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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

To Sweep or Not to Sweep (AKA: I'm hungry...)

Florida shore bird
Winner or loser?

This morning I watched two birds fight over a little morsel of food. One would get this little crab or mussel or whatever it was in its beak and the other one would peck at it and the first would drop it. Then the second bird would get it and the first would start beating up on the second one until it dropped it. This went on for maybe four or five minutes. Eventually, one of the birds scored the scrap (at this point I’ve lost track of which bird started with the tidbit) and flew off. So which bird won? Most might say the one who got the food. Think about how much time, effort, and energy it put into getting the snack. The calories it expended might equal or even surpass the calories of the piece of food it “won”.

This may seem like a strange thing to think about, however, when it comes to pest control, food availability is a keystone of managing pests. Sanitation is essential to truly eliminating a pest issue instead of putting a band-aid on it. Sanitation is easy, just get rid of all the food. And that is what makes sanitation so incredibly difficult because how do you possibly get rid of all the food? You can’t possibly eliminate all the food in a hotel’s kitchen. It’s unfeasible to remove all food from a food processing site. It’s ludicrous to think you can eradicate all the food from a grocery store. This does not mean sanitation is impossible or a waste of time. It means rethinking sanitation: sanitation isn’t about the removal of all food resources, it is about limiting the amount and access to food.

Consider again those two birds sparing over a bite. If they had access to a buffet of crabs, they wouldn’t need to spend the energy to fight each other. Instead, they could have been spending that energy finding a partner, building a nest, and caring for their young chicks. When we limit what’s available, the pests have to work much harder, spend much more energy to get to what is there. This means they aren’t mating as much or as successfully. A pet food warehouse I was working with was having an issue with stored product beetles. Bags of pet food came in, were moved by forklift to different racks, then hand-picked to be shipped out to stores. In the course of this, some bags may have leaked some food, some were broken or ripped by movement, and there was dry pet food on much of the floor around the warehouse. A literal smorgasbord of tasty options for the beetles. Until other control options could be put in place (for many reasons, these couldn’t be implemented immediately), we recommended they sweep the floors and remove any spillage every other day. In a matter of two weeks, the number of beetles we were finding in monitoring devices dropped by over half. Did the sweeping get 100% of the food? Of course not, the sweeping wasn’t perfect and couldn’t get every last little bit, but it did remove the majority. The beetles now had to work harder, travel further, and likely get less food than they did before. So the numbers went down significantly.

Sanitation can also be about making food harder to get to. There was a food processing site that had an issue of small flies. There was one particular area that had some structural issues and every time they did a wash down (pretty much daily), water pooled with some of the food material and made a beautiful medium for small flies to feed and breed in. This was going to take a large capital investment to fix and it just wasn’t going to happen soon. So we built a “wall” of plastic sheeting to isolate this area. There were still flies inside this small area, but any flies that got out into the main processing area couldn’t find suitable food sites to lay their eggs. The fly catch in the majority of the plant went way down because we had isolated the sanitation issue to just one small area, instead of the entirety of the site.

Rodent bait station
What's in your bait station?

Limiting the amount and the access to food has another positive affect. It can make bait treatments much more effective. A large hotel, with full kitchen facilities was dealing with a rat issue. It was also right in the middle of a large city with lots of other restaurants around it that didn’t have the best sanitation. We couldn’t do anything about them. However, we replaced their trash bins with lidded bins, had the employees keep them closed, and had trash picked up one more time each week. Almost immediately, the rodenticide bait that had previously only had minimal feeding, was totally eaten within a week. Rodenticide was kept replenished and rat sightings by guests went way down. We weren’t able to control the neighbors’ sanitation and certainly couldn’t eliminate all the trash at all times, but by diminishing it, the available food source of the rodenticide was much easier to access and was fed on more. Instead of competing with the other food source, our bait became a much more attractive (and therefore effective) option for the rodents.

Like the “losing” bird, some of the population will die from lack of food. Like the “winning” bird, the remaining population is going to be more stressed and not have as much to eat and will have to fight harder for it. Stressing out a pest population by restricting their food means less population growth and easier management with other pest control methods. Want to know more about sanitation and ways to improve at your sight? Contact 360 PFSC here!

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