Integrated pest management (IPM) is a strategy adopted by the structural pest management industry, from agricultural pest management principles, over 40 years ago. The original stimulus for IPM was to provide a solution for pesticide resistance issues. Over the years, it has done this by reducing the amount of pesticide use while also increasing the overall efficacy and long-term control of pest problems. 

In IPM’s basic form, the system establishes thresholds for pests with corresponding control actions for each pest level. These actions include multi-pronged approaches, beyond the use of pesticides, to enhance pest control. Initially, the IPM emphasis was reactionary. Once a pest reached a certain threshold, it was met with a controlled response. Today, there is a greater emphasis on proactive pest prevention. This allows a well-functioning program to focus on the integration of multiple control tools to create a prominent role for pest prevention.

Program elements

The steps in establishing a pest management program can be compared to other food safety programs.  It starts with an assessment to determine the facility’s risks, based on a historical review of pest history, and leads to an examination of the site’s conditions. Control tools are then developed in response to the assessment. Once the preventative controls are instituted, monitoring occurs to check for adequacy of preventive controls. If pests are found, additional steps are taken to respond to the activity.

The control steps are often tied to established thresholds decided by the facility and pest management professional, and there is a verification process that determines whether the controls have been effective. This is an ongoing process with ongoing analysis of the monitoring data to respond to the pest pressures on site and take further preventative steps, if needed.

How to prevent pests

The most common question after establishing an IPM program is “how do we prevent pests?” This is easier said than done. Many of the pests have migrated in from the immediate environment. This includes rodents and even stored product pests. Indianmeal moth and warehouse beetles, two very common pests for the food industry, can originate outdoors. In June, Patricia Hottel, author of this expert column and technical director at McCloud Services, South Elgin, Ill., captured 30 warehouse beetles in one pheromone trap outside her home in a 24-hour period. This demonstrates the potential for exterior migrations. To avoid infestations from these pests, it is important doors are closed while not in use, proper bumper seals around truck docks are used to help reduce openings while loading trailers and good exclusionary techniques around the base and all sides of doors are in place. Vents and exhaust systems should also have either tight fitting filters or screens to prevent insect entry.

In addition to the ways pests enter facilities through openings, there are also conditions on the outside of the structure that attract pests to buildings, which can lead to their infestation indoors. Two key attractants are lighting and improper maintenance of waste disposal equipment, like dumpster compactors and trailers used for repurposing food. These areas should be examined and corrected as needed. 

Lighting should be selected based on reduced attractancy to insects. Sodium vapor lights and LED lights in the sodium vapor range are preferred over mercury vapor lighting. Ideally, lights should not be installed directly on the building and over doors; they should be mounted on poles away from the structure whenever possible.

While lights typically attract insects, dumpsters can attract a large variety of unwanted pests. Due to their odors and available food sources, they should be kept in proper condition and closed without openings that allow pest entry. The boxes should also be cleaned after emptying. Ideally, a 1-piece dumpster/compactor should be used over a 2-sectioned system to reduce food waste leakage, which can then attract pests. Dumpster pads should also be cleaned regularly, and the pad surface must be maintained to avoid cracks where organic material may accumulate and provide food for flies and other pests.

It is important to monitor for pests on the exterior and interior of a facility, but many forget about the goods coming into the facility. A robust system for the inspection of incoming goods is another part of pest exclusion. Because this can take a fair amount of time to do the inspections correctly, it’s advised the inspection time be scheduled, so it is not overlooked. A thorough inspection checklist and training can help guide receiving staff through the process. They should also be equipped with a good flashlight, vials and magnifiers to assist with the inspection. 

Monitoring and control tools

Exclusion tips and monitoring are great, but another piece to IPM are the control tools. As IPM has evolved over the years, so too have the control tools. Some of the recent additions include electronic monitoring devices, which can provide 24/7 alerts on pest captures. Although these devices are primarily available for rodent management, there are devices for insects in development.

One of the most promising components of this technology is the ability to integrate with other environmental sensors. Some systems will have temperature and humidity offerings, while others will allow for the monitoring of doors being left open. This enables pest management professionals and facility managers to discover the root cause of pest infestations. With this additional data, linking trap captures and changes in environmental conditions help ensure pest infestations are greatly reduced.

Technology also assists with data analysis in other ways. The capability to track and trend pest activity is assisted by a variety of software options, including those provided through the electronic monitoring devices. Analysis of data in uncovering and resolving the root cause of a pest problem is essential for a pest-free facility. The data analysis can also help predict risks of future infestations, so that preventative actions can be taken before a pest is even found.

IPM has greatly improved since it was founded in 1972. Not only are food facilities using less pesticides, but pest management has become more efficient and effective than ever before. Today’s pest management professionals and facilities having a greater understanding of pests and their activities, and are using technology to fill in the gaps. But, as remote monitoring devices and other technologies continue to evolve, so too will IPM as it becomes even more reactive to the pest pressures facilities face, finding ways to exclude pests even before they enter.