How to Prevent a Rodent Problem in Your Food Business

Mice and rats are bad news for a food business. Learn how to prevent rodents, spot signs of an infestation — and get rid of them for good.
November 30, 2021

Rodents like mice and rats can be a huge issue for any food business, whether you’re serving fresh food in a restaurant or packaged goods in a corner store. Rodents quickly spread harmful bacteria everywhere they go with their droppings, urine and saliva. They leave droppings as they travel, so it doesn’t take them long to spread dangerous microorganisms all over your business. Beyond that, they’re very off-putting for customers, who will not want to patronise a business with a rodent problem.

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) commonly find that businesses have an infestation because they have failed to put effective pest control measures in place. It’s extremely important to implement effective pest control and monitoring procedures in your food business. Training employees to identify and react appropriately to signs of a rodent infestation is an essential part of any pest control management system. The AIFS Food Handler Course covers pest control and maintaining food premises and equipment to prevent pests from entering your business.

The more employees you train, the more ground you’ll cover in the business, and the less likely it is that a few little mice will become a big problem. Everyone has a part to play in the fight against rodent infestation.

Rodents pose many threats in a restaurant

Though they’re small, rodents are a big deal if they get into your commercial kitchen. Here are just some of the problems they cause:

  • 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 such as the hantavirus, tularemia, salmonellosis, listeriosis and leptospirosis.
  • They destroy your product. When rodents chew into packaging, they contaminate the food inside. 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 quickly. Rodents 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 cause structural damage. Rodents never stop chewing, and will chew into food packaging, soft concrete, wood, drywall, rubber, plastic pipes, insulation and gas lines. They have even been known to chew electrical wires, which can cause fires.
  • They can get your business shut down. The media is full of horror stories about popular restaurants that get shut down because of rodents. Pests cause cross-contamination and can make hundreds of people sick with food poisoning, so you can bet that EHOs are keeping an eye out for any signs of rodent infestation.
  • They cost you money. A customer who sees a mouse or rat in your restaurant won’t be returning, will tell their family and friends about what they saw and they might post a negative online review about your business.

Preventing rodents from getting into your establishment

There are two keys to preventing rodent infestations:

  • blocking entry routes
  • cutting off access to food

BLOCKING ENTRY ROUTES

Rodents tend to use the same routes and entryways into buildings; check your building for holes or cracks in walls or floors and seal them up. Keep in mind that a rat can enter a building through a 2.5cm hole and a mouse can enter through a hole about the size of a 5 cent coin.

Doors and windows are easy entry points for pests, so make sure that yours are tight-fitting and kept closed (when not in use). We recommend installing:

  • mesh screens on all doors and windows in the kitchen and surrounding areas
  • self-closing doors or windows
  • metal covers over pipes and drains

Food deliveries are another point of entry for rodents. Always use suppliers with a good reputation and verify that they have a pest management plan. When deliveries arrive, check for signs of rodent infestation before signing off. Check packaging for bite marks, holes or tears and look inside the truck for signs that pests are or have been there.

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 any signs of rodent infestation, reject the entire delivery and inform your supplier.

CUTTING OFF ACCESS TO FOOD

Blocking the rodents' access to food is accomplished through effective waste disposal and storage, as well as good overall sanitation. If you have a dumpster on your property, move it as far away from the building as possible and never leave waste or unused food lying around. Be sure to:

  • remove garbage from the building (inside and out) frequently
  • 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 (lingering smells are sure to attract rodents and other vermin)
  • store food at least six inches off the floor and two inches away from the wall
  • store food in tightly sealed containers made of food-grade plastic, glass or stainless steel

Spotting the signs of a rodent infestation

Check your business at least once every two weeks for signs of pests. Remember to check storage areas and hard-to-reach areas, like underneath equipment and under shelves. Use a flashlight to help you see more clearly.

Look for any of the following signs of rodents:

  • bite marks on food or packaging
  • droppings
  • 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. You'll need to act quickly to avoid a full-blown infestation (if there isn't one already).

Ridding your business of rodents after they’re in

If you detect rodents in your food business, you need to deal with them right away. Some of the most common methods used to eradicate rodent infestations are:

  • glue boards
  • traps
  • poisonous bait

GLUE BOARDS

Glue boards aren’t poisonous so there’s no risk of contaminating food with chemicals. 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.

TRAPS

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 by the spring when it tries to eat the food. Check traps frequently and dispose of dead rodents. (Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards!)

POISONOUS BAITS

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.

Note: Extreme caution must be taken when using chemicals, such as poisonous baits, in a commercial kitchen. We recommended enlisting the services of a licensed Pest Control Operator to help you eradicate a rodent infestation in your restaurant or other food business.

Get a better understanding of the risks that common pests pose for your food business, and learn more techniques to safely prevent, control and eradicate them from your establishment with the Australian Institute of Food Safety’s (AIFS) comprehensive Guide to Pest Prevention and Control.