Purina suggests pest management controls.

Retailers must aggressively handle pest management to control theproblem of unsaleable merchandise. Attendees at "Protecting YourSupply Chain: Food Safety and Unsaleables Strategies," a three-dayevent hosted by the Nestle Purina Pet Care Company in Sedona, Ariz.,helped retailers understand what they need to do to control pests andprevent them from damaging both food and nonfood products andundermining customer confidence. The symposium was co-sponsored byCopesan, a pest management organization.

"Given the prevalence of this problem and the adverse effect it can have on consumer perception and the ability to sell product, a great need for pest management education exists at retail," said Nestle Purina food safety expert Kim Kemp, the event's keynote speaker.

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Since the program was started three years ago, officials at St. Louis-based Nestle Purina, which manufactures Friskies and Dog Chow, say retailers that participate in the program have seen consumer complaints related to infestations decline by about 50%. "The cost related to unsaleable products is enormous to the industry and not just monetarily through designing quality systems," says Kemp. "When the integrity of a product is compromised, consumer loyalty suffers, and the store risks losing that customer."

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The symposium gathered retail executives who work in quality assurance, food safety and sanitation, loss prevention and receiving, and account managers for pest control companies. Presentations included "Pest management and food safety synergy" and "Protecting your supply chain." Pest control has also been a serious problem for the pet food category, particularly as more retailers incorporate larger pet care sections into their stores and expand their food offerings.

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The presentations offered practical tips on how retailers can prevent pest problems:

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* Avoid low-lying landscaping. While they may look attractive, plants that grow close to the ground provide a great home for pests. From there, it's easy for them to enter the store.

* Keep a neat dumpster. It is important for retailers to be as neat as possible with their refuse. Discarded food that isn't sealed in bags will draw pests to the store.

* Don't leave boxes, fixtures or any other rubbish piled behind the store. Like low-lying landscaping, these piles will provide a home for pests that will eventually make their way into the store.

* Make sure that there are no entry points into the store. While making the store completely airtight is impossible, retailers should look for gaps under doors, cracks in the floor and walls and openings where plumbing or electrical lines run into the store.

* Don't store cardboard for long periods of time. Corrugated cardboard can be attractive to pests, particularly insects that can get into the small spaces between layers.

* Keep the store clean. This includes disposing of opened food products, keeping the floors swept and rotating stock because older merchandise is more susceptible to infestation.

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