What's bugging you?

As the sweltering summer creeps in, so will an influx of pests, flies and rodents into air-conditioned pizzerias, causing a major health and safety epidemic for you and your customers.          

Pest elimination is a must for food service facilities, but maintaining a sanitary environment can be challenging. If not controlled, health inspections will be failed, the reputation of your facility will be severely tarnished, and worse yet, the pizzeria you worked so hard to build can be shut down until violations are corrected, meaning lost revenue and costly pest services.          

Creepy critters that lurk in your pizzeria also carry diseases inside them that can contaminate your products and facility. For example, flies are one of the most common pests and can carry up to six million bacteria on their feet. Most of the diseases are carried and spread as flies touch surfaces with their legs and saliva. Though most of the flies that may swarm your pizzeria are house and fruit flies, there are other more dangerous flies like foreign flies that could infect your customers with a number of diseases, some of which have no known cure. Although these bugs are rare in the United States, you should be concerned when any type of fly enters your pizzeria.  No customer wants a fly to land in their soup, especially one that could potentially put his health at risk!          

Another leading pest in commercial restaurant facilities is the cockroach. With nearly 4,000 species of cockroaches around the world, most roaches, like the pesky German cockroach, seem to harbor in dark, damp and humid areas where food supply is abundant. Cockroaches also feed off carbohydrates, and when hungry, they could eat starch-based paints, pastes and soap bars, according to the Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP) website at www.beyondpesticides.org.          

Cockroaches can easily enter a pizzeria through cracks, crevices, screens, loose-fitted windows and doors, vents, pipes and holes. They spread dozens of bacteria, worms and other viral infections and can even cause allergies and asthma. Large amounts of roach droppings and carcass remains develop a concentration of allergens that can spread to young children.          

Cockroaches are not the only pests that can easily enter your pizzeria through wall openings. Pests like rats and other large rodents can fit through holes less than half an inch in diameter.  Mice, however, can crawl through openings less than a quarter of an inch.  Birds, spiders, ants and snakes can enter through small wall cavities as well.

CHECK FOR PROBLEMS

But before you call a pest service provider, take a few minutes to examine your pizzeria.  Many times overlooked areas are the problem. Are there any noticeable cracks or pores in your building? Are cabinets and doors sealed and tight-fitted? Is garbage properly disposed of daily?  Are food storage bins on shelves and not on the floor?              

These are just some of the many questions you should ask yourself when inspecting your own pizzeria. By correcting these few problems, your pest troubles should decrease dramatically. However, there are many other ways roaches and rodents can enter your facility, and constant monitoring should be on your daily checklist. According to Jim Tarara, director of research and development pest elimination at Ecolab, pizzeria owners should always do a self-inspection of their restaurants before calling a professional pest elimination company. Doing this will pinpoint exact problem areas and will increase speedy elimination.          

"Anything they can do to identify a location (is needed) to minimize the amount of product that is used. If there's a hot spot in a location, that allows the professional to minimize the amount and also take care of the problem as quick as possible," Tarara says. "That communication is so important. Time is of the essence. If they can inspect, that definitely is a leg up in eliminating the problem."          

Even if there are no noticeable pest problems in your facility or you have used a pest control service, pests can still enter and harbor your facility through deliveries made to your pizzeria. Delivery trucks can transport egg cases in shipped materials, which could create a major epidemic if delivered items are not checked, removed from their boxes, and stored on shelves. Make sure delivery boxes are thrown away before eggs hatch and infestation occurs.

COMBAT THE PROBLEM          

If such problems exist in your pizzeria, you must decide whether you want to fix the dilemmas yourself or hire a professional to do so. There are several ways to combat the pest population and still follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).                    

In most states, self-pest control is permitted, but certain regulations must be followed to ensure correct pesticide management and prevent contamination of food and equipment. Also, many store-bought insecticides are not labeled for use in commercial facilities, and contamination problems can increase.          

If you choose to do your own pest control, make sure toxic chemicals are not used while food is being handled or exposed. Insecticides and other poisons should only be applied after restaurant hours and should not be accessed until all treated areas are dry. If you use a spray, do not drench the areas you are treating. Doing so is unsafe, illegal and unnecessary. Following labels accordingly will ensure accurate and safe results.          

The National Restaurant Association offers a "How to Control Pests" section on their Web site for restaurant owners and managers to follow while inspecting their pizzerias, hiring an exterminator, and preventing infestation. The forms, available at www.restaurant.org/business/howto/pest.cfm, offer tips on safely handling toxic pesticides as well. The site also includes a pest-inspection checklist for your pizzeria that should be conducted on a regular basis. This is a great way to keep track of your sanitation practices as well as monitor pest infestation. You can find this checklist in the PMQ Manager's Toolbox at www.pmq.com/pizza_managers_ toolbox.shtml.          

There is a wide variety of methods for pest elimination to choose from that are offered by hundreds of pest control companies. Many agencies have programs designed specifically for full-service restaurants. These programs locate and eliminate pest-breeding sites by using discrete and advanced pest elimination technology. On the other hand, you may also purchase and apply the various traps, baits, sprays, dusts, gels and aerosols yourself. This can cut costs if you administer the pesticides correctly and follow-up on your pest checklist. Make sure you keep a list of the used products for your health inspections.          

However, Tarara says bug infestation could also increase considerably if you do your own pest elimination. "There are certain pests that you can actually make the situation worse," Tarara says. "It's hard to tell what a species is unless you are a professional."          

The best bet in fighting unwanted pests is to hire a licensed pest control agency. They have the latest advancements in pest control and many guarantee elimination.                                   
If you have a professional, you will be able to identify what a species is and go after it the proper way _ meaning you always want to minimize how much insecticide that you put into a facility because there are people in these facilities that work there," Tarara says. "You always get concerned about any transmission or contamination of any food products. A pest professional is going to go in, target the pest, and is going to put down the minimal amount to take care of the problem."          

Either you or the company you hire can administer the pesticides, but a professional is highly recommended when dealing with industrial-strength chemicals in an environment containing large quantities of food, beverages, and equipment. In some states and communities, a monthly visit from a licensed pest control service is required, and self-pest control is not allowed. Check your state health department for your local regulations by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site link at http://www.cdc.gov/other.htm.          

In all, identify pest issues early and address any problems immediately. Delaying elimination could leave you serving cockroaches and other pests instead of customers and patrons!