Bakers Journal

Birds – Food Safety and Public Health Hazard

May 20, 2008
By Patrick T. Copps MS BCE

Tips on keeping your bakery safe and free of our feathered “friends”

Birds may not present the same danger as witnessed in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, they do pose a serious threat to food safety. Certain species can contaminate food production facilities through the parasites and fungi found in their droppings. In fact, bird droppings have been associated with more than 60 human diseases, including Salmonellosis, Histoplasmosis, Encephalitis and Cryptococcosis. For this reason, food-safety auditors review bakeries for signs of birds, including nests or extensive droppings. The American Institute of Baking (AIB) even requires bakeries to implement bird exclusion tactics. 

In addition to threatening food safety and public health, birds cause severe structural damage. Highly acidic bird droppings corrode metal, and contribute to the decay of building exteriors, while bird feathers and nesting debris can clog drains and gutters. On occasion, birds gain entry inside buildings through air vents and small openings.  In some cases, these pests can contaminate food supplies by building nests inside equipment.

Before implementing a bird control program, it’s important to identify which species is likely to infest your bakery. The government recognizes pigeons, sparrows and starlings as “pest” birds by law, which makes certain control techniques legal. Your bakery’s location will play a big role in the pest birds located there. Originally introduced into North America as a domestic bird, pigeons now reside in virtually every city, and are recognizable by their robust frame and short, fanlike tail. Sparrows and starlings prefer more rural environments. Sparrows differ in colour depending on sex, while starlings vary in colour, depending on the season.

For bakery plants located near large bodies of water, seagulls can pose a problem. These large, mainly white birds have a slightly hooked bill, long pointed wings and webbed feet. Although many people associate gulls with seacoasts, many species have moved inland, settling around urban areas, landfills and agricultural fields.

Why Birds Peck at Your Property
Birds may infest your property because of easy access to food, water and nesting areas, or simply because the facility provides a comfortable place for them to hang out. Whether you know it or not, your plant offers numerous “hot spots” for birds, including signage, pipe work, rooftop parapets and air units. Pest birds congregate in these areas for one of four reasons:

1. Loafing/socializing – Just like humans, birds enjoy mingling with each other. Birds that gather for the sole purpose of socializing are often easy to remove, since they haven’t made the property a permanent residence.

2. Feeding/eating – Since your facility specializes in the production of baked goods, birds will flock to your establishment in search of readily available food and water sources. Outside employee break areas, poorly secured trashcans and waste removal areas provide prime feasting spots, while puddles formed from HVAC leaks offer an abundant water supply.

3. Roosting/sleeping – Birds like to roost on flat surfaces, so roof ledges often endure large amounts of destructive droppings. And since birds establish a permanent attachment to their sleeping quarters, removal can be difficult.

4. Nesting/breeding – Lastly, birds build nests on your property in which they lay eggs and raise their young. Just like any protective parent, they will be very difficult to relocate once they have built a nest.

How to Stop Birds From Dropping In
After identifying the species of bird and determining the reason for its presence, work with your pest management professional to decide on the proper treatment option. There are three common control techniques for pigeons, sparrows and starlings: repellants, relocation techniques and exclusion. Repellant and exclusion measures focus more on preventive action, while relocation efforts actually remove the birds from your facility.

Repellants make your plant less attractive to birds by creating an uncomfortable environment for them through physical, chemical or electronic means. Physical repellants, such as netting, pin and wire systems, and bird spikes, prevent birds from perching along roof ledges, while chemical applications, including gels and sprays, give birds the feeling that their feet are stuck.

Another way to avoid a bird infestation at your bakery is by physically preventing their access to your facility. Exclusion efforts prohibit birds from nesting on the building, especially under HVAC units, where pests commonly seek shelter to protect their young from dangerous elements. Netting off the area with the appropriate-sized “bird netting” makes it impossible for birds to penetrate the space.

If preventive measures are unsuccessful, relocating birds by trapping them may be necessary. Since birds are environmentally sensitive pests, ask a certified professional to perform all relocation efforts, to ensure ethical treatment and proper care.

While repellant, exclusion and relocation efforts successfully manage pest birds, controlling gulls proves slightly more difficult, since they are a federally protected species. Exclusion is usually the only control option available, so certified professionals often stretch overhead wires along the ledges of buildings, and create wire grids on rooftops to prevent loafing.

To stop a bird infestation before it gets out of hand – or becomes a deduction on your audit – immediately report any bird sightings to your pest management professional. Make sure your professional keeps proper documentation of all sightings, and treatments administered, in order to monitor your progress. An effective bird control program is the key to keeping a bird infestation away from your bakery, and back on the big screen where it belongs.

Patrick Copps is technical services manager for Orkin‘s Pacific Division. A board-certified entomologist in urban and industrial entomology,  Copps has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry. For more information, e-mail him at or visit

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