Despite the apparent ease with which pest problems can be prevented, many restaurateurs and caterers don’t think about it until they have to. By Paul Christopher
The linked issues of hygiene and pest control can be costly for restaurateurs, even those who operate to the highest standards. Peter Lamond, a field biologist for Rentokil Initial, points out that even with excellent hygiene standards, there are still potential problems restaurateurs face in controlling pests. “My job is harder if you’re somewhere where you’re surrounded by other food premises,” he explains. “Your place might be spotless, but if the place downstairs isn’t, cockroaches will come up anyway. Free-standing premises are much safer.”
The good news is that pest control can be easily fixed if basic hygiene standards and preventative measures are followed. “Good hygiene and proofing will prevent all cockroach problems,” he says. “It has been proven categorically that you can’t fix a pre-existing cockroach problem in a dirty kitchen without chemicals—but sealing cracks in floor tiles and in the kitchen can save you thousands of dollars in long-term pest control.”
According to Lamond, an average restaurant should have a monthly service. Some people will offer a quarterly service with a warranty, which will be cheaper, but usually those offering the cheapest price won’t spend the time necessary to do a proper job.
“Also, an after-hours service costs more—but if you’re offering a service during normal operating hours, that limits your access. Ideally, all work should be done after hours, but if that’s not possible it has to be done at the most suitable time during the day, which is usually very early in the morning when there’s few staff there.
“Most pest controllers use the same preparations now,” he adds. “So there’s no excuse for cockroach activity. We have the means. If we did it for free, there wouldn’t be a single cockroach left in the whole of Australia.
He says the price you’ll be paying for a pest control program depends on the size of the premises, but it should be around $200 to $300 an hour for a service. “Most restaurants you could probably do in an hour, so that would be between $3000 and $5000 a year for an average restaurant,” he says, but adds that figure fluctuates wildly.
How do you pick a good service?
First step in any pest inspection is an inspection of the total site. The inspector will look at the whole premises from front to back, in the roof and the sub-floor. He or she should be carrying a torch for the inspection—the absence of a torch will indicate they’re not looking everywhere for evidence of infestation.
The next step is filing a report on what has been found, including identification of pest species. Following that, the inspector will supply an assessment. “So if you’ve got a few black ants in the loading area, no reputable inspector will say you have to fix it,” says Lamond. “We then suggest around 12 visits a year.
“Before the first treatment happens, you want to clean the premises thoroughly. With some restaurants, you’ll go in there and find dirty dishes piled up from the night before, which is just giving cockroaches food for the whole night, and when you ask them about it they say, ‘Oh, the day shift does the plates’. Food has to be put away or covered over. When the technician arrives for the appointment, he walks in with a torch, some cockroach gel and a hand duster, and does a spot treatment of those areas where there has been activity. People have the mistaken impression that you come in and spray down all the walls, but that doesn’t happen anymore. The application is only to the areas of infestation,” says Lamond.
He says that he can’t emphasise enough how important it is to find the few minutes required regularly to pay attention to hygiene. “I did a catering centre for a major airline a little while ago,” he says. “I did a quarterly report where I noted there were two bananas that had fallen down the back of the freezer. So I put that in the report. When I came back for the next report, there were two black bananas down the back of the fridge. The next time I came back there were two green bananas down there. When I pointed out to the guy that we should have a birthday celebration for the bananas, because they’d been there nearly a year he said that he’d been meaning to do something about that.”
Traditionally, the seasons have determined the kind of treatment Lamond is doing at any given time: in winter it would be rodent control, as the rat and mouse problem peaked in the cooler months where they come inside to keep themselves warm. In summer it was cockroaches and ants. He qualifies that statement by saying in the past few years, however, there has been a moderate level of activity all year.
But once again, the single most significant factor in maintaining hygiene was simply thinking about it. “We did some surveys around the inner city area,” says Lamond, “and some of the restaurants there put their plastic bags outside in the alley behind the premises, where rats would come and eat through the bags. The pest activity in the area was high simply because of the laziness of some people.”