The Multi-Shaped, Multi-Length, Multi-Characteristic Kitchen Invader

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To help keep pests out restaurants, get rid of leftover food and drain standing water.
To help keep pests out restaurants, get rid of leftover food and drain standing water.

They’re smelly, disease-carrying nuisances that can ruin structures and get into your food. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the varieties that are around one-eighth of an inch to those that can grow to about 18 inches.
They crawl, fly, jump, leap, or slither around to find what they need to survive. Some have fur and some are hairless. Some have tails, others don’t. Any guess as to the identity of these kitchen invaders?

They are pests, including rats and other rodents, roaches, flies, spiders, and ants. And pests have no place in a kitchen—they can carry and transmit diseases to animals and people. When it comes to restaurants, cafeterias, and other places where food is served to the masses, pests can affect the health of millions of people.

“We know that rodents carry foodborne pathogens that can make people sick,” says Vincent Radke, who is a sanitarian with the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH). “We want to keep rodents out.”

Integrated Pest Management

Educating state and county health inspectors on pest management is a key goal of NCEH’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. IPM consists of five parts:

  • Inspection and monitoring
  • Identification
  • Establishment of pest threshold levels
  • Implementation of two or more control measures
  • Measurement and evaluation

On the food service front, NCEH works with state and county health officials to control pests in restaurants. Radke says that the information state and county health officials learn through NCEH’s programs is typically passed on to others in the restaurant industry.

““We teach state and local health officials what to look for when they’re inspecting a restaurant,” Radke says. “They in turn pass this information on to the restaurants.”

Food, Water and Shelter

According to Radke, pests need three things to survive: food, water, and shelter. He says pests are attracted to restaurants and other places where food is served because the facilities provide an abundance of those three necessities. Rodents only come inside when they are in pursuit of these three things.

Radke notes that the kitchen invaders are more afraid of humans than we are of them.

“Rodents or rats really don’t want to bother humans, and they don’t really want us bothering them,” he says. “They just want to be on their way and get what they need.”

Keeping Rodents Out

The IPM approach to pest management focuses on preventing pests from coming inside, reducing the number of pests, and eliminating the conditions that lead to pest infestations. When it comes to managing rodents and other pests, Radke suggests taking precautions inside and outside restaurants.

Many times the layout on the outside of a restaurant should be changed. This lowers the amount of pests that could potentially enter the building.

A restaurant’s dumpster is a gold mine for pests. Pests are attracted to it as a prime source of food, water and shelter. There are even more of the three essentials inside the restaurant. And the trip from a restaurant’s dumpster to inside the facility often isn’t far.

“We’d like to have a greater distance between the dumpster and the establishment,” Radke says. “If they’re hanging around the dumpster and find food, then they’re going to eventually find there’s more inside.”

Inside restaurants, Radke suggests keeping food in storage containers with tight-fitting lids and off the floor. Any water leaks or damage to floor, walls, and ceilings should be repaired to prevent shelter for pests.

NCEH offers the course, Biology and Control of Vectors and Public Health Pests: The Importance of IPM, online and in person. To date, more than 750 health professionals throughout the United States have taken the in-person course.

Many more have taken the online version. NCEH also offers consultation and education services to a variety of organizations.

More Information

Learn more about NCEH’s Integrated Pest Management program

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Page last reviewed: July 21, 2014
Page last updated: July 21, 2014