PMPs must raise their game when it comes to training  employees on preventive pest management practices. 

Food industry clients expect professional-grade, advisory-based pest management service now, more than ever, due to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). They need consultants, not trap checkers; most get the latter.

“Generally, pest control service providers haven’t been looking at [training] from a FSMA lens,” said Angela Anadappa, founder of the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation, a non-profit organization that conducts food safety research, assessments and training. As a result, few pest control companies have enough people trained to provide the required level of service, she said.

This training costs money but the return on investment is huge, said Joe Barile, technical service lead at Bayer. “You’re going to be able to communicate with people in a different way; you’re going to understand their world, their anxieties, their pain points and as such, adjust the service accordingly and be a much more efficient service provider to them,” he explained.

Experts said employees need training in pest biology, equipment and materials, as usual, but also in the following areas:

Pest management professionals must train both their clients and field staff on the benefits of preventive pest management services.

Food Safety. Understand what a food safety program is. “It helps you to have a relevance that you can pull in in terms of your pest control background,” said Anadappa. As such, you can provide a better service because you understand your client’s challenges and you can speak the same language as the plant’s food safety and quality assurance managers.

Likewise, make sure employees comprehend the current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) at the plant, which dictate their actions on site.

Location-Specific Pest Risks. To prevent pests at a facility, employees have to understand the risks, which are unique to each site. “The types of pests associated with different geographical areas and product-related risks are very important for them to know,” said Anadappa.

Pest risks vary by building design and material, by the equipment and raw materials used at the site, and the structure’s pest history. Such insights help employees perform inspections and identify where pest proofing is needed to prevent potential pests from entering the facility.

Exclusion. From replacing seals on bay doors to bird work, food clients want more pest proofing. “They’re more willing to make an investment in preventive programs and they understand there can’t be a tolerance for pest issues,” said Hank Hirsch, president of RK Environmental Services. As such, employees need to learn exclusion. “We have developed more programs for exclusion, more training on exclusion to help meet the demand and the acceptance on the part of the food industry to allow us to do those services,” said Pat Hottel, technical director, McCloud Services.

Data Analysis. Train employees to use technology, such as a remote electronic rodent monitoring system, and to understand the data it generates. Rodent monitoring systems allow PMPs to monitor rodent activity in real-time and determine historical trends in an account, resulting in better-informed and more highly targeted trap placements.

Not only is this key to helping clients prevent pest infestations, but learning these skills appeals to younger workers.

“That is how you can give them better jobs, so they become much better skilled,” said Anadappa. As a result, you may find it easier to attract and retain professional talent to your company, she said.

Standardized Reporting. “We need to calibrate technicians for food safety,” said Chris Del Rossi, founder of Food and Drug and the Bug, a pest services company. They must be trained to observe and document pest activity in a consistent, standardized fashion, instead of reporting the same situation differently. A systemized approach also must guide the preventive and corrective actions they undertake.

FSMA carries a legal burden. “We can be named in a lawsuit if you don’t adequately address the pest issue at hand through documentation and treatment procedures,” said Dan Collins, a frequent speaker at industry educational events. Field staff need to understand they are culpable, he pointed out. In addition, manufacturers can be fined or jailed if they know about but do not correct a deficiency. This is called the Park Doctrine. It permits the government to prosecute employees for corporate misconduct when they are in a position of authority and fail to prevent or correct a violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).

Client Education. Train employees to teach food clients how to be “more observant of their own sanitation, structural and storage conditions that are pest conducive,” said Del Rossi. For instance, clients may not know that stored product pests can come in from outdoors, as well as arrive in supplies.

“Our job is to make the quality and food safety people better at their job and make them look good,” reminded John Moore of Fumigation Service & Supply.

Bidding. Being a low-cost provider is not in your best interest when it comes to FSMA and food safety. “The industry needs to spend far more time inside food accounts and the only way to do that is to charge enough for the time and the talent spent inside these food accounts,” said Del Rossi.

Bidding these jobs by spreadsheet is a mistake; you’ve got to analyze the specific risks of a facility by inspecting it in person, said Collins.

For large projects like bird work, help clients calculate the return on investment. “If they can justify it to their finance department, then they can make those significant changes that will benefit them in the future,” explained Gina Kramer, who leads the Savour Food Safety International consultancy.