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Trending Analysis or Assessment?

The two practices are distinctively different activities, but they depend on each other.

by Al St. Cyr

There is some confusion in the food industry about the terms trending analysis and assessment when it comes to Integrated Pest Management (IPM). All too often, when reviewing what are supposed to be annual pest management assessments I am instead presented with a record that simply indicates an affirmation of the number of rodent monitoring devices installed in and around the facility. Companies also tend to consolidate recorded rodent activity as verification that the trending indicates they have sufficient coverage for the facility in question. Essentially, the information presented often is a collection of words and stats that represent nothing in terms of the status of the IPM program.

An assessment is the task exercised to assess or judge a program or event. The IPM assessment needs to be inclusive of a host of information gathered from the facility in order to make a reasonably accurate judgment about how the program is meeting the needs of the facility. Trend analysis is a practice of collecting information to attempt to spot a pattern as a means of predicting future events. These are two distinctively different activities that depend on each other. You cannot do accurate trending unless you have good data from an analysis of a situation or data collected. And you can’t defend the trending data unless you have an accurate assessment of the situation to support your trending findings. Each must be clear and defendable.

The IPM assessment is a critical review of the food plant as a whole to identify existing pest issues and conditions or practices that could lead to pest issues. The assessment is not just an equipment inventory or a means to report how many rodents were caught or killed. It should provide a reasonable answer as to why pests were present in the first place, so very proactive actions can be taken to avoid such future activity.

When IPM assessments are approached with a knee-to-floor viewpoint they do not take long because the only area the inspector is looking at is the space between his/her knees and the floor. He will not see stored product infestations in the warehouse or processing area and will not recognize when mice have migrated or been delivered to the upper levels of a racking system or are living in the motor compartments of processing equipment. She will never discover that the source of the blow fly population is actually located on the roof and that they are entering the plant because filters in three of the roof intakes are missing. Nor will they realize that the weekly fogging treatment for fruit flies that are breeding in severely damaged monolithic floor coverings has displaced a large German cockroach population that is now widespread throughout production areas. These are all outside the knee-to-floor vantage, resulting in the expansion of pest issues and loss of valuable time to implement corrective action programs.


One of the cornerstones of the FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a very proactive preventive control program to avoid food safety issues. Additionally, the FDA has indicated that inspections are the way to assess compliance with the new requirements. Integrated pest management has been based on these two concepts for years, yet lately it seems to have been reduced to an annual equipment inventory program.

A well-done pest management assessment is inclusive of all areas of a facility. It takes into account what is around the structure and how neighboring operations could impact the food plant. Having a marsh or woodland directly adjacent to the plant presents a different set of opportunities than being located in an industrial park or a residential area. Each of these settings needs to be evaluated for the steps that need to be taken to minimize the risks stemming from the environment.

Too often plant grounds are not reviewed with a critical eye. There is a tendency to simply accept that the trees adjacent to the building and mulch beds have to be tolerated while fighting an ongoing battle with occasional invading insects inside the plant. These issues, plus a general lack of building maintenance, are the reasons for the pest issues, and this will not change until permanent alterations have been made. The assessment findings should lead to determination of the root cause for the problem and science-based facts will direct the recommendations for treatment. The data collected will allow for trending analysis and clearly prove that the pests are present due to structural issues, not poor performance from the pest control service provider.

The entire interior area of a food plant presents challenges to pest management professionals. However, some areas (like the raw materials warehouse, lunch and locker rooms, and production areas that are difficult to reach for cleaning and maintenance) are more vulnerable to pest issues than others. The IPM professional needs to recognize the vulnerabilities and pay close attention to them during the assessment process. A thorough inspection provides the information needed to determine if your program, in conjunction with the plant’s activities, is limiting the potential for pest activity. Beyond the physical assessment, another important element of the process is a total review of records generated from the service provided. This provides a documented history of pest activity and prior treatment recommendations. Trends in activity should be noticeable. If the records indicate that specific monitoring devices are frequently active and the physical site assessment reveals a poor door maintenance program in that same area, the data will strengthen the recommendation to take immediate action to repair the doors.

The data can also be used to measure if previously implemented recommendations have resulted in a positive impact. For example, if the data indicates 30% pest activity in a specific area before the recommendations were implemented, the post-implementation data might reveal that changes made have eliminated any sightings or records of activity.

Assessments are a critical part of a healthy food plant IPM program. Regular, detailed physical assessments of the facility provide data that is compared to pest service records to determine the connections and look for trends occurring in the facility. If links can be made between documented events and observations made during the assessment, you will have a strong argument for making recommended improvements.

By Al St. Cyr

The author was Head of Food Safety Education, AIB International.