Food for Thought: Preventing Pest Infestations

BY GORDON MORRISON

SMACKDOWN: There is no place for insects in foodservice.

Pest management is a fact of life for foodservice operators. Pests are a general nuisance if they make an appearance during daily operations and are often an even-bigger problem after hours. Besides being unsightly and unsettling, they can transmit bacteria and microorganisms responsible for causing sickness and disease in humans.

Flies and cockroaches are among the most common culprits to infest kitchens, which provide an ideal environment for these pests to live and breed.

While these pests explore a kitchen's leftovers or supply cabinets, they may also be contaminating your customers' next meals with germs associated with food poisoning, cholera, dysentery, salmonella, tuberculosis and strep. And although cockroaches can be devastating in terms of their ability to damage an establishment's reputation for cleanliness, flies are, by far, the more adept at transmitting disease.

Many experts believe that it is virtually impossible for a food-handling establishment to comply with federal regulations for sanitation and health without an adequate pest management program. For restaurant ation of expert guidance by a pest management professional (PMP), proper sanitation, exclusion techniques, and modern pest control methods.

"DIY" vs. Working with a Professional
If you are considering doing some, or all, of your own pest control, there are many things to consider before you decide to "do it yourself":

  • Do you need to be licensed or certified to apply pesticides in your own establishment?
  • Do you need to carry additional insurance?
  • Depending on the "Right to Know" laws in your state, are you required to post information about the pesticides you apply?
  • Are you required to keep pesticide application records?
  • Can you identify different types of pests correctly?
  • Are you prepared to get the proper training for a staff member and purchase the appropriate application equipment?

When it comes to the complexities of eradicating and preventing pest infestations in food-handling establishments, your best bet is to work with a pest management professional (PMP) who is licensed by your state to apply pesticides and who meets your state's certification and training requirements for applying pesticides in commercial kitchens.

Moreover, it takes a professionally trained eye to identify the species of pest that may be infesting your kitchen, often necessary to determine which treatment options are best for control. Your PMP will be able to customize the right treatment approach for your particular infestation and provide strategies for preventing infestations inbetween visits.

When hiring a pest management company, consider consulting the following sources:

  • The National Pest Management Association's pest management company locator (www.pestworld.org [3])
  • Your state or local pesticide agency.
  • Your peers. All food-handling establishments require pest management plans. Ask your colleagues for a referral.

Before making a hiring decision, check with your local Better Business Bureau to ensure that the company has received a positive rating.

Once you have contracted with a company, establish a schedule for regular service. If possible, ask the company to assign one or two PMPs to your account so that you are dealing with the same individual/team, who can become familiar with your staff and establishment, on a consistent basis.

In addition, communication between your staff and your PMP is essential. Consider giving your PMP some time on the program at a routine staff meeting to review pest prevention strategies with your team.

You should also designate a member of your staff to be the PMP's "key contact" to ensure that action items are communicated and implemented. Ask your PMP to provide a sighting sheet for your staff to record when and where they notice pests, which will save you and your PMP time and money.

Integrated Pest Management and Prevention
Because food-handling establishments are among the most sensitive environments where pesticides are applied, your PMP will likely recommend an "Integrated Pest Management" (IPM) approach.

The tenets of IPM are appropriate for sensitive environments such as kitchens because they rely on a combination of proper sanitation, exclusion techniques, an understanding of the life cycles and behaviors of pests, and modern pest control methods.

Some of the most effective IPM practices revolve around consistent, meticulous cleaning procedures. Important tips include:

  • Use monitoring devices or "sticky traps." When used correctly, these traps will identify where pest problems occur. They are a "double-edged sword," however, because health inspectors check for them as well.
  • Keep all areas mopped and dry. Cockroaches can live for four weeks without food, but they can only survive for a few days without water.
  • Remove trash daily.
  • Reduce clutter whenever possible. Cluttered areas provide pests with a good place to hide and are difficult to inspect and treat when necessary.
  • Seal up cracks, crevices, and pipe chases indoors that can provide pests with convenient places to hide.
  • Rotate stock on a first-in, first-out basis, including paper supplies. Cockroaches often hide inside cardboard boxes that contain food and paper goods.
  • Hundreds of fruit flies can emerge from a few pieces of misplaced fruit, so keep fresh fruit covered and clean up any spills.
  • Clean floor and sink drains regularly to remove organic debris. This material attracts "drain" flies, which prefer to feed and breed on trapped, decaying matter.
  • Pests are also attracted to residual food odors so be sure to wash pots and pans thoroughly after each use.

Other important IPM tenets involve preventing pests from accessing your facility, which can be achieved using these exclusion techniques:

  • Indoor fly problems often originate when flies outside simply fly indoors. Make sure windows and doors are screened properly and kept closed.
  • Inspect incoming produce. Small flies often hitch a ride on incoming fruits and vegetables.

Options for Control
While the non-chemical procedures above are an important part of IPM, pesticide applications are normally required to control or prevent pests. In order to ensure that food and food preparation surfaces are not contaminated, however, the use of sprays, foggers, or volatile formulations should be limited in favor of lower-dose, more discreet bait options.

Today, baits are the number one choice of PMPs for controlling cockroaches and ants, and also provide indoor and outdoor solutions for fly control. In general, baits last longer than sprays, require less advance preparation before application, and can usually be applied discreetly during working hours to "out of the way" places. Some are even specially formulated to be more attractive to pests by presenting them with alternate food sources that contain an active ingredient that pests will unknowingly consume.

Ask your PMP for a cockroach bait solution that will provide quick knockdown and long-term control of regular and finicky cockroaches. In some cases, these baits exploit cockroach behavior by employing a delayed-action kill that allows one roach to spread the active ingredient to other members of its colony, which is known as the Domino Effect. There are also ant baits that provide the same type of powerful, effective control.

Fly control options depend somewhat on where the fly problem exists. For outdoor fly infestations around dumpsters, ask your PMP for a granular bait that can be spread around the problem site. In some cases, the granules can also be placed inside a bait station, which resembles a small, covered dish, or dissolved in water and painted onto surfaces. For indoor fly problems in a dining room, ask your PMP for a low-dose, sprayable fly bait that can be applied in small spots to the walls of the room. For drain fly infestations, ask your PMP for a waterproof dust formulation that can be applied in foodhandling establishments.

No matter what the infestation, some of the most important tings yhou can do are to make pest management in your facility a priority, provide full disclosure of the infestation to your PMP, allow him/her to access any and all problem areas. You should also commit yourself and your staff to becoming your PMP's "partner in pest management." This collaboration with your PMP, and a conscientious attitude toward IPM, is an unbeatable combination when it comes to controlling pest infestations in restaurant kitchens.

Gordon Morrison is Insecticides Market Manager for Bayer Environmental Science. He has served on the board of the Professional Pest Management Alliance and has more than 25 years of experience in the Professional Pest Management industry. Morrison can be reached at Gordon.Morrison@ bayercropscience.com.

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