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Top 5 Stored Product Pests in Food Processing and How to Stop Them

Here’s food for thought: According to the USDA, as much as 10 percent of food produced in the United States is contaminated or consumed by stored product pests. Imagine all the failed audits, millions of dollars in lost sales, and reputation hits this leads to. It’s enough to make any facility manager lose their appetite.

There’s no denying that insects like beetles and moths are drawn to the grains and flour in your facility. But don’t throw in the towel just yet – infestations are entirely preventable when you arm yourself with knowledge.

Keep reading to understand the pests in food processing to watch out for and how to make it tough for them to reach your products. Sometimes, you may need to address the presence of one of these pests in your facility. Let’s talk about that, too.

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What Are the Top 5 Stored Product Pests?

The stored product beetles and moths below crave different foods, environments, and temperatures. Knowing what makes them tick can help you deprive them of the things they want in your facility.

1. Warehouse beetles:

This oval-shaped, black or brown beetle with hair-covered outer wings measures in at 1/8 of an inch. Molted skins and yellow-white larvae are tell-tale signs warehouse beetles may be among your products. They are drawn to flour, feed, dried milk, and other stored grains.

2. Red Flour Beetles:

This shiny, reddish-brown beetle is flat, oval-shaped, and only 1/8 inch long. These pests prefer finely ground or broken starches like flour and meal and can easily infest any fresh grains placed in a bin that has not been well cleaned. A red flour beetle infestation outright ruins product, leaving dead beetles, cast skins, fecal pellets, and a nauseating odor – nothing you want coming in or out of your facility.

3. Angoumois grain moths:

You can tell these yellowish moths by the narrow projection extending from the tip of their wing. Their larvae develop inside corn and wheat kernels, making it difficult to spot issues with your eyes alone. Cool temperatures make them more active, so to these invaders, winter is the best season to take advantage of your facility’s stored products.

4. Indian meal moths:

You’ll know them by their gray wings with rusty brown wing tips. These moths are especially fond of flour, cereal, crackers, and nuts. An infestation of Indian meal moths changes the flavor of the food they’re living in and feasting on, leading to tons of product and money down the proverbial drain.

5. Psocids:

These tiny pests, just 1/16 of an inch, also go by “book lice.” To the eye, they’re a little more than whitish or yellowish specks. Moisture acts as a magnet to them, so any food kept in or near damp, humid conditions is at risk of infestation. They’ve been known to find a home amid animal feed, grains, oats, cereals, and dried fruits.

4 Tips to Help Keep Stored Product Pests Out of Your Business

Let pests get the upper hand in your facility? Not on your watch. The best way to protect your products and customers is to establish an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program – and don’t forget to bring all your employees on board to ensure everyone’s following the plan. IPM focuses on ongoing preventive measures.

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You can prepare your food processing facility by incorporating the following four tips:

1. Ensure products are stored properly:

Product rotation is key – make sure you’re following the “First In, First Out” rule so inventory doesn’t sit for too long. Choose containers that can be tightly sealed and keep them off the floor, stored in areas you can keep nice and cool.

2. Maintain a spotless production environment:

Food outside a container and moisture both serve as beacons to pests. Clean up any spilled product as soon as possible, wherever it happens – be it production line, packaging area, or storage area.

3. Seal all potential pest entry points:

If stored product beetles and moths can’t even get inside your facility, then your products will be safer. This means sealing off access points, keeping doors and windows closed, and installing door sweeps. It also means paying extra attention to incoming shipments and thoroughly checking them for signs of pest activity.

4. Elevate monitoring to detect early signs of infestation:

Unfortunately, it can be near impossible to spot tiny, stored product pests among grains with your eyes alone: some of these pests measure in at a mere 1/8 inch. Often the first sign is damage on boxes and containers, but by the time you see that, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

So, what are your options? Work with a trusted pest control partner to detect stored product pests early for accurate and fast control.

Document it or it didn’t happen: Pest control counts for up to 20% of your facility’s food safety audit score, so you must be able to demonstrate all the work you and your team are putting into prevention.

You spot something while monitoring for pests. What do you do?

As you’ve seen, stored product pests are small and difficult to detect. So, if you’ve seen that there’s an issue, you’ve taken the first step toward winning your battle. The earlier you’re able to tell there’s a problem, the better for tackling an infestation. Here’s what to do next.

  1. Identify the culprit: Refer to our top 5 stored product pests above and start trying to make a match. There are tools out there that can help you if you’re feeling stumped, such as our Pest ID form.
  2. Target your efforts: Understanding where contamination is in your facility is also key. There’s no need to treat an entire building or floor if the issue is limited to a single storage room. That said, you should quarantine any product that has shown evidence of pest activity immediately.
  3. Work with a seasoned pest control provider: Choose someone who knows the food processing industry and can partner with you to decide which methods, like dusting, temperature control, and grain protectants, will best address your infestation while limiting disruption to your operations.

Stored product pests are sneaky. Now that you know more about what to look for, and how to prevent and treat them, don’t forget the importance of documenting your efforts. Our guide to food safety audit preparation can help.

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