— By Patricia Hottel —
Managing pests during the pandemic.
Characterizing the effects of the pandemic on restaurant pests can be difficult due to the varied responses across the industry. Coping with COVID-19 challenges has resulted in varying degrees of business innovation, dependent upon the type of facility and geographic location. Reduced hours to complete shutdowns have been a common practice. Just as businesses have continued to adapt, so have pests. Restaurateurs should continue taking the steps that help limit threats to food safety, as risks are still present.
Pandemic and Pests
Due to shutdowns and reduced hours, pests are more likely to go undetected in facilities. Although shutdowns did not always mean pest management services were reduced, cutbacks to pest management services can compound the situation. Good COVID-19-appropriate practices to help reduce pests include:
- Cleaning and Sanitation
Proper preparation prior to shutdown is essential. Facilities should take proactive steps to leave the restaurant as clean as possible prior to any shutdown, regardless of closing for the night or several days.
- Inventory Management
Food inventories, including non-perishable ingredients, must be managed. The longer non-perishable ingredients, like flour, rice and cereals, remain in inventory, the more likely they are to become infested with stored product pests. Refrigeration can help reduce potential infestation as well. Perishable food products’ shelf life and suitability for long term storage should be made prior to shutting down. Items should be discarded accordingly to prevent pest breeding sites.
Due to closures in response to the pandemic, cities have reported increased rat activity. Although not a universal issue, reduced exterior food sources can lead pests to seek interior sources. It’s important to ensure doors are sealed and tightly in place, as well as exterior openings remaining smaller than a quarter-inch to exclude mice or smaller to exclude insects.
- Waste Stream
Managing garbage and wastewater properly can have significant impacts on pests. Water traps placed in drains can help prevent drain-based pests from entering the facility. Even when a restaurant is closed, water traps should be maintained to help reduce these pests. All drains should be cleaned prior to shutdown to reduce potential pests inside drains above the water trap line. There are one-way valve drain inserts that can be installed to help reduce water evaporation and pest movement into the facility. Water can flow down the valve, but pests cannot move up from the drain. Additionally, garbage and recyclables should be removed prior to closing to prevent hospitable pest conditions.
- Outdoor Dining
The use of outdoor dining areas has increased due to COVID-19-related precautions and regulations as restaurants return to service. Streets, parking lots and sidewalks are increasingly becoming dining spaces. Special vigilance is needed in removing food from tables in a timely manner to decrease fly, bird and rodent activity. Clients should be discouraged from feeding food scraps to pests like birds.
A cleaning plan for paved dining areas should be considered before utilizing the space. Surfaces with numerous cracks are difficult to clean and can encourage pests. For example, the use of gravel lots for outdoor dining spaces would be nearly impossible to clean.
Although not always feasible, the addition of ceiling or pedestal fans to outdoor eating areas can help reduce pests like filth flies and mosquitoes from bothering customers.
Trash cans with self-closing lids are recommended to help prevent pests from foraging in the area. Open trash cans will attract a variety of pests from flies to stinging insects like wasps.
Since this may be a new dining area for your facility, ask your pest management professional to inspect the area and to evaluate any conditions conducive to pests. Pest management program additions or adjustments may be needed and additional rodent control equipment and insect control procedures may be advised.
The impact of additional movement by restaurant staff in and out of the building is the last consideration. Doors should never be propped open and any self-closing doors should close in a timely manner. If not, pests may find their way indoors.
- Drive-Thru Redesigns
To reduce human-to-human contact, many facilities have reduced the size opening for drive-thru windows. For example, one restaurant, Creator, in San Francisco even devised pressurized chambers for delivering food to guests from their pickup lines. Drive-thru windows have long been a potential source of pest entry. Windows may not close properly or staff may leave them open longer than necessary. The reduced sized opening to the exterior can reduce pest access — an unforeseen benefit of reducing people-to-people contact.
What to Expect from Your Pest Management Professional
- Safety Compliance: For the protection of your employees and clients, the servicing technician must be equipped with CDC-compliant recommendations, along with client and local rules regarding PPE and hygienic practices. Foodborne illness prevention training, already commonly offered by pest management firms, should now extend to best practices for dealing with the pandemic-related hazards. The firm should have a pandemic response policy in place, which outlines employee practices and plans for uninterrupted business continuation.
- Innovation: The pest management firm should be dedicated to finding the best tools and solutions for their clients. One such tool are electronic monitoring devices. These systems can monitor for pests without a physical visit to the site by using sensors. Sensor equipped traps and monitoring stations alert users via the internet when pests are detected. They are well suited for the continuation of pest monitoring services when facilities are shut down. They can also assist in root cause detection. Areas that are hard to access and pest-prone, such as suspended ceilings, are also areas where system utilization can be of value. Suspended ceilings are an often overlooked source of mice and cockroaches.
- Range of Service Offerings: Pest management is not just insect or rodent control. There may be a need for controlling birds, general pest exclusion and wildlife, all of which may be of concern for outdoor eating areas. Seek a company that is multi-faceted and skilled regarding these ancillary services. In addition, some companies offer disinfection services targeting viruses and bacteria. The company should be willing and able to adapt to their client needs.
- Communication: Good written and verbal communication skills will be required to build the pest management partnership. The individual performing the service must have good communication skills and the company should have the proper systems to support efficient communication. Pest management firms will vary in the type of documentation packages offered. Electronic documents can provide easy access to the records. Some programs will offer superior trending capabilities. Look for systems that make the data easy to access and provide quick snap shots of pest activity through visuals like graphs. If the restaurant is part of a chain, electronic records can provide document access to those with pest management responsibilities remotely. Electronic documentation is also a plus for remote workers in being able to keep in touch with the status of the pest management program.
- Pest Management Partnership: The pest management professional will be part of the team like every other facility employee. The pest management program is not one sided. It is essential for all program participants to instill trust since the pest management program is a shared responsibility. Not only must the food facility be able to trust in their service specialist to effectively execute the program, but the service provider must also have trust in the client to fulfill their part. Keep your pest manager provider informed of any changes in schedule or operations as the result of the pandemic. If service frequency has been reduced due to reduced operations, make sure the pest management company is alerted quickly. A program will operate effectively when both sides are engaged, capable and executing their roles. The ability to trust that both parties are equally invested and performing as required is essential.
— Patricia Hottel is technical director at McCloud Services, a leader in integrated pest management, serving the food supply chain, retail industries and more, headquartered in South Elgin, Illinois.