It’s a question that’s being asked across all industries – are we truly going to be able to use data to solve emerging global challenges and find new, better and more efficient ways of doing things?
I believe the answer is a definite ‘yes’. In the pest control industry for example, it’s abundantly clear to me that every day brings more data to enrich our insight and more opportunity to act decisively.
In fact in the food industry – particularly in the context of pest control – it’s no exaggeration to say that our ability to take advantage of an ever-growing pool of data, identify trends and proactively intervene does play and will continue to play a critical role in global food safety.
It’s vital that we have this discussion right now, because evolving challenges in food safety mean there’s absolutely no doubt that we have to be prepared for new pest risks using all available sources of insight and intelligence.
The rise of technology has resulted in the development of more online platforms, new retailers and food being increasingly delivered direct to consumers, increasing points of risk. Pests are being increasingly picked up in shrink wrap and pallets for example, so there is a significant need for technology to help with inspections and detect these pests as early on as possible.
Globalisation has also risen rapidly. The establishment of the World Trade Organisation in particular has led to increasing international trade, even more complex supply chains and changing pest profiles across borders.
Climate change, meanwhile, is leading to the rise of non-native pest species in new markets, changing weather patterns and the rise of expanding pest problems. Annual average land temperature over Europe is expected to increase more than global land temperature during the 21st century and by 2021-2050, temperature rises of between 1.0°C and 2.5°C are projected, increasing pest threats in turn.
When you put all these factors together, it’s obvious that there is a clear need to exploit all the insight and ongoing learnings we can possibly gather to help find a solution. Thankfully – owing to digital technology, we’re also in a situation where insight is much more readily available. My colleague Paul Donegan, Digital Innovation Director at Rentokil Initial, puts it this way:
“25 years ago, there was data, but it was captured with a pen and paper so it was difficult and time consuming to analyse. However, as technology continues to move forward and you capture that data, the ability to visualise it and get value from it has never been easier.”
The opportunities that exist for improving food safety when you start to visualise data and map trends are enormous. They also exist across all parts of the supply chain. Take logistics and warehousing, where monitoring pests in large and constantly active facilities is notoriously difficult.
Thanks to developments in technology, you can now implement connected devices that help capture and alert to the presence of pests remotely, gather data and make it available for continual analysis through integration with digital platforms. For example, Rentokil data shows that rodents account for nearly 50% of all infestations in logistics and warehousing and that building integrity is where the biggest efforts to prevent pests needs to be focused.
This gives food safety professionals and pest controllers a clear view of where problems have occurred most frequently and where they are likely to occur in the future for proactive intervention.
Crucially, the data collected by pest control devices can also be overlaid with historical third-party data, such as weather data. This helps food businesses and pest controllers to plan preventative measures that help manage food safety with even greater accuracy. In the long run, it will also help to inform how pest control needs to adapt in response to factors like climate change.
Ultimately, data and insight provides opportunity for the food industry, from more effective pest management to quicker, more efficient tracking and transparency. And it’s absolutely crucial that we make the most of the opportunity to meet new challenges. The challenges we face may be significant as pests continue to thrive in new environments and pose new risks as the supply chain evolves, but there is a real and current opportunity to use data to drive innovative new approaches that make business sense.
Imagine, for example, if you could use data from various sources to help determine whether there are any environmental factors impacting sites that are particularly vulnerable to rodent infestations? Before you even planned or built a facility?
We’re already seeing this in the retail part of the food supply chain, where data is being aggregated and analysed with historical third-party data from thousands of supermarkets alongside key climatic and food audit data. The aim is to discover the correlation between factors such as temperature, rainfall, proximity to water and the threat from pests in different types of locations. As a result, these analytics have now led to predictive models that enable supermarkets to evaluate a site before a new store is built.
This is just one of many illustrations out there in the food industry right now of how technology and data from various sources, once combined, can provide the insight we need for pest management in food safety to adapt and stay ahead. And more importantly, help us anticipate and prepare for challenges that we can already see are likely to develop in the future.
You can find out more about the macroeconomic trends that are changing pest management challenges in our special session at the GSFI Conference 2019 on Thursday 28th February at 8.15am. The session will feature contributions from leading economist Linda Yueh, who will be looking at the current global environment and emerging trends and how these will impact food businesses over the next five years. We’ll also hear from Savvas Othon, Group Science and Innovation Director at Rentokil Initial, who will explore the increasing food safety threats posed by growing pest populations, and how technology and data are providing insights into the pests that we should imminently be protecting our food businesses from.
 European Environment Agency
 Reference data as recorded by Rentokil
This post was written and contributed by:
Head of Category