Pests can cause serious problems for a food business, including food-borne illness, food waste, health code violations and fines, damage to the building and to the business's reputation.
This guide was developed to help you understand the risks that common pests, such as rodents, flies, cockroaches and weevils, can create in your food business, and how you can prevent, control and eliminate them from your premises.
Pests are a necessary evil of the Food & Beverage industry.
False. Pests can cause serious problems for a food business, including:
- food-borne illness
- food waste
- health code violations and fines
- increased operational costs
- structural damage
- damage to brand and reputation
Any one of these problems will cost your business money. As a food business owner, manager or employee, your livelihood is tied to the success of the business. Fewer customers through the door means less money in your pocket.
The most common pests found in commercial kitchens are:
- rodents (e.g. rats, mice)
- flies (e.g. common house flies, fruit flies)
In this guide, we aim to shed some light on the creatures that so often lurk in the dark — including the hazards they pose to your customers and employees, and to your bottom line.
Rodents can cause big problems for a food business. Aside from alarming and nauseating your customers, rodents carry and spread bacteria at an alarming rate — on their bodies, in their droppings and through their urine and saliva.
Think of them as miniature city busses, and many of their passengers are disease-causing germs. Your floors, drains, dry food storage areas, garbages, food preparation surfaces and dining facilities are all popular stops.
WHY RODENTS ARE A BIG DEAL
They spread disease. By spreading bacteria and other microorganisms, which they carry in their fur and in their droppings and urine, rodents can transmit diseases. Rodents urinate and defecate frequently as they move about, so it won’t take them long to spread dangerous microorganisms from one end of your business to the other.
They eat and contaminate food. When rodents chew into packaging and leave droppings, urine and bacteria, they can taint food items with Salmonella, E. coli and more. You must throw out any food that has been or may have been in contact with a rodent. A rodent infestation in your food business can result in a terrible amount of food waste and increased operational costs.
They reproduce rapidly. Rodents can breed year-round and one female can produce five to 10 litters per year. With an average of six to eight babies per litter, six rodents can become 60 in just three months.
They can do serious structural damage. Rodents never stop chewing, and will chew into food packaging, stored items and even electrical wires (which can spark fires!). They have also been known to chew on soft concrete, wood, drywall, rubber, plastic pipes, insulation and gas lines.
They can hurt your bottom line. A customer who sees a rodent in your food business is unlikely to return, but they are likely to leave you a negative review online, tell their friends and family about it or even share an embarrassing photo of it on social media.
SIGNS OF A RODENT INFESTATION
You should monitor your food business regularly for signs of pests — at least once every two weeks.
Remember to check storage areas and hard-to-reach areas, such as underneath equipment and under shelves. Use a flashlight to help you see more clearly.
Rodent infestations are often identified through:
- bite marks on food or packaging
- piles of nesting materials (e.g. paper and other soft materials)
- tracks (e.g. through dirt or dust on the floor)
- sightings of the rodents themselves
If you see a rodent — or any signs that there are rodents in the building — the odds are slim that it’s the only one. Assume you have an infestation and act swiftly to remedy the situation.
HOW TO STOP THEM FROM GETTING IN
There are two keys to preventing rodent infestations:
- blocking entry routes
- preventing/cutting off access to food
Rodents tend to use the same routes and entryways into buildings. If you suspect you have a rodent infestation — or even better, before you do — check your building for openings, holes and cracks in walls or floors and seal them up. Remember, a rat can enter a building through a one-inch hole; a mouse can enter through a hole about the size of a coin!
Doors and windows are perfect entry points for pests, so always make sure that yours are kept closed. Where possible, install mesh screens on all doors and windows in the kitchen and surrounding areas and consider self-closing doors or windows. Metal covers over pipes and drains are also a good practice to prevent entry.
Food deliveries are another access point for rodents. Always use suppliers with a good reputation and verify that they have a pest management plan. When deliveries arrive, make sure you check for signs of rodent activity before accepting anything.
Check the packaging for bite marks, holes or tears, and take a look inside the truck for any signs that pests are or have been there (e.g. droppings, nests, live or dead rodents).
Remember, you have the right to conduct a thorough inspection of the delivery vehicle and goods. Failure to do so can result in costly problems for your business, so if you see anything that indicates that there may be rodents, reject the entire delivery and inform your supplier.
Access to Food
Blocking the rodents’ access to food is accomplished through effective waste disposal and storage, as well as good overall sanitation. Never leave waste or unused food lying around and ensure garbage is removed from the building (inside and out) frequently.
If you have a dumpster on your property, move it as far away from the building as possible and ensure that garbage containers (both inside and out) are fully covered and pest-proof. Regularly clean and sanitise all garbage containers, recycling or green bins, as lingering smells are sure to attract rodents and other vermin.
Always store food at least six inches off the floor and two inches away from the wall. Store in tightly-sealed containers made of food-grade plastic, glass or stainless steel.
HOW TO GET RID OF THEM
If you detect rodents in your food business, you must deal with them right away. Some of the most common methods used to eradicate rodent infestations are:
- glue boards
- poisonous bait
Glue boards do not contain poison so you don’t run the risk of chemical contamination happening in your food business. Rodents run onto the glue board and get stuck, though rats can often free themselves so they are more effective if you are dealing with mice. Be sure to check these often and discard of the boards and dead rodents once caught.
Mouse and rat traps are another option, with the spring trap being the most commonly used. Fresh food is used as bait, and the rodent is trapped when it attempts to eat the food (thereby activating the spring). Check traps frequently and dispose of dead rodents carefully.
Poisonous baits should only ever be used with extreme caution and must be kept well away from food and food preparation areas. Employees should be instructed to stay well away from them. It is recommended that you enlist the services of a licensed Pest Control Operator to help you eradicate a rodent infestation.
Flies can cause serious problems for a food business. Not only do they enter buildings easily, multiply rapidly and contaminate any surface they land on (and they land a lot), they are annoying to customers and can quickly turn away business at the door.
WHY FLIES ARE A BIG DEAL
They spread disease. Flies transfer pathogenic microorganisms (which are bacteria and other microorganisms that can make people sick) from their bodies, eggs, faeces and vomit. A common house fly can carry more than 100 pathogens (e.g. E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella) that cause fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, typhoid and dysentery (to name a few).
They contaminate food. Flies can’t chew, so they use digestive enzymes or saliva to dissolve food into mush and then slurp it up with their proboscis (an elongated sucking tube). This means that if a fly lands on your customer’s meal and wants a taste, it immediately throws up on it. The contents of a fly’s stomach may include garbage, rotting meat, decayed organic matter, faeces and untold numbers of germs that can cause food poisoning.
They breed quickly. Under the right conditions, a fly population can increase at an alarming rate. The female house fly can produce as many as 1,000 eggs in her lifetime (approximately 28 days), and larvae turn into adults in less than 10 days. You don’t need a math degree to know that equals an unbearable number of flies.
They damage your reputation and hurt your bottom line. Flies aren’t just annoying — nobody wants to have to swat pests away from their food while they are trying to enjoy their meal — they have a bad reputation. It is common knowledge that flies vomit onto the food they land on, which makes your customer’s meal far less appealing. Flies in your establishment can easily turn away customers, damage your reputation and can even cost you points on health inspections.
SIGNS OF A FLY INFESTATION
Fly infestations are most commonly identified by simply observing the number of flies in the establishment; however, it is sometimes possible to predict an infestation by finding a cluster of fly eggs or larvae.
House fly eggs and larvae are typically easier to spot with the naked eye than those of a fruit fly. House fly eggs look like small grains of white rice. House fly larvae (also called maggots) look like small, white or pale worms. House fly pupae have hard, dark outer shells.
HOW TO STOP THEM FROM GETTING IN
Flies feed on garbage, animal waste, decaying organic matter (e.g. fruit) and sugar (e.g. spilled soda, alcohol), so it is essential to have effective waste control and sanitation measures in place in your food business. Never leave waste or unused food lying around and ensure garbage is removed from the building frequently.
If you have a dumpster on your property, move it as far away from the building as possible and ensure that garbage containers are fully covered and pest-proof. Regularly clean and sanitise all garbage containers, recycling or green bins as decaying matter and residue is certain to attract flies.
Clean up food spills as soon as they happen, both inside the building and out. Even a spill outside the building can attract pests (including flies) to the area, and it won’t be long before they go looking inside for more food. Make sure to clean and sanitise food contact equipment at least once daily, and take care to prevent grease or dirt from building up on cooking equipment.
Don’t forget to clean and sanitise hard-to-reach places such as underneath equipment or under shelves. They may be hard for us to reach, but they are easily accessible to flies and pests of all kinds.
It is very easy for flies to enter buildings through doors, windows or cracks in walls or floors; make sure these openings are kept shut, screened or both. Repellents (in the form of liquids, powders or mists) are an effective method of keeping flies and other insects away and are often used in conjunction with glue boards or fly tape.
If you choose to use repellents, make sure that chemicals do not come into contact with food or food contact surfaces.
HOW TO GET RID OF THEM
There are three main methods of eradicating flies:
- fly strips
- fly spray
Fly strips work by attracting the flies to sticky paper, where they become trapped.
Be sure to replace fly strips regularly and wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
If your fly infestation is serious enough that you cannot safely eradicate them on your own, consider enlisting the help of a professional Pest Control Operator.
Fly sprays are effective but increase the risk of chemical contamination in your food business. Never use fly spray in an area where food is being prepared or served.
If you use fly spray in your commercial kitchen, do so only when the kitchen is not operating and be sure to move any food, utensils or equipment well out of the way first.
After spraying, be sure to clean and sanitise surfaces and work areas afterwards.
Electrocutors attract flies, moths, mosquitos and other insects to the interior of the unit where they are killed by high voltage electricity. While these can be very effective, they are not designed to hold dead insects, and the insect (or parts of the insect) may fall out of the device and onto surfaces below.
To prevent this, install electrocutors at least two meters away from food preparation or storage areas and well away from utensils, dishware and kitchen equipment.
** Fruit Flies & Liquor Bottles **
Fruit flies are notorious for getting into open alcohol containers, which can be a huge problem for licensed food businesses.
Even if the alcohol is ‘safe’ to drink, the sight of dead insects floating inside your liquor bottles are sure to send customers flying — away from your business.
It’s a good idea to remove liquor spouts from open liquor bottles and soak them in warm/hot water to remove sugary residue.
Cover open liquor bottles with tightly-wrapped plastic wrap until it is time to replace the spouts. Many food businesses choose to do this overnight, reinserting the clean spouts as part of their morning set-up routine.
Cockroaches can cause serious problems for a food business. They are very difficult to destroy, which is why prevention is a much better strategy than eradication.
If you see a cockroach in daylight, it may indicate that you have a major infestation, as they typically search for food and water only when it’s dark.
WHY COCKROACHES ARE A BIG DEAL
They can transmit diseases. A cockroach’s typical diet includes garbage, faeces, crumbs and any other food they can access.
When they travel from garbages and sewers onto your business’s food preparation surfaces, tableware and into uncovered food, they transfer harmful pathogens to your customer’s next meal. Some diseases that can be transmitted to humans via cockroaches are:
- gastroenteritis (e.g. food poisoning, diarrhoea)
- typhoid fever
- E. coli infection
They cause cross-contamination. Even if food is kept well-covered in your food business, cockroaches track bacteria and other harmful microorganisms across — well, everywhere. Food that is perfectly safe to eat quickly becomes a food poisoning risk when served on dishware that a cockroach walked across.
They breed quickly. Female cockroaches lay eggs in a protective case, which can contain up to 50 eggs. Some cockroaches can lay up to 30 of these cases in their lifetime (approximately one year). That means that one female cockroach can produce 1,500 cockroaches in one year.
They are extremely difficult to get rid of. Cockroaches can survive for weeks without food and water and their eggs are safeguarded from insecticide by a strong protective case. This means that even if you kill the adults, they will soon be replaced by newly hatched cockroaches and the cycle will continue.
They damage your reputation and hurt your bottom line. Aside from bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, cockroaches also carry stigma. Universally detested, cockroaches are seen as a symbol of the worst standards of hygiene and sanitation. If a customer spots a cockroach running across your floor, up the walls, on furniture or across service areas, even a comped meal is unlikely to satisfy their displeasure or convince them to return.
SIGNS OF A COCKROACH INFESTATION
Regular inspections should be conducted in areas where cockroaches like to live; they prefer areas that are dark, warm and moist.
Be sure to check behind refrigerators, sinks and stoves, as well as under floor drains and in any gaps behind machinery. Because they can flatten their bodies to fit into tight areas, you may also find them under rubber mats, behind wallpaper or in wall cracks.
Aside from the insects themselves, some signs of cockroach infestation are:
- brown, oval-shaped droppings (smaller roaches may leave droppings that resemble coffee grounds)
- a strong oily or musty odour
- oval-shaped egg cases
Remember, no food business has ever had ‘just one’ cockroach and don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. If you find any signs of cockroaches, you will want to act fast!
HOW TO STOP THEM FROM GETTING IN
Cockroaches enter food businesses seeking warm, damp shelter close to food and water. They are not instinctively drawn to messy environments, but unsanitary conditions can exacerbate the problem by:
- producing strong odours that attract cockroaches (e.g. garbage, compost, grease, meat, sugar, starch)
- providing ideal conditions for living and breeding
- making it more difficult to spot signs of infestation
Good food storage practices, effective waste control and good general sanitation are your best defences against cockroach infestations.
To make your food business less attractive to cockroaches, do everything you can to cut off their access to food. Clean and sanitise food contact surfaces, equipment, utensils and dishware at least once daily, and be sure to clean and sanitise cooking equipment frequently to remove grease and other food residues.
Clean up spills promptly and thoroughly, inside or outside the building. It may be inconvenient to drop everything to clean up a spilled soda but a pest infestation (especially cockroaches) is far more inconvenient, costly and time-consuming.
Have a daily or weekly cleaning schedule that includes hard-to-reach areas (e.g. underneath shelves in food storage areas, inside cupboards, underneath bar fridges) to ensure that crumbs, spills, grease and debris are removed regularly.
Remove waste from the kitchen frequently and arrange for regular garbage collection. Don’t forget about recycling — cockroaches can be attracted to food remains inside the packaging and in the recycling bin. Line indoor containers with plastic bags and regularly clean and sanitise garbage and recycling bins.
Store food in tightly-sealed containers at least six inches from the ground and two inches away from the wall; make sure containers do not have cracks or other entry points.
Consider painting a white strip (or use white painter’s tape) around the edge of the floor in food storage areas to:
- remind employees not to store food up against the walls
- make it easier to see signs of pest activity near stored food items (e.g. hairs, droppings)
It can be difficult to know if you have a cockroach infestation until they have multiplied to large numbers. Place glue boards in corners, in food storage areas and in other dark, damp places to ‘spot check’ for roaches and monitor them regularly. If you catch a cockroach during surveillance, you know you have a problem and can act quickly to correct it.
HOW TO GET RID OF THEM
Three common methods used to control cockroach populations are:
- poisonous bait
- roach spray
Note: Improper insecticide applications can have serious consequences; cockroaches can develop a resistance to certain chemicals or they may change their behaviour to avoid traps and bait stations, making pest control more difficult and requiring more expensive and repeated treatments.
Traps (e.g. glue boards) typically use bait to lure cockroaches onto an adhesive that prevents them from moving. Sticky bait traps are a good monitoring tool, but are not an effective method of eradicating a cockroach colony, as they typically only hold a few insects at a time.
Baits are designed to lure cockroaches towards poisonous bait (e.g. gels) or into a bait station where they ingest a delayed-action insecticide that spreads through the colony via direct ingestion or food sharing. Baiting is an effective control method, but should be used with caution in a commercial kitchen.
Make sure that chemicals cannot come into contact with food or food preparation surfaces. Baits should also never be placed in open or exposed areas, or in extremely hot or wet areas.
For quick, direct extermination of visible cockroaches, aerosol insecticide spray can be used, however, these pose a much greater risk of chemical contamination and should never be used in an environment where food is being prepared or served.
If you absolutely must use sprays, only do so at a time when the kitchen isn’t operating and be sure to move food, utensils and equipment out of the way first. Clean and sanitise food preparation surfaces and work areas after spraying.
Weevils are actually small beetles; while there are over 1,000 species of weevil, the species most commonly found in food businesses and in residential homes are referred to as ‘stored product weevils’ because they infest stored grains, seeds and other dried foodstuffs.
Stored product weevils are more of a nuisance than a danger; they contaminate food with their faeces and cast skins, rendering entire packages or pantries of food inedible.
For a food business, weevils can be a very expensive problem to have, as contaminated food must be discarded, thereby increasing food waste and operating costs.
Stored product weevils are most often found in flours, cereals, pasta, powdered milk, nuts, popcorn, spices and baking mixes.
SIGNS OF A WEEVIL INFESTATION
Weevils are usually discovered by observing dry goods and other dried foodstuffs that are in storage. Weevils come in a wide range of colours (various shades of brown, black) and body shapes (most are slender and oval-shaped), and range in size from approximately three millimetres (mm) to more than 10mm in length.
HOW TO STOP THEM FROM GETTING IN
Weevils are usually introduced to a food business via deliveries of dry goods (e.g. flour, cereal, dried pasta).
The best way to prevent weevils is to check deliveries of goods thoroughly when they arrive from your supplier. Open lids and look closely at products to check for small movements.
Weevil eggs are almost invisible to the naked eye, so it is easy to buy tainted goods without realising they are infested; for this reason, it is important that you monitor dry goods in your business regularly to catch infestations in products which:
- were infested with imperceptible weevil eggs at the time of delivery
- became infested while in your dry goods storage area
To prevent contamination between foodstuffs, store dry goods in tightly-covered containers, and clean and sanitise containers between uses. Efficient stock turnover practices can also help; follow First In, First Out (FIFO) principles to ensure that items that were delivered earliest are used first.
HOW TO GET RID OF THEM
The best way to prevent weevil infestations and the problems they can cause for your food business (apart from inspecting all dry goods at the time of delivery) is to identify infested products and eliminate them.
Ensure that there is an action in your Food Safety Program to check dry goods regularly, and make sure that your Food Safety Program includes the corrective actions that must be taken to prevent and eliminate infestations.
If you do discover a weevil infestation in any of your dry goods, remove and discard those products immediately. Clean and sanitise the containers the infested products were stored in, and thoroughly examine any products in the area which were not stored in tightly-sealed containers, in case weevils have started to infest those products as well.
Pest Control Operators
Some of the prevention and eradication methods discussed in this guide involve the use of chemicals in baits, traps and sprays. Extreme caution must be taken when using chemicals in a commercial kitchen.
Improper management of chemical application can cause chemical contamination of food, which can cause serious illness or death.
Your priority when dealing with pest infestations must always be to protect your customers and your employees from sickness (or worse) as a result of ingesting dangerous chemicals, either through contaminated food or by breathing in chemicals in the air.
Chemicals must never be applied when food is being prepared or served, and you should treat chemical eradication methods as a last resort.
Try using glue boards or traps first, if they are an effective method for the type of pest infestation you have. If traps and glue boards are not an effective method, enlisting the help of a professional Pest Control Operator is strongly recommended.
Training all employees to recognise pests and signs of pest infestation is an essential part of any pest control management system.
Instruct your employees to record the date, time and location of any pest sightings and to report sightings to their supervisor or manager. Your pest control plan should clearly describe:
- who is responsible for pest control activities, including corrective actions
- where pest control activities must take place
- what rooms or areas are subject to pest control, as well as the methods, products and equipment to be used
- when and how frequently pest activity is monitored, or when pest control products or equipment must be replaced
- how pest control activities are to be performed so as to ensure they do not contaminate food, equipment or facilities
As different employees work in different areas and use different equipment in your business, training all employees can help you cover more ground in your establishment and help you to identify and manage pests before they can multiply to infestation levels.
Investing in training and education is the best way to ensure your food business meets compliance requirements and avoids serious food safety incidents that can damage your reputation and ruin your brand.
About the Australian Institute of Food Safety
As Australia’s largest provider of food safety education, the Australian Institute of Food Safety is dedicated to helping organisations protect their business and their customers from food-borne illness.
As a community focused organisation we deliver public health information to food businesses and consumers in order to improve food safety throughout Australia.
AIFS delivers nationally recognised training that meets all federal and state compliance requirements related to food safety. This includes Food Safety Supervisor and Food Handler compliance training.
The mission of the Australian Institute of Food Safety is to reduce food-borne illness within Australia by educating, advocating and promoting food safety.