Insects might be small, but they can cause big problems in a food processing operation if they are not properly dealt with, says the USDA.
James Campbell, research entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told FoodProductionDaily integrated pest management (IPM) is a crucial part of a food operation’s safety plan.
“Assessment, monitoring and management of pest control activity is vital,” he said. “You want to eliminate the conditions that could promote or sustain a pest population.”
Campbell said more than 1,600 species of insect can threaten stored food products. Some are more common than others, but all are poised to attack the US food supply, contaminating a product and potentially causing foodborne illnesses.
An effective pest management program consists of three basic components, he said. First, facilities need to prevent insects from entering a food processing or storage facility. Then, they should avoid creating conditions (such as warm, wet environments, or areas where spilled food gathers) that attract or encourage insects, and finally orchestrate plans to suppress insects that do happen to enter the facility.
Facility-wide remediation efforts, such as spraying or setting traps everywhere, isn’t necessarily the best way to fight pest infiltration, Campbell said.
“If you have a pest problem isolated in one area of your facility, you can save resources, time, and money by pinpointing and responding in that area, rather than blanketing the whole place,” he said.
The use of pheromones, Campbell told FPD, is one way to fight insects. These are natural chemicals that female insects give off to attract male suitors; used in traps, they can be effective in disrupting the insects’ mating behavior, staving off the population and abating the infiltration problem.
Using pheromones has advantages, Campbell said—the substances are safe for humans, relatively inexpensive when used in traps, and frequently effective in combating pest problems. However, pheromones are only effective with specific species; if a facility is having problems with multiple insect varieties, that means multiple pheromones need to be put into play.
To determine which pest management strategy is best for a facility, Campbell said, it is wise to research the problem, try one abatement method, observe the results and (if necessary) adjust the combat plan and try again. Frequently effective pest management plans require an approach combining multiple methods (traps, chemical intervention, or other means) to do the trick, he advised.
Campbell spoke to FPD at the Food Safety Summit, an annual conference and exposition focusing on current safety concerns and emerging technologies. The event was held in Baltimore, US, April 8-10.