Food Safety: Resisting Invasion

Proper pest management requires vigilance and professional partnership

By Greg Baumann

(March 25, 2009) – Recently, significant media attention has been focused upon rodents running rampant in various restaurants and food facilities. Given the publicity nightmares that ensued, these businesses were left to deal with far more than just tainted food - they were forced to deal with their tainted reputations, long after the media spotlight dimmed.

Unfortunately, restaurants and food facilities sometimes wait until crises strike before implementing proper pest management practices. After such an intense media glare upon these issues, it may be time to reassess current pest management plans and, if not up to par, make the appropriate changes to prevent pests and rodents from contaminating both a company's food supply and its valued reputation.

The facts of this problem make a proactive approach necessary. Pests and rodents are attracted to sources of food, water and shelter - three things that restaurants and food facilities provide in spades. Prevention and maintenance can protect companies from the serious threats posed by pests and rodents.

A successful pest management program that focuses on both prevention and maintenance is Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a Proper pest management requires vigilance and professional partnership, says Greg Baumann. IPM is a process involving common sense and sound solutions for treating and controlling pests.  The focus is upon finding the best treatment for a pest problem, and not merely the simplest.  Pest professionals never employ a 'one size fits all' metod in IPM, but rather utilize a three-part practice of inspection, identification, and treatment. Treatment options in IPM can vary from sealing cracks to removing food and water sources to employing pest products, when necessary.

For restaurants and food facilities, choices about the public's well-being are commonplace. When the top prioirty must be protecting the public's health and safety, facility managers and quality assurance professionals need to have a variety of options available to them. IPM programs designed and implemented to fit within the above definition provide a multitude of proactive and reactive measures to protect premises from the threats of pests and rodents.

Prevention is key!
Pest prevention is the first, critical step in an IPM program and one that all can share in. Restaurants and food facilities must be vigilant in protecting the public's health from the diseases and damage associated with opportunisitic and resourceful pests. Although maintenance is a signficant part of protecting public health, it is only as good as the vigilance of those who work day to day in the industry.

On the outside
The exterior area of premises should be kept as clean and uncluttered as possible. The better the care given to the outside of buildings, the better the ability of facility managers and quality assurance professionals to prevent unwanted intrusion.

  • Dispose of garbage in clean, sealed containers.
  • Seal cracks and holes on the outside of the buliding, including entry points for utilities and pipes.
  • Keep tree branches and shrubbery well trimmed and away from the building.
  • Repair fascia and rotted roof shingles as some insects are drawn to deteriorating wood.
  • Replace weather-stripping and repair loose mortar around the building's foundation and windows.
  • Don't overlook proper drainage at the foundation; install gutters or diverts, which will channel water away from the building.
  • Consider replacing any mulch adjacent to the building with crush, as mulch can provide a burrowing area for rodents and other pests.
  • Be sure that exterior lights are not directed at doors or positioned above entryways as they can seve as a beacon for unwanted pests.
  • Be sure that employees do not prop doors open during a shift or a break to prevent unwanted pests and rodent from entering; make sure doors and open windows have tight fitting screens.
  • Fit any doors that must be open, such as dock doors, with air curtains or plastic strip curtains.

On the inside
Pest prevention must also take place on the interior of buildings. They are not simply unsightly but can also be dangerous contaminates to food. By taking additional prevention measures inside buildings, facility mangers and uliaty assurance professionals can be sure that they are taking all the steps necessary to implement proper IPM practices.

  • Keep storage areas, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.
  • Dispose of garbage in a timely manner.
  • Look for rodent droppings in undisturbed areas, including closets, attics and along floorboards, which indidcate a pest problem.
  • Make sure employees keep food sealed and stored properly.
  • Clean high-volume areas daily, where crumbs and trash are more likely to build up.
  • Caulk and seal internal cracks, especially at floor/wall junctions.
  • Address product spills immediately and clean affected areas as soon as possible.
  • Products and materials should be stored away from windows and walls to reduce the risk of contamination.

In the bag
As stored food products are present at both restaurants and food facilities, it is also necessary to consider prevention techniques in this realm as part of an IPM plan. Many pests can infest bagged meal and powdered food products. Consistent monitoring of these storage areas is crucial for detecting these pest issues. Stock should be rotated frequently in storage areas, using the First In, First Out (FIFO) technique. Storage shelves should also be cleaned frequently and free of dust.

Calling in the professionals
The 'integrated' in Integrated Pest Mangagement does not merely describe the three-part practice of inspection, identification, and treatment. Rather, it reflects the joint commitment of facility managers, quality assurance professionals and pest professionals in making food premises pest-free environments. Cooperation is critical because itsustains the individualized approach of IPM. A multiparty effort on behalf of IPM encourages a stronger commitment to assessing each situation uniquely and developing a comprehensive cure to the pest problem. Treatments can include a daily preventative measure such as disposing of garbage in a timely manner. IPM is most effective when there is a true partnership between facility managers, quality assurance professioanls and pest professionals.

With cooperation as a must, choosing a pest professional to share in IPM responsibilities is an important decision and one that cannot be made on price alone.

It is always helpful to contact other reputable businesses for recommendations of pest control companies they have previously used. 'Word of mouth' references are likely honest evaluations and ones you will believe. When meeting a prospective pest professiona, ask if they practice IPM as described throughout this article. You want to find a person with whom you feel comfortable working. Yet, regardless of the situation, do not rush your decision. You are paying for professional knowledge - hire a person whose judgement you can trust.

If a sizable amount of money is involved in developing your IPM program, feel free to solicit bids from several pest management firms. If a guarantee is given to you, always know what it covers, how long it lasts and what you must do to keep it in force. Keep in mind that this, especially for restaurants and food facilities, is a health and safety decision- the value of the service should outweigh all other factors.