As you open your doors to guests this spring, the windows and doors helping you ventilate your facility could also make it easier for pests to find their way inside. Check screens on windows and doors for holes and other damage, and if you have storage areas or outbuildings that haven’t been used as frequently during the pandemic, check for rodent activity. Inspect the exterior of your facility for cracks and trim back any brush that could harbor pests close to your walls. Ensure any sticky spills aren’t left for long periods, particularly if you have staff and guests circulating regularly between indoor and outdoor seating areas. Finally, since insects can hitch a ride into your kitchen on contaminated food, be sure to check your food deliveries for pest activity upon arrival and to store them promptly afterwards.
This has been a year when restaurants have had to do more with less – and it’s understandable if overdue maintenance and repairs have had to take a backseat to other concerns. But the colder weather means that your restaurant could quickly become a warm haven for pests (and a problem for business) if you don’t take precautions to discourage them from entering and multiplying. Be alert to potential signs of a problem – such as gnaw marks or feces – and have an exterminator in as soon as possible if you discover them. Seal off cracks and crevices around and inside your facility and regularly check hidden areas where pests might lurk, such as around pipes and under or around appliances.
As quarantines have altered people’s comings and goings, as well as the distribution of garbage and recycling in some places, pests are coming out of hiding. In Seattle, rats have been seen wrestling in public parks. A recent National Geographic report said that in New York City, rats are normally able to live out their lives within 150 feet of where they were born because of the plentiful food sources around them, but that’s no longer the case. They are boldly looking for food indoors, where they can not only spread disease but also chew and damage electrical wiring. In your restaurant, take extra care to minimize entry points for rats, mice and other pests right now. Avoid keeping doors open, even though it helps your staff avoid touching those surfaces. Seal any gaps under doors, since even a quarter-inch gap can give a mouse an entry point into your facility. Ensure trash containers – indoors and out – are sealed and cleaned regularly.
The universe of Internet of Things devices used to monitor restaurant processes and alert operators to potential problems continues to grow – and even pest activity can be tracked by a network of sensors. The pest control company Rentokil says the top pests posing problems for restaurants and commercial kitchens are rodents, cockroaches, flies and stored-product pests that infest and contaminate food. Since some of these pests can make themselves scarce when your team isn’t around, using technology to track their activity can give you a clearer picture of the types of pests you’re dealing with, how your pest activity varies throughout the year and what emerging risks your business might face if you don’t take preventive action. That data then helps automate your reports related to pests, along with the steps you must take to stay in compliance as a foodservice organization.
As winter approaches, your restaurant becomes an even more appealing haven for pests. If pests are a recurring or ongoing problem in your facility, there is (of course) technology that can help. Internet of Things devices and cloud computing have extended to the pest management business, and for operations that need it, the technology can provide 24-hour-a-day monitoring. A restaurant can use sensors within its facility to identify current and emerging risks, collect data that can help minimize the risk of infestations, manage service records across multiple operations and automate reporting required for compliance purposes.
Staying on top of the maintenance of your facility and equipment can help you avoid accidents and costly repairs or replacements. But where should you focus your energy? In a recent NextRestaurants report, Warren Wu of UpKeep, a software firm that helps businesses manage their maintenance needs, identified four top priorities for preventive maintenance in restaurants: First, clean and sanitize your refrigerators each week. Wu advises that during those sessions, staff should check areas that are prone to failure such as door hinges and gaskets. Second, clean burners, grates and flattops daily to minimize grease buildup, which can cause fires and attract pests. Third, on a weekly or monthly basis, scan your facility for a pest problem or conditions that might cause one – like spills that aren’t promptly cleaned or food being stored improperly. Finally, if you serve beer, clean your keg lines no less frequently than every six weeks to prevent mold, bacteria and other residue from building up.
Have pests become a problem for you this summer? Take extra care with garbage disposal to avoid becoming a haven for them (or encouraging them to make a longer-term home with you once the weather starts cooling). Statefoodsafety.com suggests reminding staff to avoid leaving garbage in places or for long periods where pests can access them easily. That means taking full trash bags to the dumpster immediately — not leaving them in and around your establishment — and emptying bins before they overflow. Use strong plastic liners, clean bins regularly so there are no spills or crumbs left to attract pests, and keep garbage bin and dumpster lids closed securely when not disposing of garbage.
At a time when just about any activity in your kitchen can be monitored remotely with the help of sensors, the same is true of pest control. Systems currently on the market have their advantages and disadvantages. They provide the opportunity for round-the-clock monitoring of pest activity when people aren’t around and rodents are more likely to emerge, as well as continuous tracking out-of-the-way places like false ceilings, rooflines or areas of your operation that are secured for safety reasons. There’s also opportunity to collect longterm data about your pest activity and determine what behaviors might be leading to it. On the minus side, false positives can happen with these systems, so they may be best suited for low-traffic areas of your facility.
As the weather cools and people are spending more time indoors to escape the cold, rodents want to do the same. Now is a good time to make sure your restaurant isn’t a haven for them all season. Total Food Service suggests you conduct routine inspections to identify holes, cracks or gaps around the exterior of your facility. Seal any cracks with weather-resistant sealant, plug holes with steel wool, and use weather stripping on doors and windows to prevent warm air from leaking out and attracting pests from outside. Finally, if you have plants and shrubs surrounding your facility, make sure there is space between them and your building — having a two-foot strip of gravel between your building and your outdoor plants can make it less convenient for rodents to access your facility. (Contact Team Four to learn more about services to help you save on pest control costs.)
As the weather cools and pests seek shelter indoors, take steps now to make sure you aren’t an appealing target. The FSMA’s new regulations make it critical to be proactive about preventing contamination from pests as opposed to simply reacting to it after it occurs. Food Safety Tech advises you inspect all incoming shipments for insects, droppings or damaged packaging that could indicate a pest issue. If you spot a pest, remove the contaminated item or isolate it in a contained area to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination. Maintain a log to track pest sightings and make it everyone’s responsibility to report pest activity if they see it. Finally, try to detect pests when you’re not around by placing insect light traps, pheromone monitors and glue boards in areas where you are receiving shipments.