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What do pest management professionals and their commercial clients from Bangkok to Boston need to do to ensure that the food consumers eat at home or in restaurants is safe and free of pests and the bacteria they can transfer? It’s simple — communicate and collaborate.

That was the takeaway message for the nearly 170 attendees of the recent Global Summit for Pest Management Services, jointly sponsored by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and Brussels-based Confederation of European Pest Management Associations (CEPA).

Attendees from every continent except Antarctica left New York City with a sharper focus on what skills their companies and employees will need to adequately service commercial clients engaged in food processing, distribution and storage.

DOCUMENTATION. Virtually every presenter who took the dais emphasized the need for thorough and accurate documentation. Mandates brought on by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and third-party auditors and inspectors place a premium on documentation.

The documentation needs to be more than just a spreadsheet, it needs to provide clients with information that will help them meet and exceed regulatory requirements, improve operational efficiencies and safeguard food.

“We were a reaction company but have shifted our mindset to prevention when it comes to food safety,” says Dr. Randal Giroux, vice president of food safety and regulatory affairs for Cargill. “There is a need for our pest management partners to be more than box checkers and to be critical thinkers who bring science to process.”

Giroux says Cargill has more than 500 facilities worldwide that are impacted by expanded FSMA mandates and that documentation and data provided by their pest management partner is critical to helping them justify their pest management decisions.

John Carter, vice president of quality dairy for global food giant Danone, says commercial clients are looking to PMPs to collaborate for success. “We look to the pest management professionals for expert answers, solutions and to not only protect our facilities but our brands as well,” says Carter. “We need PMPs to make sure we are doing the right things from an environmental and legal standpoint.”

Establishing dual partnerships with both the local facility and corporate staffs is another strategy Carter sees working. “The local plant manager or QA person understands the holistic approach and a pest professional can give them competence while keeping the corporate staff in the loop,” says Carter. “FSMA is changing the framework, encouraging steps to avoid problems and closer collaboration will help that.”

Cargill’s Giroux added that they seek out expertise and value-add from their pest control partners and look for recommendations that deliver an impact. “Our QA managers have so much on their plates and need pest professionals to be solution providers that make recommendations that will benefit our business,” says Giroux. “A significant food safety issue could bring us to our knees and we want to make sure we have the correct information to get ahead of it.”

FSMA IMPACT. The impact FSMA mandates have had on the food processing industry are, in a word, significant. The manner in which food processors, transporters and warehouse facilities develop protocols to protect the products they make, ship and store have forever been changed.

Hank Hirsch, president of RK Environmental Services, a pest management and food safety consulting firm, aptly summed up FSMA’s impact telling attendees that at the corporate level the FUD effect is taking place — fear, uncertainty and doubt. “The old way of thinking when it comes to food safety and the role pest management plays is being revisited,” says Hirsch. “The true value of the PMP’s service is shifting to inspections, documentation and creating preventive pest management strategies.”

Dr. Cornelius Hugo, global manager — food safety services innovation for AIB, says FSMA has delivered the most sweeping reforms in food safety in more than 70 years and has shifted the focus from reacting to contamination issues to preventing them. “More than 80 percent of food contamination issues are avoidable and FSMA puts the onus on the food industry to answer the question, ‘What are you doing to prevent an unsanitary environment in your facility?” he says.

The teeth FSMA has given U.S. Food & Drug Administration inspectors to enforce the mandates is leading to longer, deeper and more narrow inspections. The bar on what conditions will land a facility in hot water also has been lowered in an effort to achieve more strenuous enforcement.

“There has been a shift from needing credible, viable information to take action to simply a ‘reason to believe’ that the facility did not provide a safe environment to issue a recall or take other actions,” says Hugo.

The new mandates allow FDA investigators to review any link in the food chain from farm to fork including processing, manufacturing and storage. The agency can retain products suspected of a violation for up to 30 days, deny imported food products, issue a product recall even if the manufacturer chooses not to, issue injunctions and prosecute owners and plant managers.

FSMA’s reach not only lands on the 85,000 food processing and storage facilities in the United States but to more than 300,000 facilities around the world.

How prepared is the industry for FSMA? According to AIB research conducted of several thousand facilities globally, nearly 20 percent of food processing plants were unsatisfactory when it came to integrated pest management and nearly 11 percent needed improvement. What were the leading pest-related issues that generated these numbers? According to the AIB research, 35 percent centered on pest habitats and 26 percent on pesticide control.

“Pest management professionals are not a static tool in the process of helping protect food,” says Hugo. “Closer collaboration between clients and PMPs is needed to ensure the programs in place are not just effective after the fact but preventive from the start.”

Corporate sponsors of the Global Summit of Pest Management Services included BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, Babolna Bio, Edialux Products Professionals, Liphatech, Lodi Group and ServicePro.

The author is a frequent editorial contributor to PCT magazine and partner with B Communications. He can be reached at www.b-communications.com.