Combating Stored Product Pest Loss with Digitization

The Pest Monitor Newsletter

The economic losses from stored product pests in the food industry can be in the millions of dollars per incident of contamination, product recall, consumer complaint/litigation, and pest control applications, according to USDA. One issue, the agency notes is that “current detection practices for the common stored product insects often do not uncover the presence of an infestation at an early stage.” Although the statement was published in 2015, the continuing presence of stored product pests throughout the food supply chain illustrate the need for the food industry to continue to evolve its detection and elimination practices.

The lack of technology able to adequately detect and eliminate these and other pests is also evidenced by the FDA’s Food Defect Action Levels that establish “maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard” including insect fragments or filth. The FDA set the action levels on the premise that they pose no inherent hazard to health, “because it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.” 

However, even in setting the levels, the agency states, “As technology improves, the FDA may review and change defect action levels on this list.” Currently, the action levels have remained static for years, but the continuing evolution of, and the agency’s New Era focus on, technologies could potentially reduce those levels.

So, how are leading food facilities staying ahead of the game? Many prominent food and beverage production plants use real-time quality-control monitoring to support food safety and product quality. When those quality-control monitors detect a pest issue with a particular product run, the quality control manager uses data-driven traceability to rapidly conduct a root-cause analysis investigation. 

In one such case, the technology enabled the QC manager to connect finished product quality issues with high-trending stored product pest counts at a specific receiving dock on specific dates. From that, the facility was able to assess structural or sanitation issues at the receiving dock and raw materials coming into the dock on those dates to determine to source of the insect issue; rapidly remediate both the product issue and underlying pest problem; and provide comprehensive documentation to comply with the FDA audit requirements under the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint.

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