The nature of constant food storage, preparation, serving and disposal mean that kitchens offer the ideal conditions for a pest haven. Pests can often find entry through the smallest nooks and cracks, either in walls, around windows and pipes or even through open doors. Unfortunately, they are a particularly nasty and dangerous problem in kitchens, but people do not always recognise the great threat they pose. Failure to eradicate pests effectively could have a damaging effect on the health of workers and customers alike.

There are numerous pests that are found invading kitchens: the main types are insects such as flies, ants, wasps and cockroaches; rodents such as mice and rats; and pests found in stored products such as beetles, mites and weevils. Even birds have been spotted pecking around in kitchens. Food premises are attractive to these kinds of animals, not only because there is a plentiful supply of food, but also because there is moisture, warmth and shelter – the essentials for survival.

Animals can easily be the cause of cross-contamination and food poisoning due to their ability to spread pathogenic bacteria, so in the interests of hygiene and health, it is highly important to keep them away from your kitchen and food. Because pests are often found in dirty, insanitary areas where they can easily pick up and carry harmful microorganisms, the unhealthy habits that accompany these animals are serious. Flies, for example, take in their food by vomiting onto it before eating it. It is fairly evident that this is an immense opportunity for bacterial spread. Using air curtains and an electric ultraviolet fly killer can help prevent the entry of flies in to a kitchen and kill any that do manage to get in.

Rats pose another problem because their teeth never stop growing and they must constantly gnaw things to keep their teeth to a reasonable length. What’s more, rats are well known for their incredible perseverance when it comes to getting into places; they will chew through anything from electric cable to concrete! Combined with potential physical contamination from droppings, nesting material, eggs, fur, mites, parasites and pathogenic bacteria in an animal’s saliva, rats and other pests have a dangerous ability to spread food poisoning bacteria and food-borne diseases such as dysentery. Using bait and baited traps is one way of trying to kill rats and other animals, as is the use of poisons. Poisons should be used with extreme care however, because insecticides and pesticides, although effective, are exceptionally dangerous if they get onto food. Consequently professional services are usually required to handle poisons.

Naturally, the health of anyone handling or eating food is at risk if a kitchen is infested, but having a pest problem has further negative implications for businesses. Following press reports, a company’s reputation and profit can take a big hit when they are found responsible for causing food poisoning. Contaminated food also means that there will be huge food wastage because it must not be used. Pests could cause fire and safety hazards so buildings and equipment may also be damaged and, finally, there is risk of non-compliance with the law if pests are not dealt with quickly and effectively.

Although it is strongly advised to seek the expertise of a specialist contractor when dealing with pest control, an employer has the responsibility of ensuring that the workplace is equipped to keep pests away. It is always important to tackle the root of the problem, which is why professional help is usually needed, but an important part of controlling pests is ‘denial of access’ or ‘proofing’. This is when premises are designed in such a way that animals cannot enter at all.

More generally, all members of staff can go some way towards helping to reduce the risk of pest invasion by remembering a few simple rules. Food must be covered at all times and always stored away from the floor in an appropriate container. It should never be left outside. Additionally, deliveries must be checked carefully and stored items also looked at and rotated regularly to ensure there is no spoilage or obvious contamination. Doors and windows should be kept closed and waste stored and disposed of in bins which have tightly fitting lids. Finally, if any signs of damage or possible pests are seen, for example damaged or torn packaging, gnawed pipes or cables, unusual smells and sounds, paw or claw prints, or dead animals, it must be reported to a supervisor immediately. Of course, hygiene is paramount, so spillages should be tended to promptly and a clean workplace should always be kept, especially in food preparation and storage areas.

Remember, a pest infestation prohibits any food premise from operating until it has been dealt with. These animals will find a kitchen environment appealing, but they carry and spread many harmful bacteria that can cause a wide range of illnesses when ingested by humans. For this reason, it is essential that all team members are aware of the signs to look out for to identify a pest problem and that everyone takes responsibility in ensuring the area is as clean as possible at all times.

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