By Bennett Jordan, PH.D., B.C.E.
Food plants, pharmaceutical facilities, schools and health-care facilities are the most sensitive accounts we service. These specialized accounts also bring increased expectations of us, the pest management professional (PMP), from our clients, auditors and regulatory bodies. Our responsibilities go beyond traditional pest management, and we must consider how our actions can affect people in those facilities and consumers down the line.
It’s no secret that PMPs are exposed to areas with questionable sanitation on a regular basis, including locations rife with rodent, bird and cockroach filth. The same technician who follows up on a mass rodent trapping at a distribution center could be stepping into a food-processing facility or hospital later that day. What considerations are given to the footwear, uniform and tools that the technician is wearing and using from one account to the next?
HOW IT HAPPENS. There are several realistic forms of contamination of food, equipment, packaging or surfaces that we must consider as PMPs: biological (pathogens), physical (your pen), chemical (pesticides) and cross-contact (allergens). Good manufacturing practices outline expected behavior to minimize the risks associated with contamination, but PMPs are not always held to the same standards, or even made aware of them in some accounts, and some sensitive facilities don’t have the same requirements.
Psychologically, there is a clear delineation from one account to the next. New location, new service ticket, new set of tasks to be completed. Biologically? Chemically? Not so much. If you’ve ever sliced hot peppers and absentmindedly touched your eye an hour later, you know what I mean. A spotless uniform can be teeming with microscopic pathogens. The same holds true for shoes that bear no visible signs of where they’ve been minutes ago. How long has it been since your flashlight, which you’ve set on innumerable filthy surfaces, has been sanitized? We owe it to our clients to be thinking about these things because we do not want to mechanically transmit the same pathogens and contaminants as the pests we are tasked to eliminate.
The flow of a service is also an important consideration in reducing the likelihood of accidental contamination of products and surfaces. Food plants typically require you to gown up, wash your hands and footwear, and don other gear when you’re in a sensitive part of the account, but sometimes these measures are not adequately designed, nor well-enforced. However, you must follow the same procedures as the plant employees in each area of the facility, whether it’s enforced or not. If you don’t, you may mechanically transmit pathogens and contaminate surfaces. Think about it like this: If you perform the exterior part of your service first, and then follow the flow of product from raw materials to finished goods, you will be bringing everything that you picked up along the way with you. (Unless additional measures are taken to prevent it from happening.)
Ready-to-eat (RTE) foods present the greatest risk of contamination reaching the consumer, and areas where these foods are produced or packaged should be handled very carefully. If you begin your service clean as a whistle at the most sensitive part of an account and progress to less sensitive locations as you go, you can help reduce potential contamination.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS. Biocontamination is not the only thing you must consider in these accounts. Anyone entering a sensitive location, including schools and child-care facilities, also must be aware of allergens. The most obvious example is the attractants we add to snap traps, like peanut butter, but movement of food powder containing allergens is also a major concern in many food-processing facilities. Allergen- and non-allergen handling areas of a facility should be well separated and communicated to anyone moving between them, but that message may not reach the technician on-site because their contact at the facility doesn’t understand the risk. Your accounts also may segregate ingredients or products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) from GMO-free ones, and organic vs. non-organic ones.
We understand pathogens and contaminants, and their movement, much better than we ever have. Have we, as an industry, given our role and our actions sufficient consideration?
The author is director of technical support and regulatory compliance, Copesan Services, Menomonee Falls, Wis.This Tech Talk article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of PCT magazine.