Health and Safety
By Alice Sinia
By Alice Sinia
When the cold weather starts rolling in, you are likely focused on switching up your menu, keeping your energy costs down and finding ways to bring in customers during the winter months. Pest prevention doesn’t usually make the list of priorities, but it should.
While some pests head south to escape the cold, others look for places that offer warmth, shelter, food and water during the winter. Unfortunately, foodservice facilities typically offer plenty of all of these pest survival factors. That’s why it’s important to take steps to winterize your facility to keep pests in their place.
A year-round threat, rodents are most active in colder months and have no qualms about setting up shop in your facility. Not only are these pests repellent, especially in the foodservice industry, but they can also spread dangerous, disease-causing pathogens. No matter what time of year it is, a rodent infestation will put your company on the fast track to losing business.
The three most common rodents in the foodservice industry are the house mouse, the Norway rat and the roof rat.
Despite its name, the house mouse is not just confined to homes. It is the smallest of the three common rodents and is defined by dusty grey fur, small eyes and big ears. The house mouse can climb almost anywhere and reproduces rapidly; a typical pregnancy lasts an average of 19 days and can result in as many as eight mice.
The Norway rat, the largest in its family, has coarse brown fur with black hairs and has been linked to diseases such as jaundice and murine typhus. This rat gnaws through almost anything to reach food and water, including wiring, which can lead to short circuits and even electrical fires.
Typically black or brown with a long tail, roof rats are smaller than Norway rats but less picky about their meals. These omnivorous pests will eat just about anything, so they’ll be attracted to your trash as much as your food offerings.
While rodents are the most familiar and, typically, the most despised winter pest, they’re certainly not the only pests that will be scrounging around your facility looking for a way to get out of the cold. Over the winter, spiders, cluster flies, boxelder bugs, stink bugs and squash bugs all rely on places like yours. These pests are attracted to the odours, food, standing water, warmth and general protection that your facility provides.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent pests from setting up shop in your facility for the winter. First and foremost, you can implement an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. IPM uses proactive sanitation and maintenance steps to mitigate pests’ access to their survival factors, thereby minimizing the potential for an infestation. Your pest management professional will work closely with you to determine a tailored approach, taking into consideration the nature of your business and its location as well as structural and physical attributes that might attract pests.
There are specific sanitation and maintenance steps you can take to help protect your facility against pests in colder weather:
Consider Landscaping: Landscaping can contribute significantly to your facility’s appeal to pests. Rats and mice don’t like to be out in the open and often seek harbourage in shrubs and branches around buildings. Trim any vegetation surrounding your business back half a metre and consider installing a gravel strip around the perimeter to further deter critters and insects from getting close.
Eliminate/Protect Entrances: Small cracks and crevices on the outside of a building might as well be an open door for pests. Mice can fit through holes the size of your pinky finger, and smaller pests need even less space. Before and throughout the winter, inspect the exterior of your building for any openings, seal them with a weather-resistant sealant, and add steel wool for an extra layer of protection against rodents that can gnaw through other materials.
Entrances and exits to your building are easy targets for pests eager to get to the warmth and shelter inside. Keep doors closed whenever possible and consider installing automatic doors where appropriate. If you have designated shipping and receiving areas, plastic strip curtains can help deter pests. Also, make sure all shipments are inspected upon arrival for signs of pests such as gnaw marks.
Clean and Store Properly: With so many tasty treats inside your facility, properly storing ingredients in pest-proof containers and off of the floor is critical. You should also have a written sanitation plan that includes specific roles and responsibilities and includes a daily cleaning routine. The warmth and shelter your facility offers will be enough to draw pests in for the winter, but the food and water they find once inside will keep them there.
Sweep, mop and vacuum floors regularly to eliminate any crumbs and debris that make great meals for pests. Create a deep-clean schedule to clean behind and under heavy equipment and hard-to-reach areas. Dirt and grime can easily accumulate in these areas, which also serve as good hiding places for pests. Any spills should be cleaned up immediately. Work with your staff to make sure employee break areas are kept clean and uncluttered.
Ingredients should be stored in tightly sealed, plastic containers. Some pests can chew through, or make a meal out of, cardboard and paper packaging. Trashcans within and around your facility should be tightly sealed and emptied regularly, and dumpsters should be placed as far away from your facility as possible.
Enlist Staff: Pest management is a collaborative and continuous process. Your employees make up the front line of the defense against pests and are typically the first to notice signs of pest problems. Heading into the winter season, make sure they’re informed on pests and are on the lookout.
Pests can cause problems for your business year-round. Taking steps to winterize your facility will keep you protected during the colder months when pests are more likely to sneak in unnoticed. Keep pest management a priority this winter to ensure pests don’t start calling your facility “home.”
Alice Sinia, PhD, manages the quality assurance laboratory for Orkin Canada, performs analytical entomology and provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.orkincanada.com.