What Are the Top Four Food Pests?

Much like the major food groups, there are major food pests. Whether you own a restaurant, a grocery store, a food processing plant, or anywhere else there may be food or a kitchen (hospitals, office buildings, etc.), you should know about the four usual suspects: rodents, birds, cockroaches, and flies.

From chewed-through packaging to contaminated food, the damage these pests can do can be extremely costly. Not to mention the almost irreparable damage to a brand’s reputation or worse still – the risk to a patron’s health. Let’s discuss:

Rodents – those pests can really wreak some havoc. The worst of it, they can contaminate food. Wherever they scamper, their feet pick up bacteria and transfer it to wherever they walk next. Not to mention their droppings, urine, and fur can transmit disease and cause health hazards. It doesn’t matter how clean you keep your business, rats and mice will run around in a dumpster or any other places diseases can be picked up and then squeeze through the tiniest of openings to get into your business where it’s warm with a constant stream of food and water. Rats are capable of consuming 30 grams of food each day – meaning 50 rats in a food facility can demolish 23 pounds of food per week. It’s not just the fact that they eat so much that causes the biggest problem. Any products near them are at risk of contamination, and contaminated food can make people sick. Rats and mice can carry many diseases including hantavirus, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV), Tularemia, and Salmonella. In both rats and mice, their teeth are in a constant state of growth. One way they keep their teeth from growing too much is to gnaw on materials around them. They typically choose things that resemble plant roots like conduit lines and piping. But they will gnaw just about anything. Cardboard boxes (ruining whatever is in it), wiring (creating a fire hazard), and the structural wood and drywall in your building (to gain access to your roof and attic). In addition, once they gain access, they will use your ductwork, drop ceilings, and wall voids like their own private tunnels to move around your building out of sight. If they burrow into insulation, they will ruin it with their urine and droppings. It’s hard to add up the cost associated with all that rodent damage.

Birds – an open door is like a big welcome sign to birds. Your building is probably nice and warm and has some high-up areas where they can perch, nest… and poop. Bird droppings can contaminate food as well as damage structures. Bird droppings are caustic to even materials like metal and concrete. Besides keeping them out in the first place, providing less hospitable areas to discourage birds from nesting in exterior areas where fecal matter, feathers, or hazardous nesting materials could contaminate products or packing materials is key. Nests located inside, on roofs, or in the eaves of facilities are a health hazard for both employees and consumers. Nests are also a draw for a variety of insects and ectoparasites that cannot be tolerated in any facilities handling food products. Bird droppings help promote growth of the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, the spores of which can, when inhaled, result in histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease. But that’s not all! Birds are associated with over 60 human pathogenic diseases. Salmonella bacteria can be found in pigeons, sparrows, and starlings, all of which commonly invade food production and storage facilities. The illness can be spread to humans when infected bird droppings come in contact with food, either from above or when the Salmonella organisms are carried on the feet or bodies of birds that land on food products.

Cockroaches & Flies – both of these pests are associated with filth and for good reason – they feed on and breed in it. It’s believed that cockroaches may be a reservoir for a range of bacteria including salmonella, staphylococcus, and streptococcus. The cockroach can also harbor viruses such as the polio virus. Like the house fly, a cockroach will eat virtually anything ranging from food spills on a kitchen floor to fecal matter. Ingested bacteria can survive in the cockroach’s digestive system and are passed in its droppings. Cockroaches will vomit and defaecate on food and if humans eat food contaminated by cockroaches, they can get sick. Speaking of vomiting on food, let’s talk flies. When a fly lands on your dinner, it isn’t taking bites out of the food. Instead, the insect vomits digestive juices onto the food to break it down outside its mouth, so it can create a liquid meal for itself. That vomit is full of germs from its last meal. The pathogens inside a fly live longer than the ones on its feet, which means there’s a bigger chance that certain bacteria and viruses stay alive. Those germs mix with the fly vomit and stay in the fly until the next time it eats, creating a recipe for disease. There are at least 100 different pathogens house flies can carry, including bacteria, viruses, and parasite eggs. Add those to the food in your restaurant, grocery store, or food processing plant and that’s a real issue.

The good news about all this – and we know it doesn’t sound like there could be any – is that Integrated Pest Management can help. We have a whole blog post about that strategy, but in a nutshell, it entails using many different methods and techniques (only a small one is treating with products) with a team of people all working toward the same goal: pest control. Controlling those pests can help you pass audits, keep customers coming back, and keep everyone safe – including you and your employees. You can contact Western Pest Services. We speak the language of Plant Managers, Quality Assurance Specialists, General Managers, and restaurant owners and have the experience needed to deal with the pests being in the food business brings with it.