Sanitation and pest control for floor-mounted platform scales

scale_blogElectronic scales are used throughout the food processing industry and in various steps in the production process to help ensure accuracy and safety of the final product. While they are crucial tools in the success of a company, they can also be difficult to clean, adding to a facility’s sanitation concerns.

For example, electronic scales are used to verify weights of ingredients, assure precise finished product volumes, track the amount of in-process scrap sent to the landfill or hog farm, and a variety of other daily quality assurance checks. However, due to factors like the scale’s size, design, installation, and need to be calibrated for accuracy on precise schedules, they can be very difficult to clean. Because of this, the chance of organic debris accumulating is increased, which can create a highly susceptible environment for insect infestation and microbial activity.

Floor-mounted platform scales are common insect resource sites that must be included on the master sanitation schedule. Some platform scales can be picked up with a forklift and moved, in order to provide sanitation and pest control access to the floor beneath. However, many large electronic scales are bolted directly to the floor for safety reasons. Food scraps that accumulate on the floor beneath such a scale and in the crevices of the framework, serve as resource sites for cockroaches, stored-product insects and ants.

Along with bugs, moisture can be another issue. Moisture can seep upwards through concrete floors or can come in contact with the area around the scale while the floor is being scrubbed.  When this happens, trapped debris can become wet, leading to the development of mold and pathogens. Vinegar flies, hairy fungus beetles, and similar mold-feeding insects can then also develop in these conditions.

Some floor scales are even built into the floor, with a large pit beneath the scale platform. Such a large void adds another dimension to the sanitation difficulty, microbial development, and insect-susceptibility of electronic scales.

Regardless of a scale’s location or instillation, sanitation standard operating procedures must be in place to ensure the safety of the product leaving the facility. While they may vary from plant to plant, the following general considerations cannot be overlooked in any scale sanitation and pest control program.

  • Detail clean your scale

Operational (aesthetic) cleaning around the scale must be ongoing since floor spillage is not only a slip hazard, but accumulations on the scale can affect its accuracy. Operators should be held responsible to perform general scale cleaning tasks throughout the day or at the end of their production shift. Detail cleaning with nonfood contact tools, such as color-coded brushes and scrapers, must be performed by trained sanitors and should be scheduled around the specific insect and microbial risk factors involved.

For instance, mold may develop in wet organic debris in a matter of days, and mold-feeding insects such as phorid flies and drosophila complete their development (egg to adult) in about nine days. On the other hand, many stored product insects such as cigarette beetles, Indian meal moths, and warehouse beetles take 30-45 days to develop in ideal conditions. These life cycles, along with an evaluation of the type of spillage, frequency of equipment use and its availability for sanitation, visual inspections, historical evidence and current pest activity logs — including pest sighting logs and microbial assays – can help plan cleaning schedules.

  • Be careful when using compressed air

If the scale is mounted directly to the floor debris can be difficult to access. At the same time, any spillage trapped in the framework or on inaccessible ledges can add to the sanitation burden, resulting in a strong temptation to use compressed air to clean. For the most part, compressed air is not considered a sanitation tool because it moves debris rather than removing it. However, in limited situations, air can be helpful.

Compressed air is especially useful on essential equipment that cannot be powered down, around difficult-to-clean food processing equipment where moving parts pose a personal safety risk, inaccessible voids and crevices resulting from poor sanitary design, and sensitive equipment that might be harmed by direct contact with conventional sanitation tools.

Under these circumstances air wands can be used to flush debris out and into open space where it can then be removed with a broom or vacuum. The goal is to dislodge difficult-to-reach debris while minimizing any airborne debris or blasting them further into the production equipment. Floor debris rendered airborne is not only a threat to food and food contact surfaces, but also a human allergen when inhaled.

  • Beyond insecticides

Routine applications with approved residual insecticides should also be a part of any scale sanitation or pest management program. However, these are meant to be a supplement, not a replacement for a detailed and frequent sanitation program.  In fact, insects living under soiled conditions often survive insecticide applications that would otherwise be toxic to them. Scientists do not fully understand the mechanism behind this survival, but think dust-covered insects could be more insulated from the toxic effect of insecticides.

Whatever the reason behind their survival, organic spills will absorb liquid and aerosol insecticide applications like a sponge preventing intimate and sustained contact between the insect and the toxic residue. Label-directed pesticide applications must be made around floor scales, but these must also be coordinated with the sanitation program. Insecticide applications should always follow sanitation, not the other way around.

The information from this article was provided by Mike Holcomb, a consulting entomologist specializing in FDA-regulated food processing plants and warehouses. Mike is the founder and president of Technical Directions, Inc., and editor of the Sanitarian.

Comments are closed.