Solving bird issues in food processing environments

Kim Lewis

In their day-to-day operations, food and beverage processors take regular precautions to prevent product contamination. But have you ever thought about birds as a contamination risk?

Birds carry many different types of health risks and can do damage to business properties. If you have noticed birds such as pigeons, sparrows or other pest birds nesting around your property and business, contact your local Rentokil Steritech office and discuss our commercial bird removal and bird prevention methods.

Risks birds pose to human health

While we often think of birds as our “feathered friends,” they can carry and spread a host of pathogens, fungal agents, and ectoparasites. These can be found on the birds themselves, in their nests, and droppings. In fact, birds can help propagate more than 60 diseases that can be dangerous to humans, including histoplasmosis, encephalitis, Salmonella, toxoplasmosis, and even West Nile virus.

Risks birds pose to businesses

The presence of a single bird or evidence of bird activity in a food processing environment can cause health and regulatory inspectors to stop production and close plants. If cited on third-party audits, bird activity could result in the loss of business. Businesses can also face hefty fines for the presence of birds.

Managing a bird issue isn’t a task that can just be “handled” internally. Many bird species are protected under federal, state, and local laws and harming or relocating birds and removing or tampering with nests can be a violation of these protections, putting you at risk for further monetary penalties. It’s best to consult with an expert before taking any action.

Birds attracted to food processing facilities

Any type of bird can create an issue for a food processing facility, but there are a few species that are more common than others.

Smaller birds can more easily find their way inside of food processing facilities, including:

  • English house sparrows
  • Common European starlings
  • Swallows

Larger birds may create more of a problem on the exterior and rooftops, such as:

What conditions are conducive to bird activity?

The location of a food processing operation can increase the risk of bird activity: plants located near water, landfills, or with feed mill operations may need to take extra precautions due to the natural presence of birds in the area.

There are many areas of a facility that can be conducive to bird activity or actions that can leave your facility vulnerable. Some of them include:

  • Open dumpsters or product spillage outside creates feeding opportunities
  • Protected overhangs allow birds to nest without feeling threatened
  • Openings in buildings such as corrugated siding, soffit, and weep holes create further nesting opportunities
  • Damaged bumpers at dock doors create nesting opportunities and trap potential food
  • Open windows and doors, usually left open for for ventilation and traffic. allow birds easy entry to fly or walk in
  • Gaps at doors allow easy access to buildings – birds can just walk in.

How birds contaminate air, products, and equipment

There are a two primary ways that birds can contaminate the air, products, and equipment in a food processing facility.

Birds often fly or walk in through open doors. Many bird species are also intelligent and may learn schedules, knowing when doors will be open. Once inside a facility, birds will fly around, perch on rafters and other high areas. From these heights, droppings can fall onto production lines or stored product, creating serious contamination areas.

Birds are attracted to rooftops because it gives them a wide view of an area to watch for food and shelter. When HVAC, mechanical, air circulation equipment or ductwork is present on a rooftop, especially flat rooftops, birds often gather around the units for warmth and shelter. As these machines run, they might intake bird droppings and feathers, many carrying dangerous pathogens, that are then circulated around the facility, posing both air and product contamination issues.

5 action steps to deter bird activity

Taking action to prevent bird contamination risks should be a high priority of any food processing facility operator. Be sure to choose a bird control partner that can help you evaluate options and choose the best solution for your facility – solutions are not a one-size fits all approach.

Here are a few action steps that you should consider when approaching a bird issue:

  • Close doors and windows.

The number one issue Rentokil Steritech sees is birds entering facilities through doors that have been propped open, either for ventilation or use reasons. Install screen doors to increase ventilation or investigate strip doors that allow easy entry for people and equipment, but make it difficult for birds and other pests to enter. Educate staff to keep doors and windows closed when not in use.

Netting can be used to seal the underside of overhangs where birds roost or nest. This tactic not only prevents birds from nesting, it also helps limit their proximity to doors and windows where they could gain access.

  • Install perch modification bird control products to areas where birds are roosting outside.

Perch modification systems, such as spikes and electric tracks which are not harmful to birds, but help prevent them from landing are useful tools to keep your exterior free of birds.

  • Make sure the building’s structure is sound and there are and no gaps at dock doors when trucks are loading.

The smallest holes or gaps can allow birds to enter, so it’s important to evaluate the exterior of your facility, looking for holes or gaps where birds could enter. It’s a good idea to observe deliveries and pickups being made to get a sense of whether or not there are gaps being created or if birds are present in the area.

  • Educate staff to keep areas clean of product and spillage.

Birds are considered friendly creatures and your staff may not understand the potential risk of letting them feed on spilled product. Educate your team on the risks birds can pose. Enforce cleanup of spills. Do not store product outside. Task a staff member with regularly monitoring garbage or dumpster areas to ensure they remain free of potential bird food and nesting items.

There are other solutions available for bird issues, including hazing and applications made to vegetation to reduce bird activity. The availability of these solutions depends on your specific operation, the bird species present, and your location.

Call the commercial bird control experts

Bird issues at your facility may not seem like a big deal at first, but a single bird can create a host of trouble for your business.

If you notice bird activity around your plant or have had issues with birds entering your operation, call the experts at Rentokil Steritech today for help. We’ll be happy to come out and give you a free assessment. For more information, please call 800.488.9495 or use our online contact form.

Want to perform a self-assessment? Download Rentokil Steritech’s bird checklist to see how many boxes you can check.

Kim Lewis
Kim Lewis

Kim Lewis is Rentokil Steritech’s Division Manager of Bird Management Services. Kim has spent more than 30 years working with high-profile companies to implement safe, humane, and discreet bird management solutions. In addition to managing a staff that works across North America, Kim also has had the opportunity throughout his career to work with bird control product manufacturers to help perform product efficacy testing. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Kutztown University. In his spare time, when not looking for birds, Kim enjoys the outdoors, hunting, fishing, boating, and spending time with his six granddaughters.

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