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Pest control in food service facilities can quickly become a struggle between the client and pest management professional if expectations between the two are not spelled out early in the relationship. If both parties are not on the same page as far as duties are concerned, then small issues can and will escalate, resulting in dissatisfied clients.

It’s no secret that two of the greatest contributing factors in pest management are sanitation and exclusion; giving pests less food and water to consume, and minimizing the places in which they can enter and hide. That said, overcoming those two issues is much easier said than done.

As PMPs, it is in our best interest to work with clients as closely as possible, giving them as much detail and advice as one can afford to give, and knowing where and when sanitation and exclusion issues can turn into problems. The more effort you put into educating your clients on where they can help themselves, the better off both parties will be.

Because of this, the most important step in any account is the inspection. This is particularly true for cockroaches, which are among the more common pests in commercial kitchens and food service facilities. They are resilient little insects that have been on the earth for more than 350 million years and one of the most successful organisms to inhabit the planet. There are more than 3,500 species identified globally, but only a handful that are known to become common pests to humans. These amazing insects are constantly infiltrating even the best defenses to enter homes, restaurants and just about anywhere humans are present. They thrive in cracks and crevices that provide the warmth and humidity toward which they so strongly gravitate. Keep this in mind when you perform your inspection.

The most common inhabitant of commercial food facilities is the German cockroach, easily identifiable by two dark brown stripes running behind its head. Other cockroaches also may be present, but would be less common in commercial kitchens. American cockroaches tend to be much more common in basements and crawlspaces, but they also may be found in and around drains, garbage areas and sewers. They are easily distinguishable from most other economically important cockroaches because they are much larger — more than 1 inch in length — and are capable of flight.

Brown-banded cockroaches are more likely to be found in (marginally) drier areas than German cockroaches and prefer to feed on starchier items. Because of this, when infesting commercial kitchens, brown-banded cockroaches are more likely to be found in non-food storage areas, although they can be found in kitchen areas as well.

INSPECTION TIPS. German cockroaches are generally found in cracks and crevices of warm, moist or wet locations. They thrive in commercial kitchens due to the plethora of these types of harborages and the abundance of food debris that lodges in and around these areas. Although they prefer fermented food spills, German cockroaches are general feeders that will readily feed on anything from food crumbs to spilled beer to stained clothing and even dried glue. This is why sanitation becomes critical in cockroach control; as long as there are greasy floors and food spills or residue, cockroaches will have food to eat.

During your inspection, you not only should look for the cockroaches and their harborage areas, but also identify as many of the alternate food sources as you can because much of your control will probably involve baits. Even more important than food is their water source. Keep your eyes open for standing water, condensation, etc. Commercial kitchens often place frozen foods on countertops. Thawing will cause water to accumulate on top of metal surfaces and condensation on the underside of these surfaces. Combine that with the gaps in the joints that many of these types of counters have and the result is a perfect harborage zone for German cockroaches.

Commercial kitchens are full of equipment which often seem to have been built to provide as much harborage for German cockroaches as possible. Prep counters, ovens, dishwashers, soda fountains, and coolers represent a nearly infinite number of harborage areas and usually are subject to repeated use and abuse, causing the joints to expand and giving cockroaches and food debris more places to hide. In addition, there typically will be a number of coolers and refrigerators in food service facilities, all of which have rubber door seals that crack and peel with time. When this happens, the seal itself becomes a perfect harborage for cockroaches. These must be replaced when they start to deteriorate. Further, commercial kitchens often have walls covered in stainless steel splashboards, which are easy to clean, but can separate from the wall, creating even more gaps and hiding places for cockroaches.

Don’t forget to check other areas that cockroaches frequently use to travel and hide: Check that escutcheon plates around plumbing pipes are secure, and there are no gaps around conduits that run through walls or between cabinets and walls or floors. It is your duty to do as much as you can to treat these areas, but more importantly, document these areas for your client.

The use of monitoring traps cannot be overstated for the ongoing success of cockroach control. Using monitoring traps high and low in as many areas as possible will give you a 3D representation of cockroach (and other pest) presence and harborages. Inspecting monitors not only will enable you to identify specific pests in the area, but with German cockroaches in particular, you will be able to identify the extent and direction of a harborage area. For example, if you are finding lots of nymphs on one side of a trap, you probably have a harborage area within a few inches of that side.

Once you have gathered the information and properly documented it, pass it to the client as well as your manager so you can build a history of the account. In larger accounts, it is not a bad idea to create a site map and label the areas. Give your client a copy for the pest-sighting log so staff can be specific when a pest is sighted.

Take this information and create a “diary” of the account, so that you will be able to track changes in areas, define “at-risk” areas that are constantly having pest problems, and create a detailed history of the account. This information will help you in the future and help other technicians who need to service the account, should you be unavailable.

The preceding article was excerpted from Chapter 17 of the PCT Guide to Commercial Pest Management by John Cooksey of McCall Service and Victoria Fickle, a graduate of Purdue University.