(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the December/January 2018 issue.)
There are only three things a pest is looking for at any given time: food, water, and shelter. While this may seem basic, most businesses provide these year-round, meaning there’s an ever-present battle behind the scenes for the health and safety of food sources.
Flies and cockroaches are two of the most common pests to see, and both are known disease spreaders. While most people find these common pests to be gross, most do not recognize pests pose dangers to our health. Able to spread pathogens by simply touching a food source, flies and cockroaches are known carriers of typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. An outbreak of any one of these could be devastating not just to consumers’ health, but to a business’s reputation and bottom line.
As with many aspects of the food business, sanitation is going to be key to success. In pest control, while it’s important to have a strong pest management process in place, there’s also a lot frontline employees can do to keep the situation under control. Staff can be the eyes and ears of your business when it comes to spotting pest invaders first. Establish strong sanitation processes and procedures immediately to avoid major problems in the future. It’s always better (and often cheaper) to keep pest issues from getting to the point of infestation where more intensive treatments are necessary.
As part of proactive pest management, establishing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is the first step to ensuring your business is as protected from pests as possible. An IPM program seeks to prevent pest activity before it occurs and reduce dependency on chemical treatments. The process is not a one-time event, but an ongoing cycle of three critical activities: 1) assessing the situation in your facility, 2) implementing specific, science-driven solutions based on findings, and 3) monitoring pest activity to make sure the techniques are working.
After a thorough inspection, a pest management professional will locate the hot spots and high-risk areas in and around the business, then work with you to create a custom IPM program that works for the particular pest challenges that you’re facing. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for pest management. In addition to IPM, there are numerous activities you and your staff can start doing today to improve sanitation practices and make the facility less attractive to pests.
Get Employees On Board
Discovering pest issues is going to be incredibly difficult if your staff isn’t involved. They’re on the ground level and closest to areas where pests are most commonly found, like the kitchen, patio, or bar for example.
That’s why the first step to implementing a stringent sanitation plan is staff training. If employees know what to look for and how they can contribute, they’re more likely to be vigilant in calling out potential problems. Bring them in at the beginning of the process and let them know the details of the custom IPM program, especially the hot spots around the business. Consider assigning different areas for employees to monitor corresponding with their job type. In a restaurant, for instance, cooks could be in charge of keeping an eye on kitchen drains and sink areas while waiters are in charge of monitoring the main dining room and outdoor patio areas.
Here are a few telltale signs for some of the most common pests.
- Flies. If you see larvae (maggots), especially around drains and garbage bins, it’s time to act fast. Flies reproduce quickly, so a small problem can escalate rapidly.
- Cockroaches. Unpleasant odors along with coffee ground-sized droppings are evidence of these resilient pests. They could be found behind or under kitchen equipment.
- Rodents. These pests leave droppings constantly, so watch out for tiny pellets. Dark rub marks around baseboards, especially around corners, are a good indicator of a potential problem as well. They love finding stored food product to bite into.
- Termites. Cracked or bubbling paint, mud tubes on exterior walls, and discarded wings from swarmers are possible evidence of a much larger issue. They are attracted to moist areas and wood structures, often behind walls and out of sight.
Make sure employees know what to do when they spot a pest as well. Establish a pest-sighting protocol to encourage employees to document a sighting immediately. This should include the type of pest, the number present at the time, and where exactly the pest was spotted. Monitoring tools should be put in place by a pest management professional, but employees can help identify pest issues earlier than anyone else.
Consider implementing regular cleaning sessions on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. A deep, leave-no-stone-unturned type of cleaning should be done at least a few times a year. Many people do not consider the grime and food particles building up behind and beneath heavy equipment, but pests absolutely adore these areas and will make them their home in no time if left alone. And don’t forget to clean the breakroom.
If you’re having a tough time getting employees to buy into your program, consider asking the pest management professional to stop by. Most will offer free training sessions, which will allow employees the chance to ask any questions they may have and further engage with the IPM program.
Preventing Pests Indoors
Although pests can be a potential health threat, they’re also a nuisance to guests and can give visitors a bad impression about the facility’s cleanliness. Removing attractants is a start, but keeping pests from coming inside can also make a big difference. Exclusion is another large part of a strong IPM program, and it simply means turning a business into a fortress by eliminating potential entry points.
It doesn’t take a lot of food particles or moisture to draw pests inside. Therefore, it takes diligence and constant improvement to minimize attractants and block pests from getting inside.
Here are some proactive tips.
- Take out the trash. Many pests will feed off garbage and organic waste, so removing trash at least daily is a must. Do not leave waste in bins overnight. Also, be sure all garbage bins have a lid of some type to cut off pests and reduce the odors that draw them in. If possible, keep dumpsters and recycling collections at least 40 feet away from the exterior of the building.
- Seal pests out. Walk around the exterior of the building and use caulk or another waterproof sealant to seal up any cracks and crevices. Pests can fit through remarkably small gaps, so the more openings that are sealed up the better. Rats fit through a hole the size of a quarter, mice through a hole the size of a dime, while ants and roaches can fit through just about any sized gap.
- Keep storage areas neat and tidy. Often overlooked, storage areas are prone to pest problems. Extra boxes and debris from packaging make for great hiding spots, while the abundance of food is extremely attractive to pests. A small problem can get out of hand quickly in a storage area because in the right conditions pests can reproduce remarkably quickly and begin spreading to other areas in the building. Remove clutter, clean containers before putting new product inside, keep containers off the floor, and use tightly-sealed packages to reduce the risk of pests.
- Use screens on windows and keep doors closed. Often pests will come in right through the front door. Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible and inspect screens covering windows for holes regularly if they’re going to be left open. If you do want to leave a door or window open regularly, put a greater emphasis on keeping the inside of your facility clean.
- Clean up spills immediately. Food particles and sugary drink spills will attract pests in no time, so they need to be wiped up as soon as they occur. Waiting will only make things worse.
Pay Attention to the Great Outdoors
Stringent sanitization practices shouldn’t be limited to indoor areas. In fact, keeping the property surrounding the business neat and tidy can drastically decrease the pest pressure faced indoors.
Pests love clutter, especially in the form of vegetation, tree branches, or trash. Wood piles can be an attractant for termites, roaches, and spiders, and should be kept far away from the building to avoid serving as a “jumping off point” or easy access avenue inside. Don’t forget to clean out gutters and rooftop ledges either as clogging can lead to a buildup of soil and moisture perfect for hosting pests.
Landscaping is an important part of helping keep the premises clean and pest-free. Trim back vegetation and thin out thick bushes, which can host mosquitoes and other flying pests if left too thick for air to pass through. Make sure branches don’t make contact with the structure to provide a bridge for pest access. If planting something new, try to keep it at least a foot away from the building, or risk creating a natural jumping off point. Consider a barrier of rock around the perimeter as pests will find this less hospitable. Rodents will often hide under bushes and shrubs until they can find an opening in a building’s exterior, so don’t give them the chance to lurk around.
Anywhere there’s standing water, pests will accumulate—especially mosquitoes. Rodents and flies will use standing water for nourishment as well. If allowed to sit for too long, standing water will be a pit stop for pests on their way inside of a building. Any spots where flooding occurs regularly will be a pest hot spot, so make sure to have proper runoff to take the water away.
While these proactive pest management tips will help to reduce the chances of pests, it’s still possible they might find a way inside. But working with a pest management professional to establish a tailored plan focused on preventive tactics, careful monitoring, and quick action after an issue is discovered will help keep pests out and protect a business.
If still encountering a pest problem despite these proactive pest management tips, a pest management professional will be able to recommend the fastest and most effective course of action.
Although there are a lot of different approaches to prevent pests, the most important thing is to clean and sanitize as regularly as possible. If pests don’t have a food and water source and a safe place to harbor, they can’t survive. Simple as that.
Ramsey is technical services manager for Orkin. He is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of training and education, operations, and marketing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.