A Winning Playbook for Rodent Defense and Food Safety

The Science Behind Rodent Control

Rodents can be a major problem for food and beverage processing facilities any time of year, but the adverse conditions of winter can accelerate the problem as mice, that lived outdoors throughout the temperate months, enter buildings in search of food and warmth.

Although the challenges of rodent control for food plants are in no way new, the success of control efforts continues to increase in efficacy as research reveals new understandings of their behavior. This is because the more we can understand rodents, the better we can apply this knowledge to the advancement of equipment and service protocols to develop the winning playbook to apprehend them in their tracks.

Rodent Defense

Two findings from Ecolab scientists that have significant impact on rodent control success:

  1. The behavioral differences between a rodent’s first venture into a new environment and once they become established, and
  2. The “force field” impact of rodent whiskers (or vibrissae) that play an important role in their movement and search behaviors. When a rodent enters into a new environment, its first instinct will be to find a place to hide from which it can scope out its new surroundings. Additionally, while it is often said that rodents have poor vision, this is true only in relation to human eyesight in the light. They actually have an impressive ability to see contrast and shadows in the dark and they use this to find shelter.

“The high-contrast hole is a big attractant for mice in new situations,” said Ecolab Senior Scientist Douglas Gardner. “When they first enter a building, they will dart into holes, especially those closest to the door by which they entered.” So, he explained, you will be playing right into their behavior by putting multi-catch and wind-up traps near doors—which they will see as ideal holes in which to hide.

Even during the day when its eyesight is less keen, the rodent gets around and finds holes quite easily by using its whiskers. Extending about 1-1/2 (3.81 cm) inches from its head, their whiskers aren’t simply hairs—they have muscles at the base and are very sensitive. So the mouse can move its whiskers in broad sweeps, side to side, or hold them straight out in front to feel the wall against which it is running or the hole into which it wants to go. “Their vibrissae are sensitive enough to pick up even shape and texture,” Gardner said. “So they can use this ‘force field’ to investigate new things, recognize what it is, and choose whether or not to go further.”

 If, with all this, the rodent gets past the first defense and gets established in the building, it will have found shelter and not need to seek out additional holes. Thus, an additional control strategy needs to be implemented to focus on this new behavior. This next layer of defense involves snap traps and temporary placement of glue boards along runways and against walls, which are regularly inspected and removed if a rodent is caught. 

“Integrating the research into rodent control programs has validated Ecolab’s Outside-in approach which provides three layers of protection,” said Ecolab Senior Scientist Dr. John Barcay.  This includes:

  • Exterior rodent equipment to reduce the pest pressure.
  • Multi-catch traps inside the door as a barrier and new entry capture.
  • Regular inspection of interior traps for quick reaction and removal.

More Resources

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