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Preventing cross-contamination in the supply chain

This blog takes a look at the risks of raw material cross-contamination caused by pests in your supply chain.

What is cross-contamination?

Cross-contamination is the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effects.

However, to broaden your perspective of contamination I want to inform you about the pests that can cause damage to your supply chain, where cross-contamination occurs in the cycle of your industry, and how to prevent these issues to avoid situations like product recall.

How do pests increase the risk of supply chain contamination?

All pests carry contamination risks due to the fact that they carry disease, pathogens and bacteria on them wherever they may go. 

Pests have modes of transport just like us: they either crawl in, fly in, or are brought in. It is the brought in pests that are the focus of this blog. So which pests get brought onto my site, you might ask?

This is dependent on the industry in which your supply chain is active. Having said that, supply chain invaders are primarily rodents, cockroaches and Stored Product Insects (SPIs).

Rodents in the supply chain


By rodents, we quite simply mean rats and mice. Although they have different diets and habits, their nesting requirements are quite similar. Rodents use the materials available in their surroundings to make nests. Your products' packaging material is perfect for this.

Depending on the products that are being transported, rodents may also have easy access to food and harborage. Regardless of what's attracting them, the main issue is that rodents can contaminate your products.

Rodents are responsible for the transmission of more than 60 infectious diseases to humans. Rodents urinate and leave droppings wherever they walk. That alone is reason enough to worry about cross-contamination. This can occur with the packaging material, containers, or even just the shelving used to store your products. Rodents have a knack of getting into pallets and travelling throughout your supply network. 

Cockroaches in the supply chain


Cockroaches are nimble, fast, and can survive a month without food. Like rodents, cockroaches also carry a number of diseases, due to their diet and living conditions.

They are cannibalistic and shed their exoskeleton which in turn means that they leave bacteria and pathogens wherever they go. Cockroaches need warm, moist areas to continue their breeding cycles. They carry their eggs in a sack called an ootheca which can contain up to 50 nymphs (baby cockroaches). You can see the maths adding up to how this can very quickly become a major problem.

A cockroach will carry the ootheca and find a safe place to deposit it for the nymphs to continue incubating until it's time to hatch. Unfortunately that safe place can be in packaging material such as cardboard, your very safe transport containers and totes. This is especially true if you are carrying high risk foods like fresh produce, and items that can be accessed by smaller pests.

With cockroaches it is safe to say that if you notice even one there can be a potentially huge issue, because from 2 mating cockroaches you quickly have 50! Managing this pest in your supply chain is imperative.

What are Stored Product Insects (SPIs)?


There are 3 main categories of SPIs:

1. Beetles and weevils

Coleoptera is the largest order in the animal kingdom, with over 400,000 species. Biting mouthparts are present in both adults and larvae, and a small number of species have evolved to feed on and breed in a variety of dried plant and animal products used by humans. There are only a few hundred species that constitute serious pests.

When they are adults, most of these beetles and weevils may fly to find new feeding and breeding places. A few, on the other hand, lack functional wings and rely on human activity such as your supply chains and transport functions to stay close to a suitable food source.

2. Moths

There are around 180,000 species of butterflies and moths in the order Lepidoptera, but only about 30 constitute serious pests for stored products. Adult moths have no biting mouthparts because they sip liquid food, but larvae have biting mouthparts that allow them to ingest solid foods and gnaw through various forms of packaging.

Obviously, the winged adults are the most mobile, as they can fly to food sources most suitable for laying their eggs - causing massive damage to products and increased raw material waste and disposal. 

3. Mites

These are arachnids, which are closely related to spiders and ticks, and are the tiniest of the pests, measuring less than 1 mm in diameter when fully grown. They can induce allergic reactions as well as pollute and taint food. They can infest a broad variety of foods, although some are useful since they are parasites of food-infesting beetles or weevils.

SPI’s are very damaging to supply chains due to their reproductive habits and their ability to infest stock. Not all SPI’s carry disease, but a lot of them do. They also affect individuals with asthmatic symptoms, for example the moth.

These pests can infest any stock that is not protected by an airtight container, at any point in the supply chain.

How to prevent cross contamination

GIGO is the term to remember when protecting your supply chain: Garbage in, garbage out. It is a computer science term, however it holds true for your network too. 

  • Ensure that you inspect raw materials/products when they enter your facility. This way you will be able to keep your suppliers to the same high standards that your keep on your site. This will also ensure cross contamination prevention.
  • When stock is leaving your site, implement a dispatch checklist to safeguard your partners down the chain. The checklist can include a final pest control check.
  • Where possible, include the use of airtight containers to prevent your products from getting infested.
  • Be sure to rotate stock as often as possible to minimise the possibility of nesting. The movement makes finding undisturbed areas difficult for pests
  • Cleaning is imperative to ensure that food and water sources are minimised and will make living conditions undesirable for pests

Contact our team of pest control experts to ensure your supply chain is kept free of pests, or to enquire about our free pest risk survey of your premises. 


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