Ants are the most common cause of pest-related complaints in the United States and one of the first pests on the scene in the spring. They can be more of a problem in early spring when natural food sources, such as nectar, are not as readily available for hungry ant colonies.

Ants are a diverse group with a variety of preferred habitats. They are social insects that may nest in soil, wood or voids. Food plants may experience problems with ants being shipped in or on product or inside wooden pallets. They also may come inside from the surrounding exterior as they search for food or new nest sites.

The type of ant pest a site will experience will vary based on geographical location and available resources. Regardless of the species, there are some things that all food plants — and their pest management professionals — can do to help minimize issues with these common pests:

Odorous house ant (Tapinoma sessile).
Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

  • Suggest to your food plant customers that they inspect all incoming shipments to make sure that ants are not brought into the facility inside shipping containers or wooden pallets. Carpenter ants will create galleries in wooden pallets or may harbor in voids of product containers. A variety of ants can be brought in on cardboard boxes or products where they have been foraging for food. Have them check the product and the pallet for ants. All ants can contaminate food or food packaging as a result of their nesting or foraging habits. Nest disturbances can cause a colony to move the entire nest and it could be into a semi-trailer of filled food products. International shipments can result in the introduction of new invasive species, which can sometimes create even more challenges in getting ant issues resolved.
  • Urge food plant officials to keep food spills to a minimum both outside and inside. Ants are constantly foraging for food. They need to keep attractants (such as food spills) to a minimum. Areas like sugar unloading can be attractive to ants, especially if the area is not well maintained.
  • Ask maintenance personnel to keep expansion joints well sealed. Ants (like the pavement ant) can come up through cracks in floors and expansion joints.
  • Urge plant employees to keep doors and other entry points sealed. Ants tend to utilize natural lines like wires and pipes. They can easily follow these lines inside, for example, if the pipe/wall junctures are not properly sealed.
  • Suggest plant officials avoid the use of wood mulch around the exterior of the structure. Some ants (like odorous house ants) will build shallow nests under mulch, rocks and leaf litter. Ants also can be brought in on mulch deliveries.
  • Also suggest that officials pick their landscaping plants wisely, especially those plants close to the building. Many ant species feed on honeydew or other insects that are plant pests. Minimizing these honeydew-producing insects can minimize ant populations.

Patricia Hottel is technical director at McCloud Services and has more than 35 years of pest management industry experience.