Why pest prevention programs are essential for handling food


January 23, 2023

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian, BCE

Photo: Mark Sheperdigian, BCE

Establishing a reliable pest prevention program is necessary to keep pests at bay, especially for food establishments where pest-vulnerable food items are processed, handled and/or stored.

Every year, a large number of food supplies are lost to pests. It is reported by Pimentel (1991) that stored-product insects can cause post-harvest losses from up to 9 percent in developed countries to 20 percent or more in developing countries. Insect pests alone cause about 20–30 percent post-harvest loss in developing countries (Nayak, et al 2018). Quellhorst et al (2020) mentioned that farmers reported rodents as a major source of grain loss during storage (77.2 percent) followed by insects (56.9 percent). Singleton (2003) and Meerburg et al (2009) state that reports of up to 15–20 percent post-harvest grain losses due to rodents are not uncommon where grains are stored. Therefore, a great percentage of our food supplies may get lost or destroyed annually throughout the world between insects and rodents. Add to it bird damage along with health-related issues associated with bird droppings or pathogens that cause diseases like West Nile.

In addition, pest allergens may directly or indirectly trigger allergic reactions and food poisoning in people. Failing to prevent pest infestations in food processing, handling and storage facilities will jeopardize the integrity of food items and create liability concerns with auditors and regulatory agencies. Accordingly, a pest prevention program should be carefully designed to provide comprehensive and consistent integrated pest management (IPM) solutions for pests commonly encountered in and around these facilities. This program should promote the use of multiple preventive methods for removing or reducing all food, water and shelter sources available to pests. These methods may integrate preventative measures, such as sanitation, exclusion, habitat modification and education.

Plan of attack

The first step of a pest prevention program should be establishing regular inspection and monitoring programs to determine new introductions of pests, pest population levels, and pest distributions. In addition, food facilities should develop continuous quality assurance (QA) and risk assessment audits. To be successful, these audits should utilize well-developed inspection checklists that help auditors or inspectors to pay attention to pest-vulnerable areas and conditions conducive to pest infestations. A unique pest calendar specifically for each location should be made to bring a particular focus on commonly encountered pests throughout different periods of the year. These pest calendars must be prepared based on the inspection, monitoring, weather, and trend analysis data for each location.

Dr. Mohammed El Damir, BCE

Dr. Mohammed El Damir, BCE

Once intervention to manage pests is needed, physical and mechanical remediation methods, such as using heat, cold, traps or vacuums to remove or destroy pests should be included, as applicable. When applications of pesticides are needed to prevent or stop the build-up of any pest population, the judicious use of proven/least toxic pesticides should be implemented on time before it is too late and according to the label instructions and the facility’s safety policy. As relevant, the food pest prevention program should comply with the requirements of the third-party audit schemes as well as the local, state, or federal laws and regulations. Preparations for pesticide applications should be communicated and responsibilities to prevent exposures to pesticides before, during, and after treatments must be well-defined and documented. For example, remove or cover food and food surfaces, restrain entries to treatment areas, etc.

Education and training are also important components of any food pest prevention program. Pest management professionals (PMPs) must go through ongoing training programs to acquire the most up-to-date pest solution techniques. The training programs should also include practical guidance on the principles of IPM, the FDA’s current Best Manufacturing Practices (BMPs), and various safety measures. Moreover, the PMPs should obtain all required and recommended food safety certificates.

If properly implemented, the food pest prevention program will provide effective pest management methods to achieve a sustained, healthy, and environmentally friendly pest-free setting, consistency in results, and outstanding third-party audit scores. This eventually will reduce the food establishments’ cost and liability concerns. Risk assessments through inspection, monitoring, and trend analysis data are the fundamental components of every successful pest prevention program.


Meerburg B.G., Singleton G.R., Leirs H. The Year of the Rat ends—Time to fight hunger! Pest. Manag. Sci. 2009;65:351–352. doi: 10.1002/ps.1718. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

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Pimentel D. 1991. World resources and food losses to pests. See Ref. 37, pp. 5–1

Singleton G.R. Impacts of Rodents on Rice Production in Asia. International Rice Research Institute; Los Banos, Philippines: 2003. pp. 1–30. [Google Scholar]


About the Author

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Dr. Mohammed El Damir, BCE, is technical and training director of Adam’s Pest Control, Medina, Minn.

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