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Banishing bugs without chemicals

Vicky Uhland

April 24, 2008

6 Min Read
Banishing bugs without chemicals

You swab and shine your store regularly, but there?s still an occasional fruit fly buzzing about the bananas, cockroaches scurrying underneath the deli cases and rodent droppings in your shipping and receiving area.

Even if your store isn?t certified organic, you?re not likely to stock up on Raid or Roach Motels anytime soon. So what do you do? Opt for a natural pest repellent that may or may not get the bugs out? Adopt the mice in the stockroom as store mascots?

A host of companies are working to ensure that you have another option: effective, chemical-free pest control. Here?s a look at what?s available and how stores and organic facilities are using them.

Integrated prevention
National Organic Program pest-control standards mandate that certified organic stores and warehouses implement sanitation measures to control pests before using any ?biological, botanical or synthetic substances.?

That?s what distributor Tree of Life did in its 163,000-square-foot Bloomington, Ind., warehouse. Employees regularly checked the perimeter of the building for holes and crevices where rodents and bugs could enter. But it wasn?t enough. Tree lost points on an organic audit because of its pest problems.

So about three years ago, Tree hired Atlanta-based Orkin to implement its integrated pest management program at the Indiana warehouse. Orkin, long associated with chemically-based bug zapping, is one of a growing number of pest-control companies switching to IPM programs that only use pesticides as a last resort.

Orkin helped Tree develop a sanitation and inspection program to limit the number of insects and rodents that make it into the building. The Indiana warehouse?s director of operations, Dave Boyer, says employees and managers now spend about an hour a day inspecting the inside of the building. They look for spills or loose food that might attract pests, and any damage to bags and boxes stored on palletes.

Once a week, the shipping dock is swept and washed, trash containers are cleaned and sanitized, and mop heads are switched out. ?We?re so hard-core, we use a handheld black light on all incoming shipments,? Boyer says. The ultraviolet light helps identify rodent droppings, moths and grain beetles. Any infested shipment is returned to the sender before it makes it inside the warehouse. Because rodents enter buildings through cracks and holes where the floor and walls meet, Tree?s warehouse has an 18-inch-wide white strip painted on the inside perimeter of the building. Nothing is stored inside that strip.

For the public parts of the building, Boyer and his staff have a detailed cleaning schedule that includes everything from daily vacuuming to weekly window washing. The bathroom and break room are cleaned and sanitized daily—even the countertops underneath the microwave and behind the coffee maker get the white-glove treatment. Shifts don?t leave until their area is inspected by a crew chief.

Orkin?s Quality Assurance Director Zia Siddiqi, who has a doctorate in entomology, says retail stores can implement the same measures.

In addition, he recommends:

  • Whenever you empty any Dumpster or trash can that holds wet garbage, hose it down too. Wet garbage is a breeding ground for flies, so make sure none of it spills or leaks out of garbage bins.

  • Adjust your heating and cooling systems so the air pressure flows from the inside to the outside of your store. Flying insects don?t like to cross wind barriers, Siddiqi says.

  • To keep ants out of your store, make a three-foot gravel path between the perimeter of your building and any trees, shrubs or flowers.

  • Place your security lights in the parking lot rather than on the building. By aiming the lights at your building you?ll still get illumination, but the bugs will hang out at the light source.

  • Inspect the nooks and crannies of your store daily for rodent droppings. If you see any, vacuum them up. Then check the next day. If there are more droppings, you know you have rats or mice nearby. Check that area carefully for holes or cracks in the wall.

  • To guard against cockroaches, seal all cracks and crevices with caulk. ?Close your door and look at it. You shouldn?t see any light from cracks,? Siddiqi says. ?If you can seal your building properly, you don?t need any [insect or rat] poison.?

  • Keep a logbook of who is in charge of these procedures, when they?re done and how frequently. ?It doesn?t work without commitment of management and staff,? Boyer says.

Organic zapping
For insects and rodents that make it through your fortifications, there are sprays, fogs and traps made from materials on the NOP-approved list.

Tree of Life uses an Orkin trap that contains pheromones attractive to various moths and insects. The pests are lured into the trap, which is lined with glue. This four-inch square, half-inch deep box can be hung in your store?s back rooms and under lower shelves on the store floor. Orkin also makes glue-lined traps that lure flies with ultraviolet lights.

To kill rodents, Orkin has traditional snap traps and large tin boxes with holes designed to entice inquisitive mice, which then stick to a glue board inside.

Another option is essential oil-based sprays made by EcoSMART Technologies of Franklin, Tenn. Reasoning that plants have components that naturally repel insects, EcoSMART has crafted food-grade essential plant oil blends spiked with water, carbon dioxide, calcium carbonate and mineral oils.

?The essential oils block the octopamine receptor site in insects, causing them to die of a nervous breakdown,? says David Murphy, vice president of the company?s commercial division. ?Humans don?t have octopamine receptors, so we just metabolize the oils.?

Murphy acknowledges that traditionally, essential oil-based repellents haven?t been ?nearly as effective as those with conventional ingredients.? But he says EcoSMART has discovered how to combine various plant oils to make them more effective. In two studies (November 2004 and April 2005) conducted for EcoSMART by entomology professor Joel Coats of Iowa State University, the company?s EcoExempt IC and IC-2 killed every cockroach, fly, cricket, mosquito, weevil and beetle it was sprayed on within 30 minutes.

Vicky Uhland is a freelance writer in Denver.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 10/p. 18, 20

About the Author(s)

Vicky Uhland

Vicky Uhland is a writer and editor based in Lafayette, Colorado.

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