Food Defense: Put Your Pest Control Operator On Your Team

In addition to plant managers, QA managers, and other food industry personnel who typically complete AIB’s Food Defense Coordinator courses, there also are always several attendees from pest control companies. Did you know that the pest control operators (PCOs) who service your food operation can be a great asset in protecting your facility, products, and people from intentional contamination or harm?

There are typically several contractors at your facility on any given day. These could include suppliers, vendor service providers, uniform service providers, truck drivers, contracted maintenance workers, and pest control service providers. Interestingly, the pest control provider is the one contractor who likely has access to all areas of a food processing plant, makes several observations, and walks the entire inner and outer perimeter of a facility. While performing their essential and contracted duties, pest control operators service pest control devices inside and around the facility and look for signs of pest infestation.

Pest Control as Defense

So, how do pest control operators help keep a food facility safe from intentional contamination or harm? There are many ways:

PCOs are typically very familiar with the normal operations of the facilities they service. They know the building structure and layout, the components of the operations, the products being produced and processed at the plant, and the number of people typically found at the particular location.

  • They survey the building looking for unusual circumstances, damage, and openings to the building where a pest could enter. Being keenly aware and monitoring the facility is critical to the pest control operator’s success.
  • PCOs often observe the surrounding landscape (i.e., trees and bushes) that could become pest harborages. They make note of these conditions, bring them to the attention of plant management, and recommend measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of pests entering the facility.
  • They also are aware of neighboring buildings and property conditions that may attract pests. This includes waterways, streams, railroad tracks, dense forests, and other such areas.

Someone planning an attack against a food facility will likely do so by observing the facility operations. This may include watching the facility premises, taking pictures of the property, tugging on perimeter doors to determine if there is access, or simply asking suspicious questions about the plant and its operations.

A New Asset to Your Team

Pest control operators who have been trained in food defense and facility protection can be a great asset to the overall security of a food plant. In addition to their regular duties of looking for and protecting against pests, they can look for red flags that could indicate suspicious activity while making their rounds of the facility. For example, while servicing bait stations along the exterior perimeter, PCOs can look for overgrown bushes and shrubs in which someone could hide, observe the lighting fixtures, make note of areas outside the plant where it appears a person or persons has been by propping a perimeter door open, and anything else that appears unusual. They can observe areas along exterior perimeter fencing that are damaged and increase the security vulnerability to harmful activity.

Example Security Incident

During a recent facility security vulnerability assessment, I noticed obvious tool indentations at a perimeter door that led into the processing plant, indicating that someone had attempted to break into the facility. It was obvious that someone had tried to pry open the lock to gain unauthorized entry. Interestingly, the pest control operator had recently placed a rodent bait station near this door, so my investigation included talking with him to try to determine a timeframe that this attempted break-in occurred. The pest control operator was extremely helpful and indicated that the tool marks on that door occurred after his last visit to the plant, which was within a week. Thanks to an alert and observant pest control operator, local police were able to rapidly move forward with their investigation in an attempt to solve the case.

Check Cameras

Pest control operators can observe the perimeter camera systems to determine if the cameras are damaged or if vegetation or other materials have blocked the view of the camera. They can observe incoming gas lines for tampering and make sure product ingredient ports are locked and sealed. They can look around the lot to see if they notice any used seals that have been removed from trailers or tankers and improperly disposed of.

Check Parking Lots

They also can monitor parking lots while servicing the exterior perimeter to observe any suspicious vehicles parked on the company lot. If your facility has an established parking program, your PCO can make note of vehicles that are not in compliance with company requirements (e.g., not displaying the required decal).

Check Signage

While making outside observations, operators can look at security signage to ensure the paint or ink is not wearing off and that the signs are visible, readable, and able to be seen at night. While looking at perimeter doors, they can ensure that all are numbered, and that the numbers are in chronological order, and can be readily identified in an emergency. Further, the PCO can note any unoccupied service or delivery vehicles on the company lot that are left with the engines running and keys in the ignition. Removing keys and turning off vehicles while unattended is critical in preventing the theft of entire loads of products.

Check Operations

Pest control operators also can help inside the facility. Walking through the entire facility gives the PCO the opportunity to identify people who may be violating or compromising security procedures (e.g., not wearing required identification badges, propping a perimeter door open, acting suspicious, etc.). They can observe other visitors and contractors to ensure they are following established company security guidelines. They also can look for objects and occurrences that appear to be out of place (e.g., boxes or chemicals that are out in the open and unattended) and make note of any cameras that do not appear to be operating properly.

Pointing Out Faults

PCOs who have been trained in food defense also can recommend countermeasures to plant management in an effort to enhance the overall security of the facility. For example, if a perimeter door is not used for entry but still has hardware on the outside, the hardware should be removed; if the facility’s visitor log is not being properly filled in, the PCO could bring this security concern to management’s attention. Basically, the pest control operator would be performing a mini security-vulnerability assessment at each visit to the facility.

The Enhanced Inspection

To take full advantage of the PCO’s ability to provide this enhanced service, you should discuss the option with your pest control provider. You could plan to provide your PCO with a mini security-assessment list that identifies your specific areas of concern or have the operator perform a mini assessment in a different area of the operation at each visit. For example, one week the assessment could consist of looking at security measures within shipping and handling. The list might ask:

  • Are seals being properly used and secured when not in use?
  • Are dock doors being locked when unattended?
  • Is the outside dumpster free from products or other materials that could potentially harm someone?

In order for a pest control operator to be an effective asset to plant management, he or she should have continuing and documentable training in food defense, with an emphasis on conducting security vulnerability assessments. The training should focus on the added responsibilities of the pest control operator, understanding crime and terrorism at a food facility, and working with management to recognize and report suspicious activity, understand security systems, spot outside foliage and shrubbery concerns, and address any other security-related matters. The PCOs should be well versed in Food Safety Modernization Act requirements regarding food defense.

Pest control operators can be a vital asset to a food facility’s food-defense operations. Whether there is a contractor who refuses to follow established protocols, a temporary worker who is unaware of the security requirements, or suspicious activity indicating a brewing act of workplace violence, pest control operators trained in food defense and facility protection that take note of and inform management of observed circumstances are very beneficial. Pest management companies who staff appropriately trained pest control operators offer a value-added service to their clients and put themselves one step ahead of their competitors.

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