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Rats: Public Enemy No. 1 For NYC Restaurants

By Hope Bowman, Technical Specialist and Board-Certified Entomologist, Western Pest Services

Finally, the long hot days of smelly garbage and tourist-filled sidewalks have been replaced with cheery holiday lights, beautiful blankets of snow and Public Enemy No. 1 – RATS! And like millions of New Yorkers, they are looking for a warm refuge and an abundant supply of food and drinks to get through the frigid days that lie ahead.

The worst part? Your foodservice establishment offers all of the above. While it’s common to see rodents roaming the city’s streets and alleys, the idea of one romping around your kitchen, supply room, or dining room is not so palatable to customers.

Rats and mice have the fortitude to ruin your profits, reputation and health scores. Knowing the risks and taking key preventive steps can help you avoid a gnawing problem this winter.

How to Rodent-Proof Your Restaurant

Exclude. Seal off all entry points. Determined to find warmth and nourishment, rodents can contort their bodies to get inside. Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, and mice can squeeze through dime-sized openings. Install door sweeps, seal cracks, and eliminate gaps around utility lines and boxes. Cover exterior drains and vents with metal mesh, and install plastic, one-way rodent-proofing valves inside all drains.

Eliminate. Restrict or remove food and water sources. Rodents need them to survive. Eliminate the attraction by sealing stored food and removing all scraps and standing water. Continuously empty garbage bins, clean out dumpsters, and check outside faucets and gutters for leaks or puddles.

Clean. Declutter storage areas, custodial closets, backrooms and offices. Mice and rats will use clutter for both food and nesting. Be sure to clean out interior and exterior spaces frequently, including drawers, pantries, cabinets, and shelving units.

Inspect. Look out for signs of a rodent infestation. Droppings or pellets are an obvious sign whereas grease marks on walls aren’t as intuitive. Beware of scurrying sounds and inspect packaging, walls, and wires for chew marks. Nests or burrows may be hidden in walls, on roofs or below ground, so check not-so-obvious spots too.

Monitor. Watch for rodents themselves, paying close attention to spots containing food or water like stock rooms, stored product areas, drink stations, and dining areas. It’s also crucial to check hard-to-reach places like floor and wall voids, suspended ceilings, and the tops of cooler and freezer boxes.

Communicate. Keep the lines of communication open between your staff and pest control provider. Consistent monitoring and maintenance of your restaurant’s unique issues are essential to identifying rodent problems early.

Why Rodents Are Risky Business

Health Hazards. Of the 35 diseases transmitted by rodents, common illnesses including Salmonella and Hantavirus are spread through their droppings, urine, saliva, and blood. Your employees and patrons are in harm’s way when mice or rats pull up a chair at the table.

Contamination. When food and preparation surfaces are corrupted by rodents the outcome can be ugly. Food poisoning caused by ingesting contaminated food can have symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal disorders. That is certainly not the kind of experience you want to serve up.

Careless Chomping. Rodents don’t hesitate to order off menu. Capable of consuming up to 30 grams in a day, they’ll chow down on your inventory. Contaminated products, if recognized and discarded as they should be, result in financial loss. And rodents won’t stop there.

Property Damage. Electrical wires, gas lines, support beams, sheet rock, insulation and more fit into the rodent diet. Rodents are known to cause bigger than bite-size problems like electrical fires and structural damage.

Proliferation. Rodents have plenty of leave-behinds for your diners. No, not take-out. A single mouse can produce 49 droppings per day. Another thing they’re good at producing? More rodents. A single rat can produce seven litters per year, with up to 12 pups per litter. If you, or worse – one of your customers, spot one rodent, chances are her family is cozied up in your walls.

Reputation. No matter how delicious your food or inviting your atmosphere, if a customer sees even one rodent in or around your restaurant, you’re toast. Social media and online reviews make it easy for customers to instantly tell the world about any good or bad experience with your business. And what others see about you online matters. Customers trust online reviews as much as friends.

Inspection Implications: The only party who might be harder on you than customers is health inspectors. Pest management is a measurable part of your health score, and with the amount of health and safety concerns rodents present, it’s unlikely that an inspector is going to let you slide.

When to Take Action

First Course: If you’ve spotted any of the signs above, it’s time to contact a pest control expert. Think of those signs like an appetizer, signaling that there’s more to come, but in this case that’s not a good thing.

Second Course: A rat or mouse in your establishment is a big deal. Immediately contact a licensed pest management company for reinforcement. The biggest mistake you can make is thinking a problem will resolve itself or trying DIY pest control.

Third Course: While it may not seem necessary at the time, developing a proactive plan can be very rewarding, much like dessert. Enlist your pest control professional to help you implement monitoring and exclusion tactics to help keep rodents out.

A place where food is stored, prepared, and enjoyed, your restaurant is prone to be a rodent magnet if the proper preventive and reactive actions aren’t taken.

Originally featured at Total Food Service.