Food In Canada

How to be the strongest link in your supply chain when controlling pests

By Alice Sinia, PhD   

Food Safety Editor pick Logistics Orkin Pest control

Photo © Janews094/Adobe Stock

Pest problems in the supply chain are one thing you don’t want to share, yet they can quickly become an issue for everyone. The transportation leg of the chain is one of the most vulnerable ones to pest activity, as shipping vehicles offer prime pest conditions—an abundant supply of food and shelter for unwanted hitchhikers. Products from different sources or suppliers can cross paths during transportation, and infestations can pass if vehicles are not properly cleaned. Infested shipments of product or materials not only undermine your facility’s pest management program, but also threaten your reputation and performance on third-party audits and can lead to large in-house infestations that are costly to control.

Common offenders

Flies, cockroaches, rodents and stored product pests are the most common offenders in the supply chain.

Raw products attract many pests, but especially all different types of flies, which are the filthiest pests. They feed on garbage, sewage and decaying matter and can transfer germs from these environments to other food products in your facility.


Cockroaches are expert hiders and hitchhikers, often on storage pallets, barrels and cardboard boxes. They are also stubborn and quick breeders, easily adapting to any environment. Roaches love cardboard, burrowing into boxes and feeding on the glue that holds them together. They can also contaminate food and beverage product with E. coli and Salmonella, two diseases no processor wants linked to their brand.

If rodents get into your facility, they can contaminate products with their saliva and urine, plus they reproduce rapidly. Rodents wear down their teeth by gnawing, and food packaging, building materials or even electrical wiring aren’t off limits.

Stored product pests are the most notorious in the supply chain. Most are small, and can easily penetrate packaging, reside in cracks and crevices and vehicles. Heavily reproducing while products are in transit, stored products pose a threat to many dry goods in the supply chain.

Monitoring for pest problems in the supply chain may seem daunting, but it will protect your product and your bottom line. With thorough inspections and preventive procedures, you can keep pests from coming in and taking up residence in your facility.

Inspection tips

The most common way supply chain pests enter your facility is through receiving areas, so make sure to inspect every incoming shipment. Look for clear signs of pests in shipments: gnaw marks, droppings, webbing, trails or live pests. For shipments you suspect may be contaminated with pests, quarantine and examine the shipment in question, and refuse it if an infestation is present.

Follow these tips when inspecting inbound products and materials:

  • Use a black light to identify fluorescing rodent urine on packaging, a sign of rodent infestation.
  • Check the seams of packages for webs spun by certain stored-product pests. You can also wear a pheromone badge to detect stored-product pests like Indian meal moths.
  • If pest evidence is observed, collect a sample for identification by your pest management professional. This is important for tracking and documentation.
  • Know and keep record of high-risk suppliers/vendors. Perform onsite audits of chronic high-risk suppliers/vendors or replace them.

If you do accept a shipment, it’s a good idea to keep a small sample of food-based, stored dry-ingredient products, such as grains and seeds, in a closed, labelled jar. After a certain amount of time, if insect larvae or adults appear, immediately dispose of any remaining product. Having the product labelled and protected will also help you identify the supplier to notify.

Best practices

In addition to inspecting incoming shipments, there are some best practices you can employ to keep product as safe as possible from pests:

  • utilize proper stock-rotation practices; always using older products first;
  • use open-backed shelving to store products, as this removes potential pest hiding places;
  • keep products off the floor and spaced out on shelves;
  • eliminate clutter because cockroaches love clutter;
  • prioritize cleanliness in all coolers and cooler shelving;
  • sanitize equipment regularly, including hard-to-reach areas and dead-end spaces as these can be welcoming hiding spots for pests;
  • clean up or dispose of any spilled or damaged products immediately;
  • maintain a dry, cool environment;
  • seal voids, cracks and crevices in floors and walls;
  • proper ventilation and illumination discourage pests;
  • educate staff on signs of pest infestations; and
  • have your pest management provider install pest monitors such as pheromone traps, lures, passive monitors and insect light traps.

Once you have a handle on your own pest prevention protocols, you can apply an extra layer of protection by auditing your suppliers’ pest management programs. Supplier control/prevention plans should meet or exceed your own facility’s standards. A weak link in the chain will impact everyone along the way, so don’t let loose protocols threaten your business and hard work. If your supplier is subject to third-party audits, you have every right to ask for their audit scores since pest control is a major part of the scoring process. Don’t hesitate to ask tough questions—your pest management investment and reputation are on the line. Accurate tracking of pest sources can be critical in treating the problem effectively and efficiently.

If your facility faces a recall or other issue, good documentation helps prove you’ve taken all the necessary steps to ensure safe products. Be prepared to share your pest management program and audit scores with customers to show them that you take supply chain monitoring seriously. Make sure your pest management documentation includes service reports, pesticide-use logs, pest activity trends, and maps and schematics, among other reports. This should be kept in a central location so it’s easily accessible if and when needed. You can work with your pest management professional to make sure all documentation is accurate and up-to-date.

Aim to be the strongest link in your supply chain. It will not only impact your reputation and business, but also your customers, employees, suppliers and vendor partners.

Alice Sinia, Ph.D. is quality assurance manager of regulatory/lab Services for Orkin Canada focusing on government regulations pertaining to the pest control industry. With more than 20 years of experience, she manages the quality assurance laboratory for Orkin Canada and performs analytical entomology as well as provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. For more information, e-mail Alice Sinia at or visit

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