Pests are a year-round threat to restaurants, which provide the food, shelter, and water they seek endlessly. Pests aren’t the only ones keeping foodservice establishments top of mind—local news outlets often report health inspection scores to keep consumers on high alert of low scores in the community, and many municipalities and states require restaurants to post their scores in areas clearly visible to patrons. Because 20 percent of a restaurant’s health inspection score is based on the pest control portion, restaurant owners and managers have to be diligent in having an effective pest management program in place.
Local news outlets aren’t the only watchdogs that owners and managers need to be aware of either. Diners can now easily alert their friends or communities about a restaurant pest sighting with just the click of a button on social media or online review sites like Yelp.
To help prevent failing the pest control portion of your inspection and avoid negative publicity, it’s important to be aware of the pests that pose the greatest threat to your restaurant. Three of the dirtiest pests are rodents, cockroaches, and flies.
Rodents can sneak into your building through openings as small as a dime, or they can hitch a ride inside on food deliveries. Once inside, rodents become a health threat to your employees and diners. Rats and mice can carry pathogens that can cause symptoms such as headaches, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches associated with diseases including lymphocytic chorio-meningitis (LCM) and Hantavirus. Women who become infected with LCM during pregnancy may experience severe complications.Spotting even one dropping or gnaw mark can be the first sign of a rodent introduction.
Cockroaches can enter your restaurant through openings as small as 1/16 of an inch, and they’re even more likely to stay once the weather cools off. Any holes or cracks in your building, as well as damaged door seals or sweeps, can be a welcome entrance. These unpleasant pests can carry more than 30 kinds of bacteria, trigger allergies, and cause food poisoning and pneumonia. Since cockroaches are great hiders, a few indications there might be an infestation include cast skins (the skin they shed as they grow), sputum (a dark material cockroaches spit up) and droppings, which can range in size depending on the type of cockroach (some droppings can look like pepper and others can be as large as mouse droppings).
Flies are the most common and dirtiest of the restaurant pests. These small bugs can carry billions of harmful microorganisms, including E. coli and Salmonella, which can lead to serious illnesses in humans. Flies have no trouble slipping into your restaurant, and they thrive on the food and trash found inside. Unfortunately, the presence of flies is quite obvious to your patrons.
How do you keep these pests from eating up your bottom line? Consider implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan, which is a proactive approach to pest control customized to your individual business. IPM focuses on reducing conditions conducive to pests through a three-step approach:
1. Assess the situation:
Ask your pest control provider to conduct a comprehensive inspection of your property to identify sanitation issues or structural conditions that could allow pests entry.
2. Implement corrective actions:
Work with your pest control provider to develop a customized plan that includes proactive techniques, such as physical exclusion, sanitation, and non-chemical treatment options to help prevent pests from becoming an issue.
3. Monitor effectiveness
Ensure your pest control provider conducts regular inspections to monitor if your plan is effective. This will allow you to make updates to your plan as needed.
IPM is an ongoing cycle, and it emphasizes a partnership between your pest management provider and your team. Restaurant staff should focus their efforts on proactive sanitation and maintenance of the restaurant. Here are tips for your staff to use during routine cleaning:
Keep your patio clean. Patios offer the perfect pest habitat with food, water, and shelter, so be careful not to let your cleaning efforts in outdoor dining areas become lax. Patios should be cleaned vigorously, just like the inside of your restaurant. Keep pests away by clearing customer plates as quickly as possible, wiping down tables after every serving and sweeping any food waste left on the ground. At the end of the day, vacuum or hose down the outside area making sure all debris has been removed or pushed down the drain. Ensure all outside drains are clear of debris as pests will be attracted to the remains left behind. If your outdoor dining area is elevated, don’t forget to inspect and clean the area underneath where food particles or trash can collect. You can also replace patio lighting with LED lights, which are less attractive to flies and other flying insects.
Take care of trash ASAP.It’s no secret pests are attracted to the odors coming from trash cans. Reduce odors by covering all trash cans with tightly sealed lids, emptying them at least daily—but even more in the summer—and lining them to avoid debris buildup on/in the trash can. Also, wash down trashcans regularly to help prevent any lingering food debris, and position dumpsters as far away from your building as possible.
Maintain a spotless kitchen.This should go without saying, but one of the chief causes of back-of-house pests is a dirty kitchen. Clean up spills and fix leaks immediately to eliminate moisture, which attracts insects and rodents. Pests feed on grease and grime, so scrub floor drains and drain covers as often as possible—weekly at a minimum—and preferably with a biological cleaner that uses naturally occurring enzymes or bacteria to break down buildup. Never leave full trashcans or unwashed dishes overnight.
Inspect exterior of building.To help keep pests out, seal any holes or cracks in your building or around utility penetrations with weather-resistant sealant. Check door seals and door sweeps monthly and replace them as soon as wear is noted.
Inspect food shipments. Pests can enter your establishment on food, equipment, or within the boxes these items are delivered in. Use a UV black light to inspect for rodent urine on shipments and in delivery trucks and loading areas.Propping a door open for a delivery is another welcome invitation for pests, so ensure doors remain closed whenever possible.
IPM requires you to stay diligent, but the hard work will be well worth not having to read a negative review about pest problems in your restaurant.