For some reason, birds seem to be pushed to the bottom of the list when it comes to the most dangerous pests in food processing plants. It may be because they seem less harmful than other pests like termites, cockroaches, and rodents. However, this is a common misconception. When outdoors, birds can be harmless creatures, but when they make their way inside a warehouse to nest and seek warmth, they begin to be a problem.
Not only can they cause messes and distractions, but they also bring in flammable debris and disease-causing microorganisms. The most common microorganism spread by birds is Salmonella - which up to 50% of house sparrows were found to contain.
Urban birds can cause significant problems in and around buildings and structures. These pests include Pigeons, European Starlings, Indian Myna and Sparrows. It is important to choose the correct method or control measure for the species and situation so that you can relieve the many pest problems caused by their presence.
According to Carol Lam, Managing Director of Rentokil Malaysia, "bird infestation in food processing or food-related industries, especially at material storage areas or warehouses, is a serious matter, because inadequate control can lead to heavy infestation and possibly serious consequences to consumer health due to contaminated goods. Food industry players also would not want to risk failing their audit or inspection with the presence of birds."
Julie Na, the Senior Technical Manager of Rentokil Malaysia, has over 10 years of experience in pest control, and elaborates further on this subject.
Some of the dangers of bird pest behaviour in urban areas:
These birds carry a wide range of bacteria, including salmonella (which causes food poisoning), and ornithosis (which is transmissible to humans, and causes a flu-like syndrome).
These birds also carry disease. They flock to cities in large numbers, and roost in industrial structures, buildings, nearby trees, and livestock farms and factories. Starlings are drawn to livestock farms and factories because of the high protein supplements that are often added to livestock rations.
Swifts and Swallows
These birds seek to build nests at buildings, and carry anthropod parasites such as bird mites and bird bugs. In addition to noise pollution, their parasites will attack humans in the absence of their hosts, posing a health threat to workers in your plant. When attacked, humans will experience severe itching, large inflamed areas or small welts on their skin.
Living in close association with humans to feed and nest, sparrows are most commonly sighted in granary or rice storage areas foraging on goods. Manufacturers will have to deal with fecal contamination from bird feathers and droppings. The consequences are monetary loss on contaminated goods, as well as increased chances of failing the regular food safety audit.
Since these birds are well-adapted to urban areas, they tend to gather in a large number around people, ready to feed on road kill, garbage, and refuse. They cause noise pollution and leave droppings.
In summary, birds are troublesome for food processing plants because:
- their nesting materials can block rain gutters and down pipes, which can result in the overflow of water leading to timber decay, broken rendering, and even structural damages in the long run.
- their nesting material is a fire hazard near lighting or wiring.
- their uric acid droppings contain pathogenic fungi, some of which can be harmful and even fatal to humans. Extremely troublesome in a warehouse storing or packaging food.
- some species carry diseases and parasites that are transimissible to humans. Bird pests carry ectoparasites and more than 60 transmittable diseases.
- Bird droppings corrode and stain building materials due to high acidity.
- High cost of bird dropping cleanups annually.
- The slip and fall hazard of bird droppings is a liability.
Developing a pest control program
As part of the general management of your food processing plant you must develop and implement a prevention program, such as:
1. Consider using alternative doors: Aim to keep doors closed when not in use. This can be tiresome for a site which has standard roller shutters and busy forklifts onsite but can be easily resolved with the installation of high speed rapid doors in place of roller shutters. The Rapid Doors only open when forklifts / vehicles and staff approach and close when the traffic has passed through.
A secondary option would be to consider the use of PVC Strip Curtains on your doorway so that traffic can still pass through but the PVC Strips help to prevent unwanted birds / dust and pests from getting through.
2. Using scaring devices: Predator replicas and noises, such as owls and hawks, can be used to scare birds; however, after a time the birds often grow accustomed to the decoys and begin to ignore them. Crafty things!
3. Eliminating harborage locations: or least making your site less attractive for the birds:
- Coat beams with either a sticky or slippery substance designed to keep birds off. They will avoid these areas because they won’t like how the substances feel on their feet. Remember, though, to reapply after six months as they substances will become coated with dirt or dust and therefore be ineffective. This method is not recommended in most situations as these gels are very messy to apply and can stain or damage your beams.
- Install bird netting to the ceiling to prevent birds from getting to beams
- Install porcupine wire to beams: steel wires that extend in every direction don’t harm the birds, but simply make it uncomfortable for them to rest there. These are also the best solution for maintaining the looks of your warehouse because they blend in and are barely noticeable. However, this option is often expensive and requires a lot of labor to install.
Download our free pest control worksheet. It's attached to our guide to preventing contamination in food manufacturing. Simply click on the link below: