Food Safety: 7 Pest Hotspots to Monitor

It’s no secret that food processing facilities, warehouses and distribution centers must maintain high standards to ensure food safety. If pests infiltrate a workspace, every area of production is at risk. Not only can pests carry diseases that threaten health and safety, an infestation could also lead to product loss, product recall, reputation damage, product liability lawsuits and a facility’s shutdown.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne diseases every year, while thousands more are hospitalized or even die from them. 

Understanding the threats, developing a robust pest prevention strategy and recognizing when it’s time to call for help are vital to protecting your operations, staff and customers.

Types of pests found in facilities and warehouses

The presence of certain ingredients, odors and lights can attract all kinds of pests and bugs to food and beverage processing facilities and warehouses, including:

  • Rodents — Rodents, including mice and rats, are a year-round threat to the food industry. They destroy and contaminate products, and can derail operation schedules and damage equipment when they chew through insulation and electrical cables. Their presence can be identified through droppings, sightings, grease or dirt tracks, and bite marks on product and packaging.
  • Flies — A problem with flies can quickly get out of control without adequate pest control because of their fast reproduction rate. They carry more than 100 different types of pathogens that can contaminate food and lead to severe illness.
  • Cockroaches — Any crack or crevice in a plant can become a breeding ground for cockroaches. These pests prefer warm, moist, dark environments and can pose serious health risks as they carry a variety of life-threatening diseases, including salmonella and E. coli.
  • Stored product pests — These are small insects that gather around processed food products and grains stored in dry environments. They include beetles, moths and weevils. The pests can contaminate and ruin stock, possibly leading to significant financial losses for processors.
  • Birds — Food processing facilities and warehouses can provide birds a warm place to live with an abundance of food. Their feces is a source of both fungal and bacterial infections that can contaminate and damage stock in production, storage or shipping areas.

Identifying pest hot spots

Pests can find their way into various areas and compromise the safety of an otherwise sanitary facility, but the risk of infestations can be drastically reduced with vigilance and proper pest control practices. We’ve compiled a list of seven vulnerable areas to monitor:

1. Floor drains

  • Drains are often overlooked as entry points for pests like cockroaches and drain flies.
  • Damp, dark spaces can create the perfect environment for flies (and bacteria) to thrive, especially if organic debris has accumulated. 
  • Clean thoroughly and regularly to remove organic debris and build-up that may be trapped in drainage areas.
  • Use fans and squeegees to dry wet areas quickly.

2. Storage

  • Storage racking systems made for easy assembly include numerous holes where pests can live and travel through. The height of the bottom rack can also make it difficult to thoroughly clean underneath.
  • Sealing holes can help reduce spaces for pests to use.
  • Cluttered areas may compromise proper storage methods and create spaces where pests can live. Keep storage areas clear to enable thorough cleaning and provide fewer hiding spaces for pests.

3. Dumpster and compactor areas 

  • Poorly maintained dumpster and compactor areas can attract pests with their odors and supply food for them.
  • Ensure there are no leaks that could attract rodents, flies or birds.
  • Close all waste disposal units after using.
  • Clean and empty waste units frequently.
  • Seal cracks in trash rooms and concrete holding pads.

4. Damaged goods, repurposed food and other waste

  • Food waste generated during processing should be disposed appropriately to discourage attracting pests.
  • Damaged goods can provide a source of easily accessible food for pests. These items should be identified and disposed of.
  • Ensure trailers for repurposed food are cleaned frequently and that there is no leftover food waste that may attract flies, cockroaches, birds or other animals.

5. Corrugated construction material

  • The materials chosen to construct a facility can either encourage or dissuade pests from moving into the building. Corrugated siding and wall materials can allow rodent entry and space for pests to travel and nest. These areas should be checked regularly.

6. Welfare spaces 

  • Break rooms, locker rooms and other areas where employees eat and store their belongings should be kept clean. Pests may be attracted to spaces with spilled or leftover beverage and food waste from employee meals and then spread throughout the facility.

7. Equipment

  • Poor equipment design and layout create pockets for pest activity to develop and make it difficult to clean properly.. 
  • Regularly clean the inside of machinery where food or moisture may exist.
  • Balers used to recycle materials that come into contact with food should be checked regularly. This piece of equipment is often difficult to clean, but should be kept dust and debris free.

Prevention is key

Pest control violations are among the ten most common food safety citations U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors issue every year, including most recently during the 2021 fiscal year.

For food manufacturers and warehouse owners looking to keep a facility clean and avoiding a dreaded citation, the strongest defense is a robust and effective pest prevention strategy.

Building a concrete Integrated Pest Management program

Food and beverage processing plants and warehouses cannot afford to forgo an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires industries involved in food handling to take a proactive approach to food safety — and pest control is a large part of that. Failure to comply can result in shutdowns and thousands of dollars in fines.

The idea behind a successful IPM program is to fight off critters before they ever make it inside:

  • Conduct a rigorous inspection of the building and identify any areas that may attract pests. Check entry and exit points, harborage zones and food and water sources.
  • Develop customized pest prevention strategies for cockroaches, rodents, flies and other pests that may find their way inside the building.
  • Seal off entry points and implement cleaning routines throughout the facility or warehouse.
  • Establish an effective monitoring and documentation system.

Choosing the right pest control company

Keeping everything in tip-top shape takes discipline and consistency. However, pests can still manage to infiltrate a facility despite comprehensive prevention methods. Don’t hesitate to call in an expert when needed — not doing so could cost more in the long run.

An experienced pest management provider can help develop a new IPM program, or strengthen an existing one, as well as treat an infestation. Meet with several companies and request they inspect the facility before signing on to a service. Once a decision has been finalized, be sure to maintain an open line of communication and schedule routine check-ins.


Want more information on food safety compliance or how to upgrade your plant to enhance your pest management strategy? Email me at jbove@stellar.net or give us a call at 904.260.2900.

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