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The Magnitude of Stored Product Insects Infestation in Food Supply Chain Management

According to a study done by the International Food Policy Research Institute, pest destroyed an estimated RM184.9 billion worth of crops production annually in Asia and stored product insects (SPI) have been identified as one of the pests that contributed to the losses.

SPI that are commonly found in Malaysia include the cigarette beetle, rice weevil, sawtoothed grain beetle, and flour beetle. They are normally grouped into two categories, for example rice weevil and lesser grain borer are known as ‘internal feeders’ as they feed within the kernel. Whereas, sawtoothed grain beetle and flat grain beetle described as the ‘external feeders’ because they feed on grain dust and debris without entering the kernel.

SPI can pose a huge threat in the entire supply chain especially in food processing facilities and warehouses because they usually spread and grow their colony in the food commodities. In fact, the most devastating damage that SPI can cause is commodities losses due to SPI contaminations. And due to their minuscule size, SPI infestations can be difficult to detect in the initial stages. As a result, SPI may be ground together with the raw materials, packed and sold to the consumers.

Commercial buyers may refuse to accept delivery of infested grain, or pay a reduced price as SPI also encourage the growth of mould, including fungi that are responsible for the production of mycotoxins that can be toxic, allergenic and unfit for human consumptions. Therefore, regardless of the size or severity of its infestation, the presence of SPI is not a situation to be taken lightly because it will consequently lead to costly downtime, food recalls and in the worst case scenario, business closure.

Common signs of SPI infestation are traces of adult insects, larvae, pupae or silken webbing in the raw materials and food storage bins. Researchers in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found that 75% of SPI infestation usually occurs at the folds and corners of a box, which explains how they commonly enter a facility during logistics. A newly hatched larva can penetrate cracks as small 0.12 mm. SPI can also pierce through sealed packages when they chew through the corrugated paperboard. Lastly, birds also pose risk to the supply chain as they can carry and spread insects and mites into the food processing facility.

How does IPM help in controlling SPI infestation?

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a dynamic combination of multiple pest control practices designed and implemented using a variety of techniques. As a proactive approach to pest management, IPM places a heavy emphasis on constant pest monitoring, pest exclusion and sanitation to ensure that high standards of hygiene practices are maintained.

Here are some examples of IPM practices for SPI control:

  • Clean up all spillages and dust accumulation in the premises, machinery, equipment, storage and transport vehicles regularly.
  • All stock and food material should be stored off the floor and away from walls to facilitate cleaning and inspections.
  • Keep raw materials in robust packaging to prevent SPI infiltration.

"Although food contamination can occur at any point from farm to table, pest infestation along with unsanitary conditions in the food manufacturing sectors can lead to severe business consequences. Regardless to the size of business operations, pest management should be placed as utmost priority because the impact from a pest infestation can be devastating", say Ms. Carol Lam, the Managing Director of Rentokil Initial Malaysia.


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