As a Food Safety Supervisor, you play a critical role in the prevention, identification and, in some cases, the eradication of common pests in the food business you work in. As the person responsible for managing food safety risks, you know that even the smallest pests can cause big food safety hazards, including:
- food-borne illness
- potentially dangerous structural damage (mice have been known to cause fires by chewing on electrical wires!)
They can also cause a tremendous amount of food waste, cost you points on health inspections and damage the reputation and brand of the business.
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.
The most common pests found in commercial kitchens are: rodents (mice, rats), flies, cockroaches and weevils.
How can you tell if you have a pest infestation?
SIGNS OF A RODENT INFESTATION
Rodent infestations are often identified through:
- bite marks on food or packaging
- piles of nesting materials (e.g. paper and other soft materials)
- disturbances in the storage area
- 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.
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; larvae (also called maggots) look like small, white or pale worms; pupae have hard, dark outer shells.
SIGNS OF A COCKROACH INFESTATION
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
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, pipes, 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.
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.
SIGNS OF A WEEVIL INFESTATION
Weevils can be a very expensive problem to have, as contaminated food must be discarded, thereby increasing food waste and operating costs. Weevils are usually discovered by observing dry goods (e.g. cereals, pasta, rice, flour) and other dried foodstuffs (e.g. nuts, spices, baking mixes) 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 prevent pests from entering the business
While many tasks, procedures and systems must be in place and performed daily to make the food business less attractive (and less accessible) to pests, effective pest prevention comes down to a handful of fundamental best practices:
- blocking entry
- cutting off access to food by storing food properly
- effective waste management and good overall hygiene
- training employees to recognise, report and react appropriately to signs of pest infestation
To stop pests from entering the business, we strongly recommend that you do the following:
- Check the building for openings, holes and cracks in walls or floors and seal them up.
- Make sure that doors and windows are kept closed and that the seal between the door and frame is tight.
- Install mesh screens on all doors and windows in the kitchen and surrounding area; consider self-closing doors and windows.
- Cover pipes and drains with drain grates (metal/stainless steel is recommended).
- Use suppliers with a good reputation and verify that they have a pest management plan.
- Before accepting a food delivery, make sure employees know to check for signs of rodents, such as:
- bite marks, holes or tears in packaging
- droppings, nests, live or dead rodents inside delivery trucks
- small movements in packages of dry goods (e.g. flour, rice)
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, so if you see anything that indicates that there may be pests, reject the entire delivery and inform the supplier.
PROPER FOOD STORAGE
Pests enter food businesses seeking warmth, food and water. By cutting off access to food, you make the food business less attractive to pests and force them to look elsewhere for their next meal.
As a general rule, always:
- store food on shelving off the floor and away from the wall
- store food in tightly-sealed containers made of food-grade plastic, glass or stainless steel
- throw out/replace containers that have cracks or loose-fitting lids
- never leave unused food or food scraps lying around
Keep fruit flies out of alcohol by removing the spouts from open liquor bottles and soaking 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, re-inserting the clean spouts as part of their morning set-up routine.
Make sure weevils don't infest the dry storage area by regularly inspecting dry goods before and after they come into your business. Weevil eggs are almost invisible to the naked eye, so it's easy to buy contaminated goods without realising they're infested. Efficient stock turnover practices can also help minimise the risk of a full-blown weevil infestation; follow First In, First Out (FIFO) principles to ensure that items that were delivered earliest are used first.
EFFECTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT AND GOOD OVERALL HYGIENE
Most pests are not instinctively drawn to messy environments, but unsanitary conditions can exacerbate the problem by producing strong food odours (e.g. garbage, compost, grease, sugar), providing ideal conditions for pests to live in and breed, and making it more difficult for you/your employees to spot signs of an infestation.
As the Food Safety Supervisor, it is your responsibility to ensure that:
- food scraps are removed daily (or more frequently if required)
- regular garbage collection has been arranged
- garbage container lids are kept tightly closed
- garbage containers are never allowed to overflow
- food spills are cleaned up as soon as they happen (both inside and outside the building)
- dumpsters are located as far away from the building as possible (if applicable)
- garbage containers (both inside and out) are fully covered and pest-proof
- bin liners are used for garbage containers/recycling bins/compost containers
- garbage containers/recycling bins/compost containers are regularly cleaned and sanitised
- sharp items (e.g. broken glass) are disposed of in special containers
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.
Cooperation and teamwork are extremely important when it comes to pest prevention and control. As the Food Safety Supervisor, you can provide training to all employees on how to spot pest infestations. Instruct employees to record the date, time and location of any pest sightings and to report sightings to you and/or a manager on duty. Your Food Safety Program 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
Training all employees can help you cover more ground in the 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 that a food business will meet its compliance requirements (including those directly related to pest management and control) and avoid serious food safety incidents that can damage its reputation and brand. The Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) offers nationally recognised food safety courses for all training levels.
How to get rid of pests
GET RID OF RODENTS
You must have a plan to deal with any rodents in the food business right away. Some of the most common methods used to eradicate rodent infestations are:
- Glue boards, which do not contain poison and therefore don't create a chemical contamination risk. Rodents run onto the glue board and get stuck; rats can often free themselves, so glue boards are more effective if you are dealing with mice.
- Traps, 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).
- Poisonous bait, which 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 areas where poisonous baits have been placed.
No matter the method, be sure to check glue boards, traps or bait stations frequently and discard of any dead rodents carefully. It is recommended that you enlist the services of a licensed Pest Control Operator to help you eradicate a rodent infestation. If you find a rodent that has been poisoned or trapped but is still alive, call a Pest Control Operator to remove it.
GET RID OF FLIES
There are three main methods of eradicating flies:
- Fly spray, which is effective but can introduce the risk of chemical contamination. Never use fly spray in an area where food is being prepared or served. If you decide to 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. Ensure that food preparation surfaces and work areas are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised after spraying.
- Electrocutors, which attract flies and other insects to the interior of the unit where they are killed by high-voltage electricity. These can be very effective, but they are not designed to hold dead insects; insects (or insect parts) may fall out of the device and onto surfaces below. If you decide to use electrocutors, install them at least two metres (six feet) away from food preparation or storage areas and well away from utensils, dishware and kitchen equipment.
- Fly strips, which work by attracting the flies to sticky paper, where they become trapped. Make sure that fly strips are changed regularly and that employees clean their hands thoroughly after handling.
GET RID OF COCKROACHES
Cockroaches 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.
Three common methods used to control cockroach populations are:
- Traps, which 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.
- Poisonous baits, which are designed to lure cockroaches towards poisonous bait (e.g. gels) or into a bait station where they ingest a delayed-action insecticide. Baiting is an effective control method, but should be used with caution in a commercial kitchen. Make sure that chemicals do not 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.
- Roach spray, which is effective for quick, direct extermination of visible cockroaches; however, because of the high risk of chemical contamination, use roach spray with extreme caution and never use it in an environment where food is being prepared or served. If you must use roach spray, 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. Ensure that food preparation surfaces and work areas are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised after spraying.
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.
GET RID OF WEEVILS
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 to include 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. As the Food Safety Supervisor, 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.