The days have shortened and the temperatures have fallen. It’s a safe bet that everyone is trying to spend more time inside as we stare down a cold winter ahead in most parts of the country.
And, just as it is for us, this is the time of year when pests look for a nice warm place to spend the winter months. At food processing facilities, while you may shut out the frigid temperatures and turn the heat up, you may be giving an open invitation for rodents seeking shelter from the cold. The abundance of food sources, numerous potential entry points and hiding places in your facility can create a perfect storm for an infestation of rats or mice.
Not only are rodents tough to control, but they are very adaptable at living indoors. In fact, some mice that take shelter inside due to weather will never leave and will permanently become inside mice – in Chicago, many mice have never seen the outside.
The presence of rodents can lead to food contamination and can threaten your food safety audit scores. Rodents can carry hundreds of pathogens that can spread through their urine, droppings and bites. Worse yet, they are also known carriers of deadly neurological and respiratory diseases like lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. Ticks, mites and fleas can feed on infected rodents and then transmit diseases like pox, plague and typhus indirectly to humans – putting employees in your facility at risk.
A proactive approach to facility maintenance, as well as an effective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, can help keep rodents out and your food product and business secure. Here are a few tips to keep your facility off of rodents’ radars this winter.
Know the signs
Vigilance and education are the two top lines of defense against rodents. Train your employees – some pest management providers will train employees at no extra cost – to look for signs of rodent activity, as they may be present but still out of sight:
- Droppings – Visible rodent droppings in and around your facility are a strong indicator that you have a problem. Look for mouse droppings, which are pointed and about the size of a grain of rice, and rat droppings, about the size of a raisin. If you see old droppings, clean them to help confirm there is no active infestation moving forward.
- Gnaw marks – Rodents will gnaw on wires, sealant, wood and other hard materials. Since rodents can enlarge an opening such as a conduit or pipe penetration by gnawing around the edges, closely inspect any areas in the building that appear to be chewed or gnawed.
- Rub markings – Look for any greasy markings on walls, wires or pipes inside your facility that may indicate a rodent is regularly traveling along these paths.
Make sure to contact your pest management professional immediately if these signs of rodent activity are reported.
Take the fight outside
Rodents are opportunists and can find the slimmest of openings to make it inside your facility. Rats can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter, and mice can squeeze through holes the size of a dime. With this in mind, take the following precautions:
- Inspect the exterior of your facility for cracks and crevices, sealing holes in exterior walls with water-resistant sealant and steel or copper mesh.
- Keep trees trimmed and plants at least 12 inches from your building to limit the chance that rodents will use vegetation to access the building. Consider installing a 2-foot wide gravel strip around the perimeter of the building and clean up fallen leaves, as rodents prefer covered areas for travel and nesting.
- Work with your sanitation crew and waste management company to keep trash handling areas free from clutter and accumulated waste. Ask that your dumpsters be cleaned and switched out regularly.
- Clean up any standing water or uncovered garbage outside, which could provide rodents with nourishment – as well as a reason to stick around. Rodents may burrow or live up to 100 yards away from your structure, so your pest management professional should assess the area surrounding your property.
Make the extra effort
Rodents may have adapted to live alongside humans – in fact, they depend on our resources to survive –but you don’t have to live with them at your food processing facility. Take these extra steps to help ensure your employees are the only ones enjoying the heat this winter:
- Keep in mind that rodents can enter your facility on pallets, shipments of ingredients or through open doors. For this reason, use a UV black light to inspect loads for pest evidence when received, and ensure doors remain closed whenever possible.
- Consider roll-up screen doors for locations where ventilation is needed. Also, install double-doors for frequently used entry-ways to make it harder for rodents to enter.
- Remind your employees to keep food stored in the break room refrigerator in resealable plastic containers and to clean out lockers regularly. Keep break room or kitchen areas clean – even a few crumbs can attract rodents.
- Clean drains and equipment with an organic cleaner to eliminate the residue that pests can feed on. Monitor for spills and leaks, and clean and repair them immediately – pests only need a small amount of food and moisture to survive.
Incorporate these steps and work with your pest management professional to fortify your facility against rodents and other overwintering pests.
Dr. Zia Siddiqi is Director of Quality Systems for Orkin. A board certified entomologist with more than 35 years in the industry, Dr. Siddiqi is an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.orkincommercial.com.