before they are used in production? You must know the answers to these questions and more.
Demonstrating a desire to fully understand the operation at a specific location reinforces your position as an expert. It also provides you with the information you will need to explain to your clients how and why they need to help you prevent an introduction or infestation.
Next up on our list of truths is that prevention is an investment, but elimination is a large expense. Prevention largely comes down to labor costs for sanitation and storage practices. Elimination, and the potential for reputation damage — or worse yet, a foodborne illness causing a recall-generating infestation — can far exceed that of simple labor. It also can have expensive, long-lasting, brand-damaging impacts.
Working backward through the truth chain, being able to understand and communicate the potential hazard of failing to have a proper prevention program in place, as supported by your investigation into understanding how the operation works, again reinforces your position with your clients. It makes you more than just their vendor; it makes you their brand protection partner.
PREVENT ALL PESTS
Learning what types of products are brought into the facility and how they are stored and processed will help you understand how SPP may gain entry, which conditions are most likely to be conducive to an infestation, and how to properly monitor for the pests that are most likely to be introduced.
The good news is that once your client establishes (and executes) a comprehensive prevention plan, more than just rodents or SPP introductions and infestations will be prevented. The same processes will help with monitoring for other pests as well. Yes, even elephants.
Just to be clear, though, if you’re a PMP in the United States and the problem at a food-processing facility is elephants? Put your stuff back in your vehicle and go. Leave.