Battling Birds

There is no question that birds in a food facility can be a food safety risk, causing potential product contamination, inspection failure, or even fines or plant closure. But food plant personnel often do have questions related to controlling and preventing bird presence, such as: Why is it important to keep birds away from food facilities? What can be done if a bird gets in? What can plant personnel do to help in the battle against birds?

To get expert answers to these and other questions, we went to pest management professionals who are experts in these commercial facilities. Following are insights from McCloud Services Technical Director Pat Hottel; McNeely Pest Control President Scott McNeely; and Sprague Pest Solutions Special Services Manager Keith Rowney.

Q. Why is it important to keep birds away from a plant — not just out of it?

Hottel: Even the most conscientious of food plants will have potential avenues of entry for birds at one time or another. If building design and landscaping choices attract birds to the facility, this increases the risk that a bird will make it indoors. There also can be some secondary insect pests associated with bird nests (such as dermestids), and food-borne illness pathogens can be tracked in on shoes when bird droppings are on pathways to the plant. From a worker health and safety standpoint, diseases, such as histoplasmosis, also can be associated with bird droppings.

McNeely: If birds are nesting, perching, roosting and/or feeding immediately on or adjacent to a facility, there is always increased potential for contamination by droppings, feathers or nesting materials that may be blown, transported or translocated into a facility. In addition, the closer birds are located to a facility, the greater the potential for their entry into the building.

Rowney: Birds that are attracted to facility exteriors will establish roosts and nests. The more comfortable they become with human activity, the more likely they are to move into the facility. Birds that visit the facility regularly for resources, food and water have ample opportunity to contaminate exterior equipment, conveyances and stored pallets. For example, with Canada geese increasingly seen residing in or near facilities, their volume of waste is easily introduced into plants on employee footwear.

Q. What have you seen as the greatest challenge in bird control at food- or beverage-processing plants?

Hottel: Food processors sometimes underestimate the importance that landscaping choices have on the impact of birds in and around a facility. I was asked once what recommendation I have for landscape choices around food plants; I responded, “grass.” It seems a bit simplistic and lacking in landscape creativity, but trees and dense shrubs can encourage a wide variety birds and, all too often, those trees are near docks or other doors. Also it often is pest birds, such as English house sparrows or European starlings, which are attracted to these trees. The second issue is the structural component of buildings like overhangs and ledges. We can bird proof these areas but “sticker shock” can sometimes follow a bird-proofing bids.

McNeely: One of the greatest challenges is educating the staff on the importance of implementing preventive programs to avoid bird issues. This includes all staff members — from facility maintenance, who may repair doors and seal openings, to forklift operators, who may have dock doors open during shipping and receiving periods, to senior company management, who need to recognize, implement and enforce ongoing policies that will minimize the potential for bird issues in and around the facility. It also extends to third-party contractors, such as landscaping service personnel who maintain trees and shrubs.

Rowney: For plants in design or under construction, the biggest challenges are architectural elements and landscaping selections that were not reviewed for the likelihood of future bird pressures, such as canopies constructed without specifications for exclusion. The purlins, beams, girts, corrugated roofing, piping, light conduits and other structural elements offer protection from the weather, as well as roosting and nesting sites — an open invitation to birds. With respect to landscaping, making the site less attractive to birds is rarely considered. Just as thick ground covers are poor choices for effective rodent prevention, thick trees alongside facilities attract and provide harborage for birds. Additionally, many plants, such as ornamental grasses, provide food for birds.

In existing facilities, the biggest challenge is the failure to proactively develop action plans and associated budget dollars to address potential bird activities. Often, action plans are only developed and approved when auditors or clients have cited contamination and bird activity as deficiencies. Brand damage may have already occurred and the required control measures may be extreme and expensive at this point.

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