No matter what kind of food your plant is handling, maintaining a spotless reputation is everything. You can design the best sanitation programs possible but if the daily operations behind the scenes of your establishment are not up to your standards, it could hurt everything. When a link in your supply chain is weak – well, you know the saying.
For cocoa warehouses and distribution facilities, though, the threats are significant. And with the NJDEP Air Toxics Rule impacting the industry, fumigation preparations must be extra diligent. Pests pose a huge risk to cocoa processing plants all year-round. The most prominent pests in the cocoa processing industry include warehouse beetles (Trogoderma variabile), cocoa moths (Ephestia elutella), cadelle beetles (Tenebroides mauritanicus), cigarette beetles (Lasioderma serricorne), and drugstore beetles (Stegobium paniceum). With the ability to spread disease-causing microbes and their propensity to eat right through your product, they can threaten the safety of your cocoa, your inspection score, your reputation, and your bottom line. We all know how prevalent these pests are in the cocoa supply chain.
While the new NJDEP rules on air permitting are causing concern for fumigation operations, the good news is that the NJDEP is working with the industry to develop potential General Permits for certain types of fumigation operations that are essential to ensure that pests don’t impact your business. Dr. Shannon Sked, Fumigation Director at Western Fumigation, presented an overview of these processes during the CMAA International Cocoa Conference in New Orleans in March 2023. Dr. Sked believes that integrating fumigation into a more holistic food supply chain pest management system can help to ensure our cocoa supply lines remain intact. “While this is a challenge for the entire cocoa industry, we should have the ability to focus fumigation operations into the supply stream in a way that will allow us to efficiently use this tool,” says Dr. Sked, “and we can integrate it into a Food Safety Chain throughout effectively. But this will take a good amount of coordination and all the stakeholders in the industry working together.”
Regardless, we should all anticipate a more difficult process for setting up fumigations. There are steps though, in addition to this vital tool, that can help to protect your business. For these to all work well, every partner must be onboard including your pest control company, your suppliers, and your contracted service providers. Here are a few ways to be the key in the supply chain regarding pest management.
Confirm you suppliers are up to standards
To uphold your firm’s commitment to food safety, it’s important to make sure your suppliers are held to the same stringent standards as your food processing plant. Check to ensure your suppliers can answer the following:
- What are their pest management protocols for inbound shipments and are those activities verified? Their protocols should be consistent with your own. Don’t settle for less.
- What is their track record when it comes to third-party audits or regulatory inspections? Request to see their most recent scores and remember, pest control is a significant portion of overall audit scores.
If a supplier doesn’t have satisfactory answers to these questions, work with them to design a program that will work with yours, even sharing aspects of your Food Safety Plan, which is often well received.
Keep an open line of communication with all parties involved
It’s not only important to communicate with your pest control provider and fumigator regarding pest management, but with your suppliers as well. You can even consider asking your pest management provider to facilitate a meeting between all your suppliers to share best practices and ensure everyone is adhering to the same rigorous standards. Some providers may even be able to conduct vendor/supplier inspections or other verification activities.
Closely inspect every shipment
While you can’t necessarily control what happens at each link of the supply chain, you can control what comes into your plant. The last chance to help protect your establishment from infested supplier shipments is at the end of the line – your door. Before bringing those cocoa beans or products inside your doors, inspect every shipment, including non-food items. This should include treatment or fumigation records, manifests, and BOL (Bill of Laden) that specify treatments. If you see any signs of pests or the records don’t satisfy your pest concerns, discuss this with your providers before accepting the shipments. This holds true for supplies as well as commodities.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to help prevent bringing in infested shipments:
- Look for gnaw marks, droppings, live and/or dead pests, and webbing from immature stored-product pests, such as cocoa moths or rodents.
- Check for damaged or leaking packaging.
- Wear a pheromone badge while inspecting shipments, which can help detect certain stored-product pests.
- Inspect the pallets and packaging materials as well for signs and symptoms of pests.
There are also a few steps you can take after receiving shipments that can help further safeguard your establishment from pests:
- Conform to all standards within the CMAA Warehouse Inspection Program. This program is not just for compliance but is designed to ensure all the bases are covered when it comes to maintaining cocoa commodities. Store items on racks above the floor and ensure boxes are not a part of storing practices. Pests often use cardboard materials for shelter and some, including cockroaches, can feed on the glue that holds the boxes together.
- Clearly label materials with the receiving date and practice first-in first-out (FIFO) stock rotation.
By working with your supply chain partners to ensure strict pest control standards are followed and taking the time to thoroughly inspect all incoming shipments, you can help prevent a costly pest infestation and maintain your cocoa processing plant’s dedication to food safety and a spotless reputation.