Pests are not only unsightly and dirty, but they also are contributors to food poisoning, says entomologist Hope Bowman, a technical specialist for Parsippany, N.J.-based Western Pest Services.
Every year an estimated one in six Americans are sickened by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Contamination can come from many different disease-causing microbes or pathogens, including insects and rodents.
Pests contaminate food as well as kitchen equipment and other surfaces. They also infest food items and stored products including grains and dry goods.
“The big problem with pests is they are carriers of pathogens that can make people sick,” Bowman says.
According to the National Pest Management Association:
- Cockroaches are known to spread 33 kinds of bacteria, including E.coli and Salmonella species, six types of parasitic worms and seven kinds of human pathogens. The saliva, droppings and decomposing bodies of cockroaches contain allergen proteins known to trigger allergy and asthma symptoms, especially in children.
- Rats transmit disease-causing organisms such as Rat-bite Fever, Salmonella, trichinosis, murine typhus, plague and Leptospirosis.
- Flies can carry more than 100 types of disease-causing germs, including Salmonella and Listeria.
A restaurant staff may be well-trained in hand washing procedures and maintain thorough and rigorous cleaning schedules, but employees and customers may still be susceptible to food poisoning if a pest infestation goes undetected.
“You can leave a perfectly clean kitchen when you go home but pests will come out when you are not there,” Bowman says. “You may not realize you have a problem and that a few cockroaches were traveling across your clean food surfaces.”
“Flies are particularly bad as they vomit and defecate every time they land,” Bowman says. When a fly lands on food it is able to transmit a pathogen that causes food poisoning. If that food is left out for too long, the pathogen continues to develop and will even grow faster at the right temperature. Your restaurant can quickly become a breeding ground for diseases.
Operators should be concerned with keeping food preparation surfaces clean and sanitized, Bowman explains. “It’s so important when you first come in to work that you clean,” she says.
Surfaces should be washed again every morning as part of the regular opening routine. Cutting boards should be stored upright and up high. In addition, surfaces should be kept clean throughout the day; while fresh towels and cloths should be handy for cleaning.
“Make sure [towels and cloths] are changed regularly,” Bowman says. “If you leave a rag on the edge of a three-bay sink to dry, a roach or mouse or fly can land on that.”
Keep doors closed as much as possible, Bowman advises. Do not leave doors propped open while deliveries are being made. In fact, don’t keep doors wide open for any length of time.
Bowman also recommends that kitchen personnel thoroughly inspect deliveries — not just for quality or quantity, but also to make certain that no pests are stowaways in the boxes or packaging.
Keep rice and other grains in tightly sealed bins rather than bags. Mice and rats can easily chew through paper or cardboard.
Place insect light traps in hallways or dishwashing areas, but not over food prep stations.
“Keep flies away from food as much as possible,” Bowman says. “Swatting at them keeps them from landing.”
According to Western Pest Services, the following may be signs of a pest problem or lead to one:
- Spoiled produce
- Unsanitary countertops, tables or floors
- Trashcans that are not securely closed
- Water accumulation
- Unclean bar well
- Dirty drains
- Spilled drinks
- Food containers not tightly sealed
- Puddles of rainwater
- Flowers and trees growing near the patio or entrances
- Crumbs and debris on the patio
- Mulch where ant nests or mounds might be found
- Trash accumulation
Working to keep pests at bay must be viewed as a regular part of running a busy restaurant, and foodservice operators who pursue diligent pest control policies can successfully minimize the risk of spreading food poisoning.