July 1, 2015 |

Four battle strategies to win the war against pests

By Heidi Lynn Russell

Apply offensive and defensive tactics to pest control

Soda fountains are a main hiding place for bugs because of their sticky sweet splatter.

Soda fountains are a main hiding place for bugs because of their sticky sweet splatter.

That four-letter word –– PEST –– can strike fear in the heart of any restaurant owner. Fighting vermin can seem like a never-ending war.

And face it. If you’re worried about pests invading your pizzeria, you have good reason. Here’s some food for thought from the National Pest Management Association: Rodents consume or contaminate about 20 percent of the world’s food supply, and rats bite more than 45,000 people annually. Insect stings force a half-million people to the ER per year. And pests transmit disease-causing organisms that includeencephalitis, Lyme disease and plague, to name a few.

“Pest management is about food safety, the health of employees and customers and food poisoning,” says Dr. Jim Sargent, director of regulatory compliance and technical support for pest management company Copesan in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “And if your business ends because of poor pest management, it’s also a dollars-and-cents issue.”

A good battle strategy requires offensive and defensive tactics. Here’s a four-pronged approach against pests (suggested by Sargent and Dr. Chad Gore, Regional and Technical Director for pest management company Rentokil-North America in Reading, Pennsylvania):

1. Shore up re-enforcements. There are nearly 20,000 pest management companies in the United States, but the most effective combatants will clearly communicate and uncover your property’s weak spots.

“Not having a relationship is like going to Las Vegas and gambling on whether you’ll win the pest lottery,” Sargent says.

At least once a year, a thorough inspector will analyze and compare pest issues from the previous year, recommend adjustments on the frequency of spraying due to changing seasons and suggest how to improve the property to prevent future potential problems.

At a minimum, schedule monthly visits, Gore says. Issues beyond your control –– a rainy spring, for example –– can quickly accelerate problems, resulting in a full-blown infestation. “Suppose you wait and do it once every three months, and during that time, you see a couple of cockroaches. After three months, you’ll be facing a serious problem,” he says.

Concerned about high chemical levels in the kitchen? “The vast majority of products are applied as a spot application. You’re putting the material in places that really have no chances of contacting food,” Gore says. “You’re not spraying overhead, so there are no issues with drip. Also, a big piece of the arsenal we use is solid or gel-based bait. This requires the pest to visit and feed rather than walk over top of it.”

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates which products can be used in restaurants –– and when they can be used (some can’t be used while the restaurant or food processing facility is in operation).

2. Attack hiding places. Your “enemy” is skilled at staying out of sight. Meticulous, regular cleanings are necessary, and not just in the places where you walk or where diners are seated, Sargent says.

Drop ceilings “are horrible,” he says. So are soda fountains, which are hard to clean but attract pests with their sticky sweet splatter. And pests love moisture and warmth, so clean behind and around any piece of equipment that generates heat. “Sometimes you don’t think of a cooler being warm, but there are rubber seals around the door that attract flies,” Sargent says.“Rodents also live in the insulation of the cooler. They take a bite out of the food in the cooler and then run back into the insulation.”

Educate employees about trash removal and receptacle cleaning: Dumpsters should be moved away from the back door and cleaned. Dragging garbage bags leaves residue across floors.

3. Be alert to unwitting couriers. Yes, cockroaches can hide in your diners’ clothing. And believe it or not, with a resurgence of bed bugs in the United States, you also need to wipe down booths regularly.

“It’s a great situation for a bed bug, because they pick up a blood meal, hide in the folds of the booth and hang out, waiting for the next victim,” Gore says.

Adjacent to another business? “A lot of the pests we deal with are highly mobile. Businesses may only be separated by a wall. Certainly in those situations, you are at risk, especially if your neighbor doesn’t have pest management or if theirs is not as frequent as yours,” Gore says.

Beware of product shipments, because pests can hide in deliveries. And rotate products on shelves, which are susceptible to beetles and meal moths, Gore says.

4. Do reconnaissance. Know your geography, the seasons and the biology of insects in your region. The South has tree-roosting cockroaches that fly to buildings. Large cities have Norway rats. Coastal regions have roof rats. Each state has its own issues, depending on soil, topography and climate.

Even the behavior of insects differs; vacuuming will remove a large part of a gregarious cockroach population, but social insects like ants and termites have colonies that must be destroyed. Yellow jackets build nests inside walls.

And this brings up another important point: the reason you shouldn’t go it alone. Let the experts handle the pesky creatures so that you can spend time focusing on your pizza-making expertise, Gore and Sargent say.

“You may be able to do it yourself, but you won’t resolve it properly, and you may also use materials that will put your product and customers at risk,” Gore says.


Tip: Social Media and Pest Reports

One remark on Twitter, Facebook or Yelp about a cockroach walking across a table can kill business. How should you handle it?

Knowledge is power, so respond with facts, says Elizabeth Johnson, director of marketing at Copesan. Provide information on how often your pest management company visits. Post your latest score from the local health department.

Offer details on how you sanitize (and how often).

Apologize. Say that you will be contacting your pest control company immediately for a new spraying and property inspection. Follow up after their visit by posting on the site how you addressed issues.

Customers appreciate honesty and proactive responses. You may lose the customer who complained, but in a world where a business can be ruined by a viral post, it’s better to address concerns than ignore them.


Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Lexington, Kentucky.