Pests aren’t picky when it comes to what’s on the menu. They’re happy to eat and drink all the crumbs, spills and scraps that your dining area has to offer. Unfortunately, everyday food handling, preparation and storage can attract pests and threaten long-term care facilities if pest management isn’t factored into food safety plans. So, how can you control pest populations safely in sensitive areas like kitchens, cafeterias and dining halls?

First, you have to know what you’re up against. The most common kitchen culprits include flies, cockroaches and ants. Flies are one of the filthiest insects around. They can carry more than 100 known pathogens, including common sources of food-borne illness such as E. coli, salmonella and staphylococcus. Cockroaches also pose a threat to food safety. They can carry disease-causing organisms that can result in several intestinal diseases, such as dysentery, typhoid fever and cholera.

Although ants do not pose the same risks to food safety as cockroaches and some species of flies, they are still a concerning sign of larger maintenance and sanitation issues. Ants can enter through the tiniest of cracks, seeking water and sweet or greasy food sources. Once inside, they leave an invisible pheromone trail so others can follow. Unfortunately, do-it-yourself remedies for ants often only disturb ant trails, simply causing them to scatter and relocate to other areas of your facility.

Given the associated risks, even the occasional sighting of the pests is grounds for action. The last thing you want is to serve potentially harmful food or waste money by throwing out infested food that can no longer be served to residents. You need an approach effective in keeping pests in their place, but also safe in food handling areas and around residents and staff. Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is that approach. As part of an overall IPM plan, here are some recommended proactive measures to make your facility less inviting to unwanted invaders.

Starting from the outside, pests look for ways to gain access, entering through cracks, open doors and on incoming shipments. The following tips can help:

  • Keep receiving areas clean and well-lit to discourage pests.
  • Install door sweeps and never leave doors propped open for extended periods of time, especially at night.
  • Inspect shipments before storing. Signs of pests include gnaw marks, droppings and live or dead pests. You’ll want to immediately discard cardboard boxes after storing, as cockroaches are known to harbor in them.

Moving into dry storage areas, these can be the perfect spot for pests to hide if not properly maintained:

  • Place food on open-backed shelving. Shelves should be at least six inches off the floor and 18 inches from the wall. Eliminating hidden areas and keeping shelves organized will make the area easier to monitor.
  • Clean up spills immediately and sweep regularly.
  • Label and date inventory so you can rotate goods on a first in, first out (FIFO) basis.
  • Ensure containers are airtight and undamaged.

Now it’s time for meal prep in the kitchen. Maintenance and sanitation is key in such a critical, sensitive and busy area.

  • Sanitize food contact surfaces between meals and as needed during preparation. This even includes taking apart equipment like mixers and slicers to properly clean them and prevent buildup.
  • Fix leaking faucets, dishwashers or ice machines. Pests need only a small amount of water to survive.
  • Use a foaming cleaner in and around sink drains and on the kitchen floor to eliminate hard-to-remove grime that can sustain fruit and drain flies.
  • Be sure that no food is left out overnight.

Once meals are served in cafeterias and dining areas, it’s best to carefully monitor and clean up right away.

  • Wipe down tables and chairs, plus sweep and mop under them between serving times.
  • Carpeted areas should be vacuumed regularly. Vacuums equipped with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters are especially effective at removing allergens associated with pests.
  • Don’t forget about outdoor eating spaces. Crumbs and spills and trash need to be taken care of in these areas too.

Once everything is cleaned up, proper disposal of trash and scraps is necessary before calling it a day. Trash odors are a powerful pest attractant, so the more you can do to reduce trash buildup and odors, the better.

  • Ensure garbage containers are lined, covered and leak-proof. They should be cleaned regularly.
  • Remove trash at least daily.

Taking just a few extra steps when it comes to food preparation, handling and disposal can go a long way in pest prevention and ultimately food safety. Not only should staff know their role in food prep, sanitation and ongoing maintenance, but they need to know how pest management is involved. Develop a pest protocol and encourage staff to take immediate action if pest vulnerability or activity is suspected. With the cooperation of your staff and preventive measures in place, your facility and residents will be better protected from pests.

Chelle Hartzer is Technical Services Manager for Orkin. She is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of operations, marketing and training. For more information, email [email protected] or visit