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Pests in a pandemic


August 17, 2020
By Alice Sinia, PhD

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PHOTO: © George Dolgikh / Adobe stock

Despite being one of the hardest-hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry was also one of the first to adjust operations to continue service. As many restaurants begin reopening and offering dine-in service again, the last thing operators need to deal with is a pest infestation.

In a recent survey by Restaurants Canada, six out of 10 restaurants open for takeout, delivery or dine-in service were operating at a loss. A pest sighting by a dine-in customer or a delivery contaminated by pests could lead to significant losses for restaurants. Even worse, unknowingly serving contaminated food to patrons could cause them to become ill and ruin your business’ reputation as you recover from the pandemic. These are only a few of the threats your restaurant faces when it comes to dealing with pests.

All pests need food, water and shelter to survive and restaurants happen to have an abundance of all of these. Even if you weren’t fully operating before, pests could have still slipped into your establishment and caused structural damage, contaminated surfaces and much more. Depending on how well you secured your restaurant during the lockdown or your adjusted operations, you might be in for a surprise when you return, especially considering many restaurants downsized staffing making it easier for pests to slip by unnoticed.

Pests such as rodents and cockroaches can slip into small spaces and could chew away at your much-needed profits, leaving harmful bacteria and pathogens behind as they move through your restaurant. And even though your dining room remained closed up until now, takeout service could have helped many other pests such as ants and flies sneak in through frequently opened doors and windows. During times of reduced service, inventory that may not have been stored properly is also highly susceptible to stored product pests such as weevils, flour beetles and Indian meal moths. Because of this, it is crucial to inspect the pantry and storage areas for any signs of pest activities.

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Maintaining a healthy environment for food and customer safety has always been important in the industry, but effective pest management has never been more crucial than now. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is an effective way to help ensure your restaurant is protected from pests. Instead of focusing on treating issues as they arise, IPM takes a proactive approach and uses preventive measures such as exclusion, good housekeeping practices and proper sanitation to keep pests out.

Whether reopening for business or continuing your operations, knowing what to expect when it comes to pests is better than getting a nasty surprise at the last minute. Here are some signs of pest activity you should be looking out for:

Signs to look for

With human activity at a minimum for the past few months, many pests have had to find new food, water and shelter sources, and restaurants make the perfect target. Each business varies, but there are a few common hot spots and signs you should be aware of:

  • Droppings, cobwebs and insect cast skins inside your restaurant.
  • Deceased rodents, cockroaches or other pests.
  • Nests in your roofing, storage rooms and other typically hidden or overlooked spots.
  • Gnawing marks, chewed wiring and other physical damage that wasn’t present before.
  • Holes or tears in product packaging that could signal contaminated food.
  • Insect trails on dusty or dirty
    surfaces.
  • Any live insects spotted near stored food.

Once inside, these filthy critters can spread bacteria and pathogens that can contaminate your food and make customers ill. If you paused your pest management services during the lockdown, you might also be returning to a pest infestation. If you notice any of the signs above as you restart service, contact your pest control provider immediately to get a treatment plan in action.

What you can do now

While you can’t keep every single pest out forever, the following tips can help you avoid a costly infestation and maintain a pest-free dining experience for your guests:

  • Inspect your restaurant for any potential pest entry points and seal all cracks and crevices. Install pest monitoring devices to detect any present pests, such as insect monitors and light traps – your pest management professional can help with this.
  • Ensure doors close properly behind guests and employees to prevent pests from sneaking in undetected.
  • Inspect all incoming deliveries of goods for potential hitchhiking pests like cockroaches and stored product pests.
  • Take trash out daily and keep dumpsters away from the building.
  • Encourage employees to practise good hygiene by washing their hands frequently.
  • Implement a strict sanitation routine to help eliminate potential food and moisture sources for pests.
  • Disinfect kitchens, dining rooms and other high-touch spaces as often as possible to help prevent the spread of bacteria and pathogens pests might have left behind.
  • If you recently expanded outdoor dining options, make sure you monitor for standing water and remove any vegetation and landscaping that might attract mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Inspect the pantry or storage areas for signs of infestation.
  • Open and inspect all stock, especially those nearing their expiration date.
  • Always rotate stock on a first-in, first-out basis – the stock that comes in first should be used first to ensure it does not sit untouched for extended periods of time.

Maintaining smooth operations and happy customers during a global health crisis is tough enough, but you don’t have to add fighting pests to your to-do list. Be sure to work with your pest control provider to create or adjust your pest management plan as needed so you can focus on providing quality food and service while they protect your business from pests. Despite the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, your guests will feel safer dining at your establishment knowing that their health and safety are your top priority.


Alice Sinia, PhD, is quality assurance manager of regulatory/lab services for Orkin Canada focusing on government regulations pertaining to the pest control industry. With more than 20 years of experience, she manages the quality assurance laboratory for Orkin Canada and performs analytical entomology as well as provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. For more information, email Alice Sinia at asinia@orkincanada.com or visit www.orkincanada.com.


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