Food-related pests, like rodents and insects, present serious problems for many food-handling facilities. Not only do pests contaminate food products and contribute to foodborne illness, they can damage preparation equipment and food plant structures. For this reason, food safety and pest management programs work hand-in-hand on a number of different levels. One important level is sanitation, which is critical to the success of both programs.
 
There are many techniques used to provide a sanitary environment for food production. However, what we see as clean, may not necessarily be “insect clean.” Insect clean requires another level of commitment, a detailed eye and a solid plan to be successful. Below are a few ideas to achieve the goal of an insect-clean operation:
 
1. Operate using a consistent schedule. Ensuring your restaurant is insect clean requires a checklist of regularly scheduled sanitation procedures. There’s no right or wrong answer to the time between sanitation events, but what’s important is a plan of practices and procedures that are followed religiously.

2. Educate employees. Training employees is essential to keep a restaurant insect clean. The focus of training should be to educate employees what this level of cleanliness really means and to identify pest conditions. For example, your staff may do well in keeping main floor areas clean, but often small food particles are pushed into corners and along the edges of rooms. They go unnoticed. Since many pests invade from outside and harbor in these particular areas, this kind of debris serves as the perfect lure to uninvited guests.

3. Make an integrated pest management (IPM) checklist. A checklist will help you inspect your facility for the presence of conducive conditions that provide food, water and shelter for a variety of pests. Each restaurant’s list will vary based on individual needs, but every checklist should include these IPM basics:

• Outdoor environments–Landscaping management, clutter and tightly sealed and clean trash and garbage receptacles help eliminate pest attractions.

• Structural conditions: exterior and interior–Structural deficiencies sometimes provide the perfect entrance points and harborage sites for pests. On the exterior, a three-dimensional inspection from roof to foundation can reveal access points where pests can enter. Once revealed, repairs can be made essentially excluding future pest invasion. On the interior, denying pests harborage, food and water is essential. Look for places in the structure (and equipment) that allow these three elements to merge. Elimination of one, or two, will make it difficult for pests to survive.

• Pest biology and behavior–A professional can help you understand this.

• Focal points for pests: bathrooms and kitchens—Bathrooms have all the elements needed for pests to thrive. Steps such as keeping P-Traps full, maintaining walls, floors and tiles, sealing gaps around vents, plumbing, and cracks and crevices make it tough on pests. In the kitchen, floors, walls, ceiling and preparation equipment should be free of food scraps, grease and other substances. Staff should be trained to immediately wipe up food spillage and water from countertops, tables, floors and shelves. Eliminate cardboard boxes and store food in airtight containers.

Remember, nothing can repel customers faster than a pest sighting. Providing an insect-clean environment is as important as the food you serve to your reputation.

Gene White is a regional technical director at Rentokil North America, one of the world’s largest pest management companies. For more information, visit www.rentokil.com.