Pests like mice, cockroaches, and flies carry and spread diseases that can make people severely sick.
Thus, it’s crucial that you keep them out of your establishment or react appropriately when you see signs of pests.
This article explains everything food handlers need to know about pest control in food safety, including how to prevent pests and identify signs of an infestation.
Types of pests common to foodservice
A pest is any animal, insect, or organism that spreads disease, causes destruction, or is otherwise a nuisance.
The biggest concern with pests in foodservice is that they spread disease, including foodborne illnesses.
Pests most commonly encountered in foodservice include:
- insects namely flies
- rodents, including mice and rats
Flies carry at least 130 pathogens or disease-causing organisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites (1).
This is because flies feed and reproduce on feces — which can carry bacteria like E. Coli, Shigella, and Salmonella — and then transfer pathogens from their mouth parts, wings, legs, and other body surfaces to the food and food-contact surfaces on which they land.
Here’s an example of how the pathogens from feces can be transmitted to food and then to humans from flies.
Flies also feed on food waste in dumpsters that can carry pathogens.
Similarly, cockroaches and rodents can transmit pathogens to food or food-contact surfaces with which they or their feces come in contact (2).
Birds, while beautiful in nature, also pose a problem when flying around foodservice operations since they too carry pathogens that can make people sick, especially if your operation has an outdoor dining area.
The four pests most common to foodservice include flies, cockroaches, rodents, and birds. Pests are a food safety hazard because they commonly carry pathogens that can contaminate food or food-contact surfaces and make people sick.
How to prevent pests in foodservice
It’s much easier to prevent pests from infesting your operation than trying to remove them once they have gained access.
Understanding the various things that attract pests can the ways they gain access is key to preventing them.
One of the best ways to prevent pests is to maintain a clean working environment.
A clean environment makes it less of a home for pests while also denying pests the necessities of life — food, water, and shelter.
If the garbage is full and ready to be taken out, don’t let it sit around inside — throw it out quickly.
Keep the garbage and recycling bins clean and the lids closed at all times to make it more difficult for pests to gain access.
If you have an outside area where people eat, keep the grounds well-maintained, cover all garbage containers, remove uneaten food and dirty dishes from the table, and clean up spills as quickly as possible to deter pests like birds.
Clean up food and beverage spills immediately after they happen and keep the bathrooms and break areas clean.
Pests can take shelter in just about anything, including cleaning supplies.
So keep cleaning supplies dry and store wet mops on hooks rather than on the floor.
Also, don’t leave empty buckets of water around — remember, you want to deny pests the necessities of life.
Good storage practices are also important to deny pests food. Store food supplies quickly and correctly as you receive them, and keep boxes of food away from walls and at least six inches from the floor.
Finally, remember that pests can gain access through deliveries, so always inspect them for signs of pests and refuse any that show signs.
Your manager or the person in charge also plays an important role in preventing pests.
They can partner with a pest control service and maintain the integrity of the building to deny pests from entering through cracks or unsealed openings.
Your manager may also rely on devices like automatic doors or air curtains to deny pests from gaining access to the inside.
Air curtains blow a steady stream around doors and drive-through windows, creating an air shield that prevents bugs from entering.
The best way to prevent pests is by denying them the necessities of life — food, water, and shelter — by maintaining a clean environment — both inside and out — and storing food correctly.
Signs of a pest infestation
Pests are just that — pests.
Even with preventative measures, they can still find a way in.
Therefore, you must be able to identify signs of pests so that you can work with your manager to remove them quickly and safely.
You can see flies and birds but you’re less likely to see cockroaches and rodents.
Therefore, you must be able to identify signs that could indicate they are present.
Signs of a cockroach infestation include:
- droppings that look like grains of black pepper
- strong, oily odor
- capsule-shaped egg cases, which tend to be brown or dark brown, leathery, and shiny
Cockroaches live in places that are dark, warm, moist, and hard to clean.
They bread in massive numbers and tend to feed at night.
If you notice a cockroach during the day, you likely have a large infestation.
Rodents can squeeze through holes, jump, climb, and may even know how to avoid bait and some traps, making them especially difficult to control.
Signs of a rodent infestation include:
- gnaw marks on boxes, pipes, and food packages
- urine stains
- dirt tracks along walls
- nests, which are often near food and water or next to buildings
If you identify any signs that may indicate a cockroach or rodent infestation, inform your manager immediately so they can work with a pest control service to eliminate them.
At no time should you attempt to apply pesticides as some are not approved for foodservice.
If any pesticides are stored at your operation, store them in their original container away from food, utensils, and equipment.
You must be able to identify signs of pests — especially cockroaches and rodents — so that you can notify your manager to eliminate them quickly and safely.
The bottom line
Pests carry and spread pathogens that can make people sick.
The pests most common in foodservice include flies, cockroaches, rodents, and birds.
You can best prevent pests by denying pests the necessities of life — food, water, and shelter.
You can best do this by maintaining a clean environment — inside and out — and storing food correctly.
Know the signs of a cockroach and rodent infestation so you can work with your manager to eliminate them quickly and safely.
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