Pest infestations are certainly annoying, but for restaurants and other food-related service industries, it can be downright dangerous.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent report (2014), there were 864 foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States, resulting in 13,246 illnesses, 712 hospitalizations, 21 deaths and 21 food recalls related to pests.
The report also found that 65% of these outbreaks occurred at sit-down dining style restaurants.
While foodborne disease outbreaks in restaurants can happen for a variety of reasons, the presence of pests like cockroaches and rodents can contaminate surfaces, equipment, and food, causing disease to spread and putting patrons at risk.
In fact, rodents alone destroy enough food each year to feed over 200 million people.
For service field workers in pest control, this means doing your job with extra vigilance to eliminate any potential health threats caused by these pests.
But part of that job will also include educating restaurant owners and employees on how to spot pests and prevent them from spreading deadly diseases so that your job is a lot easier (and patrons and employees remain safe).
Here’s how to do that…
Common Restaurant Pests
Restaurant owners need to be aware of the types of pests they will encounter in their daily environment and types of disease each pest can carry.
Contrary to what Disney’s Ratatouille would have you believe, rodents in the kitchen don’t lead to adventure; they lead to disease.
Rodents can enter buildings through almost any crack or opening larger than a dime, and because they defecate frequently, they can easily contaminate food and surfaces that other pests may not reach.
Common diseases spread by rodents include salmonella, murine typhus, infectious jaundice, and rat-bite ever.
Cockroaches are another commonly reported pest. They can enter a restaurant through food packaging or via cracks in the building. Once they arrive, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of them.
They can also spread 33 different kinds of bacteria including e.coli and salmonella. Additionally, they can carry up to six types of parasitic worms and at least 7 kinds of human pathogens.
Flies can have significant impact when it comes to food, as they are naturally drawn to restaurant conditions. They can live in sinks and other sources of water, making it hard to spot breeding grounds.
They have been known to carry more than 100 different kinds of disease-causing germs, and can spread diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid and cholera.
Like flies, ants are also attracted to things found in the kitchen. Leftover food scraps and greasy or sticky surfaces will attract ants quickly.
While they may seem innocuous, if not slightly annoying, they can actually carry diseases just like any other insect.
Common diseases carried by ants include salmonella and staphylococcus.
“Pantry pests” can include a number of other bugs that make their way into dried foods, like flour beetles, bean weevils, and Indian meal moths.
They can be difficult to locate, as they hibernate in unopened foods or foods that have been spilled behind hard-to-reach places. Similar to ants and other insects, they can also carry a number of disease-causing germs.
While birds in a kitchen are not necessarily as commonplace as some of the others on this list, they do show up occasionally if someone leaves a door or window open.
They carry over 60 diseases, many directly in their excrement, such as salmonella, e.coli, and histoplasmosis, which can be fatal.
Even if they don’t make their way into the kitchen, they can also nest in the exterior of the building and leave excrement that can be dragged into the restaurant through other means.
Signs of Infestations to Watch For
Aside from knowing about each pest they may encounter, restaurant owners also need to be aware of common signs of infestation.
Signs of rodent infestations, for example, could include things like:
- Damaged food packaging
- Gnaw marks on restaurant furnishings and equipment
- Droppings in pantries and other areas frequented by rodents
- Grease markings on restaurant walls
- Noises indicating rodent activity
- The presence of indoor nests
Cockroaches can be identified by their smell (they secrete an oily pheromone) as well as shell and excrement droppings, which can take the appearance of ground-up pepper flakes.
These insect bits can seep into food, causing noticeable flavor changes. If customers complain about poor tasting food without any other logical explanation, it could be a sign of infestation.
Pantry pests and ants can be difficult to spot, so it’s important to look closely inside any food packaging and containers on a regular basis. These insects tend to multiply quickly, so once you know where to look they can be easy to spot.
Kitchen staff should frequently check other typical hiding spots for signs of infestations like excrement, dead bugs, evidence of nesting, odd smells and sounds, and holes or gnaw marks.
Common infestations spots can include:
- Garbage cans
- Storage areas
- Loading docks
Restaurants should also be supplied with charts of common pest droppings that can be referenced in case of emergency.
Preventative Actions to Take
Finally, restaurant owners and employees should be made aware of both preventative actions to take as well as next steps if they suspect an infestation.
Some preventative measures include things like:
- Cleaning up spills and fixing leaks as soon as possible
- Removing or eliminating sources of stagnant water
- Scrubbing floors and floor drains weekly to remove sticky or greasy spots
- Catching or cleaning up spilled crumbs of food
- Taking out the trash regularly and keeping trash bins at a distance from the kitchen
- Clean up all dishes and sources of food daily (never leave unwashed dishes)
- Sealing any noticeable holes around the kitchen
- Doing regular checks of hard-to-reach areas like wall shelves or behind equipment for signs of infestations
- Close doors and windows often
- Regularly trim grass and vegetation around restaurants
- Remove any bird or rodent nests outside of the building
- Train employees to recognize signs of infestations
Consistent cleaning practices are essential to reducing infestations. It’s important to clean under appliances, inside all cabinets, and in every other hard to reach space on a regular basis.
Trash management is also vital, as most restaurant trash will be made up of food and other edible items, which can quickly and easily attract rodents and insects. Keeping trash areas clean and tidy (and taking it out frequently) will help.
Restaurants should also be vigilant about inspecting food packages for signs of infestation, like holes or chew marks. If possible, store foods in insect-proof containers of glass, hard plastic, or metal.
The more restaurant workers do to keep pests from appearing, the easier it will be to stop them later on. If they do suspect an infestation, they should identify the type of infestation (if possible) and call for your services immediately to prevent further damage.
How to Inform Restaurant Owners
You may not always have time to sit down with an owner to educate them about the topics above, but there are things you can do to encourage them to stay informed.
Have someone from your company stop by with a resource packet that includes things like checklists, charts and infographics (Pestnet has some great ones here), signs to watch for, and a list of preventative measures to take (feel free to borrow from this article).
You can also put together mailable resources like brochures or flyers, but keep in mind that restaurants are typically busy and may ignore (or potentially be offended by) a pest control pamphlet that doesn’t come with context.
Making a quick phone call to ask if you can send over some free resources is a great way to form connections with your current clients (and market your business with new ones) while providing valuable education for pest control prevention.
While a pest infestation may be good for your business, they can cause serious problems for those in the food industry as well as restaurant patrons.
It’s important to help restaurant owners identify the types of pests they may be dealing with, signs of infestation, and action steps for preventing and dealing with infestations so that the risk of disease can be reduced.
As much as possible, supply local restaurant owners with your contact information as well as a few helpful resources and information to help them take control before problems arise.