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The importance of integrated pest management (IPM) for food safety in a post COVID-19 world

Before COVID-19, the food industry had a multitude of challenges: an ever-increasing complex supply chain, stringent legislation and rising standards for compliance and audits, political and environmental upheavals in parts of the world (Brexit, climate change), rising populations, with increasing demands on the food supply chain, and changing consumer expectations.

Once the pandemic hit, businesses faced uncertainty, greater demands on their resources and the additional challenge of protecting their staff, customers and reputations by employing more vigorous hygiene practices. Consumers, in the meantime, have had to adapt to new ways of working, living and eating, resulting in considerable variances in the type of foods in demand. The pandemic has turned consumers away from perishable foods to pre-packaged goods. For example, during Singapore’s eight-week lockdown, an additional 1,470 tons of plastic waste was generated from takeout packaging and food delivery alone. These conditions make it very difficult for some food businesses to operate – or even survive.

The COVID-19 crisis has, however, presented pests with great opportunities to thrive. Reduced or no human presence and irregular food sources have led them to venture out into the open and colonise dwellings that would have otherwise been out of bounds. During 2020, 5.7 million infested locations across the world were reported to Rentokil and there was a 12.4% global increase in rodent infestations, year-on-year. The risks from pests can be considerable. They carry harmful diseases, transmit dangerous pathogens, breed quickly under favourable conditions, damage or destroy stock, equipment, building integrity, and cause loss of revenue and damage to brands and reputations.

Pests can threaten food safety at any stage in the supply chain from farm to fork. Businesses can benefit from having an integrated pest management approach to eliminate and prevent a range of pests from encroaching on their premises.

What is IPM?

IPM, short for integrated pest management, is a combination of practices designed to eliminate the root cause of pest infestations and focuses on their long-term prevention while minimising risks to people and the environment.

Technician carrying out integrated pest management

Pest prevention by IPM practices

It’s significantly easier to prevent pests if there’s an IPM plan or programme with an ecosystem of solutions to stop pest activity on your premises, using environmentally friendly methods, wherever possible. An IPM strategy would usually consider the following controls on your premises.

  • Biological control, with the use of natural predators of targeted pests
  • Chemical control, employed only as a final means and uses selected and measured pesticides to protect the health of humans and non-target species
  • Mechanical and physical controls that make a site unsuitable for pests or eliminate them directly
  • Cultural controls in agricultural businesses that could mean changes in farming practices (such as carefully timed crop rotation or changes to irrigation levels)

These controls are incorporated into the four principles that form the basis for our IPM programme: exclusion, restriction, destruction, and monitoring.

Exclusion of pests

Exclusion encompasses proactive pest control measures to prevent entry onto your premises by sealing and proofing any potential entry points into a building. Pest proofing includes sealing holes and gaps, replacing screens and repairing defects around entryways, pipes, drains and other structures. Pest proofing is especially important if buildings are empty or closed or operating with reduced human presence.

Pest control solutions that use exclusion techniques 

Mice, for instance, can squeeze through 1cm holes and cockroaches can enter through cracks in tiles, so access points have to be investigated thoroughly and identified. Pest proofing methods include foams, sealants, bristle strips, insect screens on doors/windows for holes or gaps that rodents, cockroaches, flies and other insects can crawl through. Open areas like loading bays can be protected from rodents with impenetrable barriers, such as strips of Kevlar and steel mesh around dock levellers.

Hawking, steel spikes, electric, wire and netting systems can be used to deter even the most relentless bird pests, such as sparrows and pigeons. Innovative devices that tap into the instinct and learnt behaviour of birds are highly effective and safe because they disperse the birds silently and without harm to animals or the environment.

Restriction of pests

Pests are often drawn to premises by food odours and lighting, which poses problems for businesses that process, store or move food items. Buildings provide pests with food, water, warmth, shelter and safety from predators, allowing them to breed freely in relative comfort. A pest risk assessment identifies the potential risk areas. Restriction measures serve to contain the spread of pest infestations or discourage access. They do this by identifying areas where food, water and harbourage could provide incentives for entry and, where possible, removing those inducements by cleaning up spills, for example. They also include proofing buildings to restrict access.

Pest control solutions that use restriction techniques

Businesses can avoid attracting pests by keeping food containers tightly sealed, using tight-fitting lids on bins and regularly emptying them, eliminating any clutter, immediately cleaning food spills and conducting frequent clean-ups – especially around and under pallets or equipment. Every step of the food supply chain is susceptible to pests, so you should inspect incoming goods and vehicles for the presence of pests and potential risk spots and ensure that vehicles are cleaned regularly. Staff should also be trained in pest awareness to help spot the signs of pest activity or entry at an early stage.

Destruction of pests

Eradicating existing infections is achieved by combining highly effective, non-toxic measures to develop a programme that removes pests from your premises and only uses pesticides when absolutely necessary. Regulations and standards restrict the use and storage of pesticides such as rodenticides, so they are used only in secure bait stations and away from areas containing food. A pest management company can help meet compliance with local standards and regulations, such as those for the use of pesticides, food safety and wildlife. Destruction measures are then evaluated for their effectiveness so that pest infestations are dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Pest control solutions that rely on destruction techniques

Manual solutions for destruction of pests

Manual solutions for rodents include bait traps such snap traps, bait stations and ceiling traps that prevent rodents using overhead areas as a ‘superhighway’ to access all parts of the building. Fluorescent tracking gels can help to assess the extent of rodent activity. They highlight rodent tracks on virtually any surface, giving you a good indication of where to put traps or bait. These gels are more versatile than tracking dust and can safely be used in splash and spill zones in areas where food is handled.

Digital solutions for destruction of pests

Digital solutions include networked systems that detect pest activity in connected devices, which send alerts when triggered, initiating responses from a pest control company. A digital pest-control system also collects and stores cloud-based data to allow businesses to see patterns and trends in pest activity while easily providing documentation for compliance and audit reports.

Insect light traps for destruction of pests

Electric fly-killers and insect light traps (ILTs) can help prevent flies transmitting harmful diseases. ILTs that use LED lamps for greater attraction of flies are more effective because LED lamps produce intense light in the most sensitive part of the UV spectrum that flies can see. The lower energy consumption of ILTs makes them more sustainable and well-designed devices will also prevent contamination by containing insect fragments in the unit itself. Gel-based lures and traps can also be used for smaller flies such as fruit flies.

Targeted heat applications for destruction of pests

SPIs are a particular problem in the food industry because they reside in food stocks and damage them, causing businesses financial loss. Businesses need to take multiple measures to prevent SPIs infesting raw ingredients and finished products.

Targeted heat applications are chemical-free and cause minimal disruption to operations. They can reach deep into all areas of an infestation to eliminate eggs, larvae and adult insects. The heat denatures the protein in their bodies, causing dehydration by disrupting the waxy layers on the outside of the insect.

Monitoring of pests

Premises need to be regularly monitored to detect any pest activity and assess whether pest control solutions are working effectively. Regular monitoring prevents smaller problems developing into bigger ones, with the resulting expense to the business. Monitoring can either be done manually or digitally.

Pest control solutions that rely on monitoring

Manual monitoring includes the use of gels that track pest pathways, such as the fluorescent ones mentioned above for rodents, and lures and pheromone traps for insects such as fruit flies, moths, weevils or beetles. The traps need to be checked regularly and the results recorded to ascertain the pest species for elimination. 

Digital pest control uses the power of technology, data and analytics to respond to the changing pest control needs of businesses. It’s a more effective and efficient way of managing pests because it monitors pest activity in real time, allowing quicker responses to prevent infestations developing. It’s also a safer option in the pandemic because it means that premises can be monitored 24/7 without human presence, pest controllers service only the devices that have been triggered, limiting their time on site, and businesses can access all pest management information remotely via online portals.

The benefits of IPM

IPM is a long-term strategy that mitigates the risks from pests to prevent them becoming a constant problem. It is the foundation of sustainable pest control and helps businesses to identify which pests are a specific threat, the environmental factors that allow them to thrive and the conditions that need to be created to make them unfavourable to pests. The combination of methods works better than individual tactics and goes beyond simply eliminating infestations. After all, it’s significantly more cost-effective and easier to prevent infestations than it is to treat them and clean up afterwards. As pests evolve over time, learn and adapt quickly to their environment, it’s important to partner with a pest management company that understands local regulations and standards, changing legislation and compliance needs and uses science to stay ahead of pests.

Technician monitoring pests using integrated pest management

Digital pest control

Technology and data-driven digital pest monitoring for effective, smart pest management solutions

  • Our digital pest management system monitors constantly, reacts instantly and reports directly
  • Real-time alerts and data-driven insights help mitigate risk and inform preventative measures
  • Rapid response pest control from your local service team to tackle pest problems fast
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