RECENT REVELATIONS of rodent infestations in schools are a reminder to all caterers they can't afford to neglect pest control.
Hygiene levels in school kitchens are under the spotlight following a report in the Sunday Times last month. The paper revealed that inspection reports from the last 18 months – released under freedom of information laws – showed details of “ant and mice infestations, mouldy walls, equipment caked with food and poor personal hygiene”. In all, 288 schools, including 165 primaries, were given a hygiene score of two out of five or less after their most recent inspection by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Schools, much like businesses, are under no legal obligation to display their scores. A score of two means “improvement required”, while one suggests “major improvement required”. Naturally, some of the schools identified in the report defended their positions to the newspaper. At Erith school in south-east London, where “mice were seen in the kitchen, with inspectors noting that an infestation ‘has been going on for some time’,” the head teacher explained that an “intense deep clean” had since taken place as well as a review of pest control.
But when it comes to pests there is little margin for error – for any food business. Pest infestations can cause serious illness and also costly food wastage, potential loss of reputation, low staff morale and ultimately closure. Which raises the question – why is provision of pest control often overlooked and sometimes seen as a grudging or unnecessary purchase?
From farms and food processing sites to large supermarkets there are commercially published and certified standards which they are required to follow. These standards usually require firms to be externally audited for compliance to ensure their produce is safe and fit for consumption throughout the supply chain. However, there are no such standards for smaller businesses (restaurants, food outlets or hotels).
“Large companies generally have effective pest control systems in place, although there is always scope for improvement,” says David Oldbury, a pest control consultant and secretary of the Chartered Institute’s National Pest Advisory Panel. “Among the smaller businesses, however, there is often much to be done to ensure compliance with the regulations and an appropriate level of protection against pests at food premises. Setting the standards for these goals is one thing – working to those standards in practice can be quite another.”
The regulatory framework (principally, the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Hygiene Regulations 2005 made under it) deems food unsafe if it is considered to be injurious to health or unfit for human consumption. It lays down general hygiene requirements for all food business operators
Pest management in restaurants, commercial kitchens, retail outlets and even hotels should not only be trying to prevent the introduction of pests but also to reduce the conditions that may encourage pests or help them survive once they are established, says the British Pest Control Association’s membership manager, Kevin Higgins.
His organisation has devised a number of steps for hospitality firms and caterers to take to protect their businesses from pests such as mice, rats, cockroaches and ants. This includes effective prevention, integrated pest management and the need to keep records of any sightings.
On prevention, Oldbury says the disposal of food waste is an area where environmental health professionals “continue to see problems”. All pests have one thing in common: they are looking for food, warmth and shelter. The problem for food businesses is that it doesn’t take much food (in the case of a mouse just a few grams a day) to sustain an infestation.
“We find it tends to be one of the most neglected areas – but at the proprietor’s peril. Disposal areas are where most of the pests are attracted. Once they get there, they can then get into the restaurant, hotel or the supermarket quite easily if the building structure is inadequately proofed,” says Oldbury.
Higgins also says to check stockrooms before and during a new delivery. “Common ways for pests to find their way into food premises are in stock deliveries, on second-hand machinery or via wooden pallets,” he adds. “Pests arriving in raw materials from overseas can pose unique problems. You can get exotic species coming in, and if the conditions are right they will thrive.”
For those businesses that suspect a problem, the advice is to deal with it sooner rather than later. Higgins suggests taking a note of any sightings and to use a trained professional to tackle the infestation. How they deal with pests may well change in the coming months as European regulations change.
Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are the go-to chemicals for rodent control. However, there is a chance that their use will be restricted to prevent other wildlife from being poisoned. This could mean that pest control companies have to visit more sites more often, which means costs may rise. However, Higgins says that those using a reputable member of a trade association shouldn’t see any great changes to the service they receive.
Given the potential public health risks posed by pests, and the reputational risks evidenced in the recent press reports one of the most important considerations for those working in the food industry is how they go about choosing a pest controller. John Forrest at Forrest Environmental Services says it’s vital to have in place a proper programme of works and for both sides to know what is expected of them.
“In the event of a problem, recourse can be made to the service contract. The majority of pest problems I am asked to look into boil down to the contract and whether both parties are pulling their respective weights,” he adds.
The BPCA has pulled together information on the top five pests for food businesses to be aware of, which is now available at the HERE