Unsightly roaches scurrying across the kitchen floor is not something restaurant operators want — or worse, to have a customer spot one crawling around the dining room.
“German cockroaches are probably the No. 1 pest problem for restaurants,” says Jennifer Brumfield, entomologist for Parsippany, N.J.-based Western Pest Services.
The insects are problematic for several reasons, Brumfield adds, but they can also be prevented if an operator formulates a strategy that includes relentless cleaning and pest control inspections.
Of the more than 4,600 cockroach species, about 30 are found in human habitats, and of those, three are considered pests and known to spread 33 kinds of bacteria, including E.coli and Salmonella species, six types of parasitic worms and seven kinds of human pathogens, according to the National Pest Management Association.
The saliva, droppings and decomposing bodies of cockroaches contain allergen proteins known to trigger allergy and asthma symptoms, especially in children.
“It’s not just the cockroaches, but the things they leave behind — fecal material, saliva, exoskeletons — that make people sick,” Brumfield says.
The most common roach species technicians deal with are the German, American and Oriental. The German cockroach is the smallest, about half an inch in length, light tan in color with light brown stripes. The American cockroach is bigger; an inch to an inch and a half, with wings the length of its body. The Oriental is also quite large, an inch and a half up to almost two inches, and black or very dark in color.
Since German cockroaches are the most prolific in the restaurant business, it’s important to understand their threat. A single female’s egg case can contain 20 to 40 eggs. An egg case can hatch within a month and those roaches can reproduce within six weeks.
“It’s exponential growth,” Brumfield says. “One female can really cause problems. After mating once, she will continue to reproduce for a long period of time.”
A female usually deposits the egg case in a protected location and near a food source. Cockroaches feed primarily on decaying organic matter — starches, sweets, grease, garbage, meat products, glue and paste and dead skin particles.
Cockroaches are also nocturnal, coming out at night to feed, Brumfield says, adding, “They will all hang out in one area, places that are moist and warm, like above refrigerators.”
Such nighttime habits and their tendency to stay in hiding can allow roaches to go undetected for some time, allowing them to breed unfettered. Usually, by the time one is spotted during the day, a restaurant may already have a serious problem, Brumfield notes.
“But there are so many things that restaurants can do to prevent roaches,” she says.
A good pest prevention strategy should include the following activities:
Be aware of how roaches can get into a restaurant — through cracks in walls, underneath doors, from gaps in the foundation and up through drains that have not been properly maintained. Roaches can also come in via deliveries.
Repair cracks, make sure doors and windows are properly sealed and don’t allow doors to be propped open for deliveries, Brumfield advises.
That broken mixer in the corner, the oven no longer in use and any cardboard should be carted out or, in the case of equipment, repaired and returned to use or discarded.
Cardboard is particularly popular with roaches, especially corrugated cardboard. Roaches will wedge themselves into the space. They will also eat the glue.
If a restaurant hangs pictures on its dining room walls, make sure all four sides of the frames are flat against the wall and sealed with caulk on all sides to keep roaches from living behind them. Also be sure to regularly clean any knick-knacks or objects attached to walls.
Eliminate food sources
Store foodstuffs in durable containers with tight-fitting lids. Be sure to take food out of cardboard boxes and store it in airtight containers.
Diligently sticking to a thorough cleaning program can help eliminate food sources and hiding places. “If a restaurant does have roaches, it’s a symptom of a lack of sanitation, poor storage practices and structural deficiencies,” Brumfield says. “Any pest is a red flag for a deficiency somewhere.”
Have pest control experts inspect the property on a regular basis, even if a restaurant is not experiencing a pest problem. Technicians know what to look for and can detect signs of roaches — fecal material, exoskeletons, etc.
Typically, a pest control technician will also advise a restaurant operator on possible problems and ways to correct them.
Operators should not be embarrassed to have a pest control company truck at their location, Brumfield says. “It does not always indicate there is a pest problem,” she says. “It usually means they don’t have a problem, because they are doing proper maintenance.”