When my 3-year-old daughter announced, “I saw a mouse!” during a family dinner at a favorite restaurant of ours, I playfully responded, “Do you think it was Ratatouille?” I, incorrectly, assumed her eyes were playing tricks on her or she was trying to make her brothers laugh. Not until the four women at the booth behind us began making a loud fuss did I take my daughter seriously. Turns out, she really did see a mouse.
Unfortunately, pests and food go hand in hand, so making sure your restaurant is pest-free is a full-time commitment. Common restaurant pests include cockroaches, rodents, flies and stored-product pests, such as weevils, moths and mites. Pests instill fear and disgust for good reason; they can spread diseases such as E. Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, not to mention cause damage to electrical wires, and plumbing. When an infestation occurs, the cost is high; not only are customers turned off to your establishment, but extermination fees can be expensive, as well as the cost of food waste when you dispose of contaminated products. Finally, health code violations involving pests can come with hefty fines.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid pests. There are three basic steps to a pest-free establishment. The first step is inspection. Make sure to look not only for live pests, but also for signs of pests, such as fecal matter and egg cases. Common hiding places are floor drains, trash bins, hollow tubing and any cracks or crevices. Once you’ve checked likely locations, try setting some traps near suspected hide-outs to confirm the type of pest and magnitude of the infestation.
The next recommended step is proper sanitation. Cleaning your kitchen thoroughly and often is imperative to keeping pests at bay. Tasks such as disinfecting prep surfaces, taking out the trash and washing dishes should be performed daily, even multiple times a day. Deeper cleans that include removing grease build-up and sanitizing large appliances can happen less often, but at least on a monthly basis. Not only is the inside of your restaurant important to keep clean, but the outside matters, too. If you have outdoor seating areas, make sure food debris is removed regularly. Dumpsters need scheduled cleaning, as well.
The final step is exclusion. Exterminators, such as Orkin, offer exclusion services, which include sealing off any cracks or voids to reduce pest entry points. Keeping windows and doors shut when possible also helps.
If a customer does spot a pest in your restaurant, make sure your response is swift and apologetic. Sometimes, even the cleanest restaurants can suffer from a pest or two, so I didn’t want to make a scene when my daughter made her sighting. Instead, I called the manager the next day and was assured the problem was being addressed. Stay out of a situation where an infestation has already occurred by inspecting, sanitizing and excluding.