Every catering business knows that food and pests can be a poisonous combination – one that poses a serious threat not only to the health of customers and staff but also to the business as a whole. Simon Forrester, chief executive of national trade body the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), explains why pest control warrants a place on every establishment’s agenda
When it comes to food and pests, there is little margin for error. Ignore this fact at your peril, for a pest infection may well lead to:
- Serious illness
- Costly food wastage
- Loss of reputation
- Low staff morale
With this in mind, it is hard to understand why the provision of pest control in hospitality establishments is often overlooked and, in some instances, seen as a grudging or unnecessary expense.
The bottom line
Pest management in all hospitality establishments should not only be trying to prevent the introduction of pests, but also reducing the conditions that may encourage pest presence or facilitate their survival.
Many businesses in other sectors – from farms and food processing sites to large supermarkets – are required to follow commercially published and certified standards that usually call for external audits to ensure produce is safe and fit for consumption throughout the supply chain. Incredibly, there are no such standards for businesses such as restaurants, food outlets or hotels to follow.
Protecting your business
So what can catering establishments that do not yet have pest management contracts in place do to protect themselves from an infestation?
Preventing pests from getting into your premises in the first place is obviously the most effective form of pest management. The key is to reduce the attraction of a particular area for a variety of pests such as mice, rats, insects (including flies) or birds such as pigeons or gulls.
All pests have one thing in common: they are looking for food, warmth and shelter. The problem is that it does not take much food (in the case of a mouse, just a few grams a day) to sustain an infestation.
Food left exposed overnight, unwashed containers, debris and used packaging are all likely to act as a big attraction to pests.
The proper disposal of food waste is important as pests will quickly collect to where waste is left lying around.
Most pests are attracted to disposal areas (typically one of the most neglected areas of a business) and, once there, they can easily get into other parts of the business if the building structure is inadequately proofed.
Cleaning programmes are crucial to helping prevent problems.
Storage areas must be kept clean using close-fitting containers that are regularly emptied and potential points of access, such as holes or gaps under doors, must be blocked.
A common way for pests to find their way into food premises is through deliveries of fresh stock, perhaps on second-hand machinery or via wooden pallets, so it is vital that stockrooms are checked both before and during a new delivery.
Pests arriving in raw materials from overseas can pose unique problems, with the potential for exotic species coming in. If conditions are right, they will thrive.
Effective pest control relies heavily on integrated pest management, to include:
- Good housekeeping practices
- Inspections and monitoring
- Physical control methods
- Chemical controls
- Habitat and environment management
Know your enemy
Early detection is often key to quick and effective treatment. For example, rodent droppings are often the first sign of a mouse or rat infestation. The size and texture will reveal what type of infestation you have and how recent it is.
Rats and mice are creatures of habit. They always follow the same route by keeping their body close to a wall and will leave grease from their fur anywhere they go over a surface.
Rodents also gnaw things to keep their continuously growing incisors worn down and sharp. So freshly gnawed wood, along with damaged food goods, is another tell-tale sign of an infestation.
It’s important to keep in mind that that once a problem has been discovered, the quicker the response, the less painful the solution.
The effectiveness of the intervention of a pest controller is often directly related to the amount of information available to them, which is why reporting and record keeping are key to integrated pest management.
Any pest treatments must also be fully documented along with a site plan showing the position of baits or traps used.
Employ an expert
Many in the catering industry simply place a plethora of permanent toxic baits across their premises and assume that will do the job. This is unadvisable for several reasons:
- It can lead to more frequent and unnecessary site visits by technicians with significant cost implications
- The use of toxic baits without an actual live infestation may be a cause of concern for external auditors and authorities
- It may act as the springboard to a host of other issues in future, such as pesticide resistance or failed treatments.
Choosing the right pest control contractor
Integrated pest management is a delicate balance between using effective proofing and preventative measures, introducing stringent hygiene procedures and applying the correct treatment delivered by a trained professional. There are several key issues to consider when selecting a pest control contractor:
- The ability of the contractor to carry out a full survey of the premises and present a clear report, with action points, recommendations and a firm quotation of costs.
- Evidence of adequate technical resources and correctly trained and qualified service staff, supervisors and management.
- Proof of adequate public liability, product liability and employers’ liability insurance cover.
- The capacity to provide proofing and other preventative measures such as advice on housekeeping, storage, waste disposal, cleaning and the detection and monitoring of pest populations.
- Reporting procedures giving clear accountability on both sides.
- Clear contract terms to specify the pests to be covered, frequency of visits, responsibility for preventative measures, arrangements for extra treatments or emergency call-outs.
The best way to ensure work is carried out to the highest possible standards is by employing members of the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) – the leading UK trade association in pest control.
BPCA is a not-for-profit organisation in which every servicing member company is obliged to hold industry-standard qualifications and follow Codes of Practice covering aspects including contract work, surveys, the use of specialist pesticides and Health and Safety issues.