Never before had George Allen seen such a bad case of mayonnaise. The horror-movie moment proved a pivotal point in Allen's 40-year career managing commercial building projects in New England; so shocking, it inspired his invention for killing bugs.
"Restaurant workers brought a case of mayonnaise into the kitchen," Allen said. "When they opened it, there were probably 10,000 cockroaches that came out of that box. They had to close that restaurant for three days to get it out of there. From that point on, it took six to eight months to completely clear the problem out."
Combating creepy-crawlies is serious business. One of the most damaging pests, termites, are found now in nearly every state in the Union and cause more than $5 billion worth of damage alone to homes each year. Then there's the problem of mice and rats: The World Health Organization estimates that rodents contaminate or destroy 20 percent of all food. What's more, rats bite more than 45,000 Americans annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
But the German
Nothing sends customers scurrying for the doors quicker than an insect infestation, yet some operators are loathe to practice proper sanitation techniques to eradicate them.
Even operators who keep their facilities clean, however, aren't immune to insect invasions. The pesky pests easily make their way into pizzerias in containers delivered to the back door.
In addition to keeping all food out of reach of insects, a regular maintenance routine performed by a pest eradication professional is a good business investment.
cockroach is restaurateurs' main nemesis.
"The most common pest in restaurants, by and large, is the German cockroach," said Philip Ray Nichols, Ph.D., staff entomologist at Orlando, Fla.-based Middleton Lawn & Pest Control. "This is a roach that is predominately inside homes, it's not an outside insect. It can be moved from area to area in boxes, in cartons, in deliveries. A lot of times that's how these insects get into restaurants, and then they become established and can build their populations fairly quickly. They can go from just a few to a hundred to thousands in a matter of months if left unchecked."
Even newly opened stores are not immune to the pest problem. Shiny stainless steel and sparkling glassware mean nothing to invaders.
"You can't completely prevent introduction of pests, especially cockroaches," said Judy Black, technical director of the pest prevention division of Steritech, specialists in pest prevention and food safety services. "You can get in a shipment of cases of beer and they can be in the cardboard. What you need to have is a preventive situation in the facility, where everything is sealed up and caulked, so that when that bug is introduced it can't become an infestation."
The point is to prevent the infestation rather than an introduction. An introduction can be just one or two pests, whereas an infestation might be a thousand.
"There's no way of totally preventing pests from entering your building unless, before a shipment is brought in, you have an area that is totally separate from the store itself," Nichols said. "In this area, you need to be able to unpack each individual item, inspect it, and then put it into your store, which is unpractical."
Some stores have "clean rooms" where shipments are unpacked outside, often in a utility building at the rear of the property. This eliminates most incoming boxes.
But pests can come in via transport other than boxes. Because employees' homes can be shared with cockroaches, workers often become unwary vessels of delivery. This calls for a policy that prohibits personal items, such as purses and coats, to be carried into food prep or storage areas. (Most health departments already enforce this.)
To head off potential problems in storage areas inside the store, restaurants should have a standardized system of storage areas where there is clear labeling of "date in" to assure proper rotation, and where shelves — preferably metal — are well spaced and off the floor. The storage area should be easy to clean, easy to inspect and clutter-free.
"This is one of the things that starts keeping the population from exploding," Nichols said. "Then there should be service by a good, reputable company that will come in regularly, say monthly, and monitor and treat active sites."
Nichols warns against the cheapest guy in the phone book. A reputable company will supply references, and be forthcoming with other information such as a certificate of insurance. How the company presents its program is another tell-tale sign: If the plan is to simply spray baseboards and lay some gel traps, send them on their way. An integrated plan with consistent follow-up and ongoing sanitation reports for store management is a plan that works.
Targeting the enemy
"With a lot of the health concerns in the news, such as West Nile Virus and the bird flu, the public is much more aware of this problem than in the past," Nichols said. "And if the pests are out during daylight hours, there's a huge problem at that point."
Because of the sanitation sensitivity of restaurants in both front and back of the house, exterminators can't simply come in with pesticide guns blazing. That's why most companies use an "integrated pest management approach to the problem," Nichols said. "That's when we determine where the pests are located, because they're not located throughout the building, just in certain areas."
This rifle-shot strategy is administered in a variety of ways, with glue boards, bait traps and fine sprays or powders. A recent addition to this arsenal is the wall plug.
"It's efficient and it's safe because you minimize the toxins in the air," said George Allen, founder and treasurer of Inject Solutions, makers of the Injector Plug for both interior and exterior walls. The hollow plugs allow pesticides to be injected in precise areas where pests make their home and breed, such as inside walls, cabinets and floorboards. "There's absolutely no pesticide exposed around the food, around the cooking area or even the sitting area."
Keeping it clean
A restaurant can be the cleanest place in the world, but pests really are everywhere, according to Allen. "Even hospitals are dealing with it."
But keeping the store as clean as possible is the strategy that everyone agrees on,
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especially health departments.
"While it may seem obvious to say, it needs proclaimed again and again: cleanliness is a huge factor in restaurants in keeping pests at bay," said Stoy Hedges, entomologist and director of technical services for Terminix. Of the approximately $1 billion in business that Terminix generates, 18-20 percent is for commercial establishments. Hedges said 35 percent of commercial is comprised of restaurants.
Hedges recommends a three-pronged approach for any pest management program. First, the "integrity of the building must be maintained." This involves replacing worn-out weather-stripping on doors to prevent flies from entering, as well as repairing cracks in walls and floors to eliminate the "safe harbor" that pests love.
The second prevention measure is checking incoming supplies. Insects may be difficult to detect, especially with cardboard boxes, where ¼-inch roaches can hide and even breed in the tubular flutes that make up many box surfaces.
The third aspect of control is, again, keeping it clean. A master cleaning schedule that is followed consistently is highly advised.
"You want to do as little as possible when it comes to providing food for pests," Hedges said. "Getting under equipment is essential, as these 'safe' places in the shadows are ideal for pests to eat and breed. But some equipment isn't designed to be cleaned underneath, so it's a good idea to consider putting tables or other pieces of equipment on wheels so it can be moved for cleaning."
In addition to keeping on the cleaning schedule, employees should also be trained on how to spot pest problems. Sightings should be reported and documented as soon as possible and communicated to the pest control company.
"We emphasize the need for education," said Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. "The more you know, the less the risk of a pest problem getting out of control. Anywhere you have people and food product, you'll have pests. This is because we provide food, water and shelter: the three things needed for pests to live."
It follows, then, that eliminating these necessities — food, water and safe harbor — is key for any integrated program to succeed. Good news from those who are trained to eradicate: It can be done, at least to a substantial amount.
"Pests can be controlled with ongoing maintenance," Mannes said. "What we can do from the pest management side is provide restaurant owners with peace of mind. They can know that they can open their stores without fear of pests overtaking the place."