Nobody wants to think about bugs crawling around in the kitchen where food handlers prepare their spaghetti. Nobody wants to deal with rats scurrying around a cafeteria dumpster.
Unfortunately, pests (both insects and rodents) are incredibly common in foodservice. After all, these creatures need shelter, water, and food to survive–and a foodservice establishment can easily offer up all three.
Whether you work in a hospital kitchen, a restaurant, or even a school cafeteria, there are some simple tips to keep pests at bay.
So, how do you prevent your business from becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet free-for-all for pests? In this guide, we’ll walk you through a comprehensive overview of pest control in foodservice. We’ll cover:
What Are the Most Common Pests in the Food Industry?
The last thing you want to see in any dining establishment is a rat, spider, cockroach, or some other kind of pest. Unfortunately, pests are all too common in the food industry. Here are some of the most common pests you might find.
Let's start with rodents. These pesky pests can cause major health hazards–these little guys can spread everything from salmonella to hantaviruses.1
Plus, they can cause some significant damage to our buildings and equipment. It's important to keep an eye out for droppings, gnaw marks, and signs of nesting so that you can take action right away.
Next, we have cockroaches. These guys have been around forever and are notoriously hard to eliminate.
They can carry all sorts of harmful bacteria and can even cause allergies in some people. Keeping a clean and tidy kitchen is the best way to prevent them from taking up residence.
Flies may seem like a minor annoyance, but they can spread all sorts of diseases as they fly from surface to surface. Keep your doors and windows closed, and dispose of trash promptly to keep them at bay.
While they may seem harmless enough, birds can cause major damage to buildings and equipment. Their droppings can also carry harmful bacteria and parasites. Keep an eye out for nests or any signs of damage that they may be causing.
While spiders may not be the first pest that comes to mind in the food industry, they can pose a real threat, particularly for food establishments in warm climates or outdoor dining.
Certain species of spiders can inflict nasty bites, which can be a serious health hazard.
These tiny insects are one of the most common pests in foodservice settings, and for good reason. Ants are attracted to sugary or greasy food items and can contaminate food products easily. Plus, once they've found a food source, they can quickly establish large colonies in your establishment.
Another common pest in the food industry, weevils, are a type of beetle that infests stored products like grains, flour, and cereal. These pests can cause serious damage to your inventory if left unchecked.
What Attracts Pests to a Food Facility?
Now that you know some of the most common types of pests to watch out for, how do you prevent them from infesting your restaurant or kitchen? Let’s start by talking about what attracts them there in the first place.
While each pest will be slightly different in terms of the conditions it needs to thrive and flourish, a few common denominators can make an infestation more likely.
First and foremost, unmanaged waste (trash) is a big no-no for pest control. Food debris, leftover ingredients, and even excess grease build-up are prime targets for pests like cockroaches, rodents, and flies.
Another critical factor is poor hygiene. That includes not only the cleanliness of surfaces and equipment but also the personal hygiene of your staff. Dirty hands and clothes can attract pests just as much as messy kitchens.
Poorly Maintained Equipment, Furniture, and Exterior Spaces
Poorly maintained equipment, furniture, and exterior spaces can also contribute to pest problems. Old, cracked equipment and furniture can provide hiding spots for pests, while unkempt exterior spaces can attract pests like ants, bees, and wasps.
Unnoticed Entry Spots
Pests can enter your facility through small cracks and gaps in walls, floors, and doors. Keep an eye out for these entry points, and seal them up promptly to prevent pests from coming in.
Pests like roaches, silverfish, and rodents need water to survive and thrive, so a leaking pipe or faucet can be a gold mine. And those floor drains? You should clean and maintain them regularly, as these provide another water source for pests to thrive.
What Are the Negative Impacts of Pests on Businesses?
As foodservice professionals, we all know how important it is to maintain a clean and hygienic environment within your establishment. Unfortunately, pests can jeopardize this goal and significantly threaten your business.
How exactly do they do that?
First, there’s the obvious–pests can spread disease, posing a severe health risk to your customers and staff. They are vectors for infectious diseases such as E. coli, Salmonella, and other foodborne illnesses that can cause serious health complications in your customers.2
Pests can cause significant damage to your property, including your building, electrical wiring, insulation, and more. This damage can be costly and may disrupt your business operations, leading to decreased sales. Some pests, like termites, can destroy a building’s structural integrity.
Other pests, like ants and weevils, can contaminate food and other ingredients, rendering them unsafe for consumption. They can cause food poisoning outbreaks and lead to legal action against your business. And don’t forget that food recalls can be costly and ruin your reputation.
While we’re on the subject, a damaged reputation is one of the most significant impacts of a pest infestation. Word spreads quickly, and once your establishment is known for having a pest problem, it can be challenging to rebuild your reputation. A damaged reputation can lead to a decline in sales and the business's overall success.
In extreme cases, legal action can be taken against your business for failing to maintain proper pest control measures. Prosecution can be expensive and time-consuming, resulting in hefty fines and penalties.
How Do You Control Pests in a Foodservice Establishment?
As much as we all strive for clean, healthy environments to prepare and serve food, the sad reality is that pests can often thrive despite our best efforts.
The important thing is to do your best as a food service professional–and to consistently look for ways to improve your establishment’s safety and sanitation.
Here are some tips.
Do Regular Inspections With Licensed Pest Control Professionals
One of the most effective ways to control pests in your foodservice establishment is to perform regular inspections with licensed pest control professionals. These experts have the training and experience necessary to identify potential problem areas and take action to prevent pests from getting in.
During an inspection, a licensed pest control professional will carefully examine your entire facility, looking for signs of infestation, such as droppings, eggs, and webbing. They'll also inspect your food storage areas, kitchens, and dining spaces to ensure everything is clean and sanitary.
If they do find evidence of pests, they'll take immediate action to eliminate the problem. That may include laying traps, applying insecticides, and sealing potential entry points.
But even if a licensed pest control professional does not find any pests during an inspection, it's still important to take preventative measures. Pest control professionals can offer guidance on how to prevent infestations in the first place, such as sealing up gaps and cracks, cleaning up spills promptly, and storing food properly.
Keep Everything Sanitary and Hygienic
If you're looking for a way to keep those pesky pests out of your establishment, one of the best ways is to keep everything clean and hygienic. That means regularly cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, equipment, and storage areas.
Crumbs and spills may seem like no big deal, but they can attract ants, roaches, and other unwanted guests. Nobody wants that!
But it's not just the visible messes that can cause problems. Tiny food particles and grease buildup can also attract pests, so make sure you're regularly cleaning your cooking equipment, fryers, and ovens. And don't forget about your garbage areas—you want to ensure those bins are emptied and cleaned out frequently to avoid any odors or spills.
Another critical step is properly training your staff in food safety and sanitation. Your team should know how to handle food safely, as well as how to clean and sanitize work areas properly.
Make Sure the Building is Well-Insulated
Even the smallest cracks and gaps can provide entry points for pests. That's why it's essential to seal up any openings in your building. Check around doors, windows, and foundation walls for gaps, and use caulk or weatherstripping to seal them up.
Not only will a well-insulated and tightly sealed building help control pests, but it can also save you money on energy costs. By reducing drafts and air leaks, you can keep your building at a comfortable temperature without relying as heavily on heating and cooling systems.
Pay Attention to Every Link in the Supply Chain
By carefully vetting our suppliers and only working with those who meet your high cleanliness and pest control standards, you can drastically reduce the risk of pests entering your establishment.
Why is this so important? Well, pests can hitch a ride on all sorts of things–from the produce and meat we order to the packaging and equipment those items come in.
If your suppliers aren't taking the necessary steps to prevent pests from infiltrating their facilities and products, you could unintentionally welcome these unwanted guests into your kitchen.
To prevent this from happening, you need to establish close relationships with our suppliers and make sure they're doing everything possible to minimize the risk of pest infestations. That might involve asking for documentation of their pest management practices, conducting regular inspections of their facilities, or even implementing joint pest control measures if necessary.
Properly Store Food
Make sure all your food is stored in sealed containers or packaging to keep bugs and other critters out.
Proper storage is vital in your dry storage areas and any refrigerated units. While we’re on that subject, it's also important to ensure that someone deep cleans your refrigerators regularly and that everyone on the team feels responsible for promptly wiping up any spills or crumbs. Otherwise, you're just inviting pests in for a snack!
And let's remember the optimal conditions of your dry storage areas. Make sure they're well-ventilated to prevent mold and mildew from growing, and store your food at least six inches off the ground to prevent unwanted visitors from getting into your supplies.
Dispose of Trash Regularly
When you leave trash sitting around, you invite pests to a feast. Whether it be flies, ants, or rodents, they'll make themselves at home and start spreading germs. Not only is this a health hazard, but it's also a big turn-off for customers.
Take out the trash daily–or even multiple times a day if necessary. Have designated bins for compost, recyclables, and regular trash to keep everything organized. Keep lids on all your trash bins to prevent pests from getting inside.
Keep Outdoor Vegetation Trimmed
Overgrown shrubs and trees are just begging for pests to make themselves at home. Mosquitoes can breed in standing water that collects in unkempt areas, and rodents love nothing more than a cozy hiding spot in tangled-up plants.
Keeping your outdoor space neat and tidy creates a natural barrier against these pesky intruders. It's also a good idea to clear away any debris or garbage lying around–waste attracts flies and other unwanted critters.
Trimming your vegetation doesn't just help with pest control–it also looks much nicer! A well-manicured lawn or garden can boost the curb appeal of your establishment and make a great impression on your customers.
Manage Leaks and Remove Stagnant Water
Leaks provide the perfect environment for pests like cockroaches and rodents to thrive. Besides being attracted to moisture, leaks can also weaken the foundation of your building, creating additional entry points for pests. You can avoid the needless risk of pest infestations by fixing leaks as soon as they're detected.
And let's remember about stagnant water. It can come from standing water in floor drains, clogged gutters, or even puddles outside your establishment. These areas are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying serious diseases.
Use Traps and Baits as Needed
Traps come in different types and can be placed strategically in areas prone to infestation.
For instance, you can install sticky traps along baseboards and corners to catch crawling pests such as cockroaches and ants. On the other hand, snap traps work well for rodents such as mice and rats. You’ll want to inspect and change traps regularly and dispose of them properly to avoid contamination.
Baits, on the other hand, are substances that attract pests and ultimately lead to their death. They can be in the form of gels, powders, or granules, and you can place them in areas where pests frequent, such as near garbage cans and behind equipment. Baits work by luring pests to consume them, eventually eradicating them.
Remember that you must follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety precautions when using traps and baits. Consider using non-toxic and environmentally friendly options to minimize environmental harm, and be mindful of placing these in spots where customers or guests won’t be able to see them.
Pay Special Attention to “Hot Spots”
One effective way to keep pests at bay is to pay special attention to "hot spots"-areas that are particularly attractive to pests. These can include trash cans, floor drains, and pantries, among other places.
Trash cans and dumpsters, in particular, are prime targets for scavenging pests like rats and cockroaches. Make sure to regularly empty and clean your trash cans to avoid attracting these unwelcome visitors.
Floor drains can also be a major source of attraction for pests, especially if they aren’t kept clean and free of clogs. Regularly clean and maintain your drains, and consider using drain covers to keep pests from entering.
Finally, pantries and storage areas can be magnets for pests looking for a source of food. Regularly inspect and clean these areas and store food items in sealed containers to avoid attracting pests.
Consider an Integrated Pest Management Approach
One approach that has proven to be highly effective is Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This method focuses on employing a combination of prevention techniques, regular monitoring, and targeted treatments.
By using IPM, you can avoid using harsh chemicals that can be harmful to people and the environment while still keeping pests at bay.3
Some critical components of an IPM program include keeping your facility clean and tidy, addressing areas where pests might be able to enter, like cracks and gaps in walls or floors, and setting up proper storage for food and supplies.
Regular inspections and monitoring will also help you catch pest problems early so you can address them before they get out of control.
If you need to use treatments to control pests, IPM advocates for using targeted, low-toxicity options that pose minimal risk to humans and non-target species.
By taking a more holistic approach to pest management, you can keep your establishment pest-free while ensuring your customers' and staff's safety and well-being.
What Regulations Are There For Pest Control in Foodservice?
The FDA has established pest control guidelines in foodservice, including preventing and controlling pests through proper sanitation, maintenance, and exclusion measures.
In addition to FDA guidelines, the food service industry has developed its own standards for pest control.4 These standards often go above and beyond what is required by law, as foodservice professionals strive to maintain the highest levels of hygiene and safety for their customers.
Some of these standards may include regular pest inspections, using non-toxic pest control methods, and implementing integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.
If you’re curious about how to get everybody on your staff on the same page about pest management and prevention, you may want to consider some of Trust20’s products. Trust20’s suite of products includes training on sanitation, safe food handling, and so much more to provide a comprehensive set of resources for your staff.
Regardless of the regulations your establishment is supposed to adhere to, it's all about being proactive and taking a holistic approach to pest management.
- Washington State University: Zoonoses Associated with Rodents – Wild
- EPA: Public Health Issues Caused by Pests
- Food Safety Magazine: Integrating Pest Management Procedures to Protect Food Safety
- FDA: CFR-Code of Federal Regulations Title 21