If you’re running a food business, the threat of a pest infestation is probably right up there with fire, flood and theft in the list of potentially devastating events. Not only could the presence of pests endanger your customers and staff, it has the potential to ruin your business’ reputation—something that’s very hard to recover.
Unfortunately, the very thing that draws customers through your doors—food—is the same thing that attracts attention from those with more legs than is desirable in a paying customer. This means that keeping common pests like rodents, cockroaches, ants and spiders at bay is a full-time job in a commercial kitchen.
And while it can start as the sighting of one little mouse or a couple of ants, with access to food, water, humidity and nesting materials, these pests have everything they need to thrive—meaning your one or two can turn into a full-blown infestation before you can say, “pass the Mortein”.
Here are a few everyday habits you can get into to prevent your bakery or patisserie turning into a luxury hotel for six-legged creatures, but if you do find yourself in over your head, get professional help from an exterminator right away.
BLOCK THEIR ENTRY
Obviously, the pest way to keep pests like insects and rodents at bay is to not let them in in the first place. Make sure any cracks and gaps in walls, doors and windows are properly sealed, and secure doors and windows with insect-proof meshes, especially if workers are coming in and out frequently.
Remember that while pests can get in through cracks and gaps, you could also be bringing them in unwittingly yourself. Plodia interpunctella—known more commonly as the pantry moth or Indian meal moth—is a frequent unwelcome guest in kitchens, and is often brought in as eggs or caterpillars in your dry foods, like grains and seeds.
CHECK DRAINS, A/C AND REFRIGERATION
Check that drainage systems are working correctly and air conditioners and refrigeration units are checked regularly for condensation and leaks, as these can be a source of pests. Additionally, any leaks or cracks in these systems will mean they’re not running efficiently, costing you more in the long term.
Drain flies, sink flies, sewer gnats, sewer flies… whatever you call them, they are a growing—and extremely annoying—problem in Australia. Thankfully, they can be controlled relatively easily. Prevention is always better than a cure, so start by removing any fruit from the area, clean and dry your bins, and cover drains with a plug when they’re not being used. Keep drains clean too—pouring boiling water down them will kill existing flies and also help flush away the gunk they feed on.
STORE FOOD PRODUCTS PROPERLY
Before you even bring products into the kitchen, dispose of any excess/unnecessary packaging materials as they just provide pests with an extra vehicle to enter your business. Once inside, be sure to store everything appropriately in well-sealed containers. When refilling containers, be sure to check and clean under the lids, seals and hinges—pantry moths get into the tightest spaces to lay their eggs!
Storing dry products like seeds, grains and cereals in the freezer for a few days will kill any pantry moth eggs existing in the food when it comes in. Also, don’t leave anything on the floor (like bags of flour) or fresh produce out in the open.
MANAGE WASTE EFFICIENTLY
It’s time to take out the trash—regularly! You’re probably already doing that, but the way you store and dispose of your food waste is just as important as how you store actual food. Garbage can be extremely attractive to many pests, and that doesn’t just refer to the overflowing, rotting bin you’re imagining. The tiniest bit of liquid leaking through a liner onto the container will have the critters calling around in no time.
Aside from making sure any waste containers are regularly removed, emptied and cleaned, they should also be tightly sealed while in use to stop them attracting insects and rodents. It may not be the job everyone fights for, but it makes for a much nicer environment for everyone.
KEEP PRODUCTION MANAGEABLE
Bakeries are naturally very busy places, and every business owner knows that being busy is a good thing. But if you’ve overextended to the point where you’re producing more product than you really have capacity for, there’s a good chance you’re cutting corners somewhere—and often it’s the cleaning that suffers.
That’s not to suggest your kitchen is unclean or unhygienic, but without enough downtime between production cycles it won’t be possible to clean equipment and infrastructure frequently or thoroughly enough. This can leave food sources like flour dust to build up and also opens a window for pests to infiltrate stored grain, for example.
What’s that sticky spot? Never mind, you’ll get back to it later. Only by then, approximately 2,000 ants have also pondered that question and come to investigate! The last two years have had a huge impact on our awareness of cleanliness, but they also kind of shifted our focus from the floor to touch points as we scrubbed, sprayed and wiped in an effort to avoid COVID-19.
As mentioned previously, any exposed food source is a big, flashing, neon ‘Come In, We’re Open’ sign for pretty much any pest you don’t want. The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to avoid in a setting like a bakery with all that flour and various sweet delights loved by insects and customers alike.
Make sure your cleaning protocol is up to date and adhered to at all times, including machinery and hard to reach places.