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The rapidly growing world population brings significant challenges, with the need for more food production and global trade. The World Resources Institute estimates there will be 10 billion people on earth by 2050, leaving a potential 56% food gap. These trends demand the wider movement and storage of produce – which is making pests an increasingly prevalent and costly threat, particularly stored product insects (SPIs).

Financial Cost Grows as SPIs Multiply Fast

SPIs can infest produce at any stage of the food chain, from farm to transport, storage, and on to food processing plants.

A study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, commissioned by Rentokil, shows that SPIs cause the greatest financial loss to food processing businesses out of all known pests, including rodents, cockroaches and birds.

One thousand companies were surveyed across five countries to gain an international perspective on the business and economic impacts of pest infestation. Of those, 60% said they lost 1–9% of annual revenue to SPIs.

SPIs are diverse – ranging from beetles and weevils to moths and mites – and can damage a wide range of foodstuffs. Dried and preserved foods, organic products such as grains, nuts, cereals, pasta, cheeses and preserved meats can all be affected. The industry is well aware of the threat, but problems persist because SPIs are so hard to spot. They can infest and then hide in goods at any stage of the food supply chain, and multiply fast – in the summer season, some species complete the lifecycle in just four to five weeks.

According to Rentokil Initial’s group innovation consultant and entomologist Matt Green, businesses need to be particularly aware of the larval stage in the SPI lifecycle. He said: “The larval stage is purely about gaining energy and consuming as much food as possible for growth, so this part of a stored product pest’s lifecycle is particularly damaging to businesses, as well as being difficult to detect as these insects live among the food they are eating. Unfortunately, most SPI infestations will not be noticed until their adult stage, where the insects will be reproducing, and the issue is advanced.”


The food businesses we surveyed revealed they had been affected in the following ways:

  • raw material contamination (37%)
  • raw ingredient contamination (45%)
  • damage of finished goods (38%)
  • production delays (20%)
  • fines or even business closures (10%)

Modern Practices Compound the Problem

It’s not that insects have evolved to take advantage of our food industry – we’ve created an environment in which they can thrive. Stored product moths, such as the warehouse or tropical warehouse moth, for example, benefit from an increase in monoculture. They are energy-efficient and monoculture allows them to stay in one place to feed without having to fly off in search of food.

The SPI threat continues along the food chain because modern large-scale storage facilities designed to help feed the growing population, particularly those in increasingly urbanised environments, make for ideal concealment and breeding conditions. Modern storage facilities also operate for 365 days a year to cope with demand, which means they do not close for regular fumigation and cleaning. 

While the opportunities for SPIs to spread increase, they are also becoming increasingly hard to treat with modern pest-control practices. For example, some species of moths and mites are resistant to more than 90 pesticides.

As a result, they need specialist, innovative and non-toxic treatments, such as the use of heat, which is highly effective and keeps food businesses compliant with ever-tightening regulations and standards.

This makes preventing an infestation in the first place critical. Early detection of SPI activity will cut expensive treatment costs and eliminate delays in the supply chain, and processes must be in place as part of a wider, integrated pest-management plan.

Matt added: “Early detection is the key component to effectively deal with introductions and infestations of stored product insects at every stage of the production process. Observation, detection, monitoring and swift action to quarantine affected products will ensure minimal losses are suffered.”

With SPIs being such a mounting threat – one of the biggest pest challenges facing the food supply chain as we try to feed an ever-growing population – is your business ready to act? 

Find Out More with Rentokil Initial at the 2020 GFSI Conference

Join Rentokil Initial’s special session on the SPI threat at 8am on Thursday, 27 February. Our global experts will share unique, data-driven insights into the SPIs that pose the biggest threat to food today – and in the future.

We’ll also share compelling ways to treat SPIs effectively, giving you actionable advice to prevent infestations and protect your business.

We look forward to welcoming you.

This blog was written and contributed by:

Rentokil Initial Entomologists

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