Let me tell you a story about a “dog treat company” that has been a customer of ours for about 10 years. This dog treat company makes its treats using a process that starts with a meat/cheese-based product which is produced by another vendor, then packaged at our customer’s facility. This business has grown over the years from working out of a garage to a 35,000-square-foot facility that now develops its own recipes and packages the finished products themselves.

One day early on in our relationship, I got a call from my customer explaining that they found some type of microscopic pest inside the packaging of their dog treats. After a thorough inspection of the entire facility and all of their products, both finished and raw, we identified some old product infested with cheese mites (Tyrolichus casei). We went through a rigorous process of isolating all the finished and raw material to prevent any further contamination.

To control the spread of the mites, we removed the infested product and lowered the RH (relative humidity) of the facility to below 60% with de-humidifiers, as the mites require a significant amount of moisture to thrive. Some of the product appeared to be pest free, so it was quarantined for 30 days to ensure there weren’t eggs present as they are too small to detect easily.

As the treat business grew, additional pest control services were required. One constant threat of infestation was to their stored products. Throughout the years, we encountered hide beetles brought in from outside vendors; discovered tooth grain beetles in some of their older stock; found Indian meal moths in dehydrated vegetables; and even phorid flies that were brought in with rabbit jerky treats. Because of the many pests that can impact a customer’s product, it is important for pest technicians to be familiar with their customer’s products and facilities.

Different pests require different eradication approaches. Hide beetles require quick action as their larval stage tends to involve very aggressive internal feeding. After they pupate, they bore into a hard substrate (e.g., pallets, wall studs and packaging), causing damage during the boring process. Pests are drawn to products for a variety of reasons. As a technician, you must be able to recognize feeding habits of these pests if you are going to be successful in finding them. You should recognize there are different types of feeders: internal feeders; external feeders; scavengers; and secondary pests. Understanding the feeding habits of each pest and how they infest products is essential to their extermination.

One of our biggest challenges with reducing pest activity in the dog treat facility was issues with the packaging of their raw materials. Manufacturers will often use inferior poly materials to package abrasive products that will rip, exposing the product to pests. These can remain unnoticed for long periods of time, causing infestations where it is difficult to determine the origin.

It is important for technicians to educate themselves about their customers. It is equally important for technicians to educate their customers, so their customers can contribute to keeping their facilities pest-free. Educating the customer and ensuring they incorporate pest control practices can be a challenge. Fortunately, in the case of our dog treat company, our customer understood their role in reducing contamination to their products in the facility. We worked with their staff, teaching them to identify the signs of pests to help us act quickly when any issues arose. We also were able to get them to go back to their manufacturers and ask them to improve packaging material to deliver a more durable material. This turned out to be one of the best strategies for controlling pests in this facility.

Infestations have the ability to get out of control in this type of environment. When you are not getting 100% control, you may have a small infestation festering somewhere. An example of this is when you have product that is stored on the top shelves of a warehouse that doesn’t get used very often. This area can be the root cause for the uncontrollable infestation. Employing a quality control inspection process may help find these areas of concern.

When considering a program for a customer, be prepared to build upon your program as their business grows. When the dog treat business was small, they were limited in what they could afford. As the opportunities for infestation increased with their growing business, so did the programs we offered. Here are some of the additional programs we incorporated into their business: fly lights, pheromones traps, rodent stations and monitoring devices and fumigation.

When a small company brings us in to their business we need to be consultants and think beyond the sale. We need to understand how their business is growing and grow along with them. Together we all get what we want!

The author is technical director at Rottler Pest Solutions, St. Louis, Mo.

Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.