Dispatches from GFSI 2017 in Houston

Rentokil: Data must be tailored to pest risk and environment

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Food

Using connected devices to help mitigate risk in pest management is a critical part of food safety, according to Rentokil Initial.

The commercial and residential pest management firm hosted a session on the impact of Internet of Things-related to pest control devices on the future of food safety and using connected devices to help clients in the supply chain.

Savvas Othon, group science and innovation director, said pest is a loose term.

“Any organism that is in an environment where it is not wanted can be termed a pest and most of the time it is an organism that is detrimental to health,” ​he told FoodQualityNews at the Global Food Safety Conference in Houston, Texas.

“A fly outside is not a pest, a fly in the production hall becomes a pest. So it is about the environment and also propensity of that pest to cause harm to us.”

Mitigation measures

It is about creating a device that gives data you need to understand the pest, said Othon.

“It is ok having a trap that says yes you have caught something but if you program that trap to be smart and tell you the direction of travel, the time of capture, the size, all of that is useful data which helps paint the picture. The Internet of Things is the buzzword around but really it is about creating value through the data rather than just putting devices down that talk.”

Savvas Othon of Rentokil Initial

Othon said the key is interpretation for customers and not just collecting millions of points of data from millions of devices.

“When you put that together and start tailoring it to risk or the environment it becomes ok. For example, if you look at myRentokil which is our online customer reporting portal, you get times and positions of activation, there are sensors we have that look at the direction of control,” ​he said.

“Millions of binary numbers mean nothing but if we can tell you you’re likely to get a rat in this area at this time, or you are always getting flies in this area and we tie that to a sensor on the door that is always opening at midnight then it becomes valuable as you can tackle the root cause of the problems rather than just tackling the symptoms.”

Rentokil Initial operates in more than 60 countries with expertise and ability to help mitigate risk throughout the food supply chain. In North America, Rentokil Initial (known as Rentokil Steritech) is the third largest pest control company.

The industry is fragmented with 19,000 companies, of which many are small, family-owned operators.

Othon said technical managers and directors of factories are normally the first point of contact on the front line and they understand the need and the risk.

“I find them open to try things and very willing to allow us to run trials in their factories. There has been huge change over the last 20 years right from when you have to go to a food factory to do your site inductions, back when I started there were no real site inductions,” ​he said.

“Now it is very safety focussed there is a huge amount of emphasis put on the things you are using in the factory being food safe, so HACCP-standards have started to shape what we do and how we do it and also the times of access because most plants are now running 24 hour shifts.

“So how do you treat an infestation of flour moth in a factory that is constantly producing, that is a big challenge and that is what we have to overcome.

“Everyone is busy, the plant has so many deliveries coming in from so many different parts of the world and each one of those is a risk. It is our job to mitigate that risk and put controls in at the front end rather than just always concentrating on the symptom of a mouse in the factory, for instance.”

Rentokil Initial has also formed a joint venture with PCI Pest Control Pvt and acquired a 57% stake in the JV, for an undisclosed sum.

It said the combined business will be the largest provider of pest control services in India.

The JV will have combined annual revenues of 4.5bn rupees (c. £50m), operate from 250 locations and employ 6,900 people.

Pest control processes

Othon said the processes vary by sector but pest control is pest control.

“You are looking for a small insect or one dropping in a huge factory. So it is really about honing those detection skills to the environment rather than the processes,” ​he said.

“The processes influence the treatment so once you have established there is a pest, or hopefully there is no pest, you need to look at the monitoring and if the monitoring is going to be affected by the environment. It is always harder for these 24-hour factories or those that have wash down programs because then you need IP-rated machinery.

“In the old days we would put a fly killer on the wall that had an electronic grid and you used to see them get hosed down and they used to spark and crackle and you used to have to replace them all the time as they were going rusty. The new range of fly units that we started seeing in the late 90s, the encapsulation units, started the decline of the grid systems.

“The latest one that we’ve got out uses now IP-rated chassis and body, it’s got encapsulated LED bulbs, it is suited far more now to the food industry than the old units. So the equipment we put in is changing along with the processes in the factory.”

Pest control is always mentioned in audit standards and pre-requisite programs, said Othon.

“It is not top priority to have somebody on site walking around checking things but when they have got a pest it becomes a high priority,” ​he said. 

“It is about the risk mitigation we bring to the food industry. How we do that in the future is going to be with the devices that allow us to do pest control without interrupting the everyday work.

“If you look at some of the very onerous specifications that say you have to have a bait box every 10 feet or 20 feet that is not necessarily good pest control but it is a specification that we have to adapt to. Why do you need a bait box every 20 feet when one device will cover 100 square metres?

“So you can see traditional bait boxes becoming less and less on site replaced by smart sensors that will do more and that can only be a good thing because having anything extra in a factory can find its way into the food chain so the fewer boxes we put down and replace with smart devices it has got to be better.

“We are in a period of education to show the effectiveness of these devices and then put them down in a way that gives us the data to respond when we need to.”

Othon said the expertise of the technician on site will continue to be needed.

“I don’t ever believe you will be in a world without pesticides but I do believe we will have a huge reduction in pesticide usage. I believe the devices we are putting down today and innovating around will complement a technician so he can get on and do pest control,” ​he said.

“Bait boxes have become synonymous with pest control so we measure the success by the amount of boxes we put down and if the pest goes into the bait box you have an infestation.

“The devices of the future will not be bait boxes, the expertise of the technician will continue and grow and it will be about using the devices to complement the expertise rather than replace it.”

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