Pests: Nuisance and danger to health

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, December 06, 2018

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This week we will look at the importance of pest control to food safety. I have a very interesting story about finding a cockroach in my soup at a popular fast food restaurant, but I'll save the storytelling for another article and just go straight ahead and explain why you don't want this happening in your home or food establishment.

Pests are destructive insects or animals that can contaminate food intended for consumption, and damage different structures in your home and food establishment. Pests can also be vectors of a myriad diseases and harmful bacteria that may cause food poisoning, and as a result should have no place in food-manufacturing facilities or food handling areas. These diseases and harmful bacteria may be picked up from human and animal waste, in fields or in sewers, human food and the open environment. This will cause cross-contamination to our food or food contact surfaces. Some pests may pick up and later excrete or transfer pathogens such as salmonella, E.Coli, streptococcus, moulds, yeasts, clostridia and listeria.

What is a pest? There are three main groups that may be encountered in your home or in your food establishment: rodents which include rats and mice; insects, which include cockroaches, beetles, flies; and birds such as pigeons.

While these may exist in small numbers around any home or food establishment, the very nature of these pests will eventually result in proliferation and infestation if precautions are not taken. Given that most of these pests will not be seen during the day while using the food-handling area, you will need to look for signs of infestation such as droppings or egg cases in cupboards, damage to wooden structures or screens or even seeing them running when their hiding places are disturbed.

All food establishments are required by law to have an effective pest control programme in place to control pests of all kinds as this is a critical point of concern and is embedded in the Good Manufacturing and Good Agricultural Practices guidelines. Pest infestation is likely to put your product and business at risk — I know I'm definitely not going back to that place that gave me roach soup — and also pose a significant health risk to those who consume your products. Households with susceptible individuals such as the elderly, pregnant women and babies may also be at risk if you're experiencing pest infestation at home.

Of course, there are ways to prevent introduction and proliferation of pests. Preventative measures include, but are not limited to, keeping all areas in the kitchen clean and sanitised, which means not leaving used dishes/equipment in the kitchen or food establishment overnight, not leaving food and drink on countertops overnight, practising good housekeeping by frequently cleaning all areas/equipment in your home and facility and emptying garbage frequently, and using screens to prevent access to pests. Spills must be cleaned up immediately and all food must be stored in closed containers or packages off the floor. All bins should have lids that must be kept closed at all times. Please make sure you wash your garbage bins periodically. If you operate in a commercial space, avoid piling up of old equipment and packaging material in your facility or on your premises as this can harbour pests. Homeowners, hoarding is a no-no; don't make a home for the pests to breed in your space.

Some things you can periodically look for in your home or food establishment when monitoring for pests are holes in food packaging, bait being taken from pest traps, urine stains on packaging, animal footprints, musty smells and seeing live vermin such as cockroaches or rats run across the floor. Once you sight pests in your home or establishment, check to see if all preventative measures have been taken, if so then contact a pest control operator to remedy the issue. Carry out inspections regularly, especially if you live or operate a food establishment close to a dump site or open field. Check carefully to make sure all doors are properly fitted and screens/walls have no small openings; we know how easy it is for the vermin (rodent or cockroaches) to squeeze through tiny holes. I once read somewhere that a mouse can squeeze through a space the width of a pencil! You can also check pipe work and cable installation to see if there are any gaps around them where they enter the buildings and fill the gaps where they exist.

If you operate a food establishment and you've identified a vermin infestation it is recommended that you immediately close the business until you have eradicated them from your food storage, preparation and service areas. Pest control activities must be carried out by a licenced pest control operator which will survey the premises and carry out necessary treatments. All areas/equipment that may have been contaminated by pests must be thoroughly cleaned and all stock contaminated by pests must be removed and disposed of.

For the food establishment I've included some tips below adopted from the Global Food Safety Resource:

1 Monitoring: regular visual checks of all trap stations.

2 Identification: knowing the habits and biology of pests (breeding cycles, what they prefer as a food source, etc)

3 Inspection & Facility Maintenance: conducting regularly scheduled and thorough inspections. Also making sure there are no cracks in building walls or around man-doors where pests can enter. Making sure doors close quickly and stay closed.

4 Sanitation: maintaining a clean environment that makes it difficult for pests to thrive (no garbage, food residue, minimal odours, etc).

5 Documentation: maintaining accurate and detailed service records (eg, rodent activity logs, insect light traps, glue boards, inspection reports, etc) to assist in continuous improvement of the overall programme.

6 Communication: keeping lines of communication open between service technicians and facility management so potential problems can be anticipated and remedied as they arise.

Marshalee Valentine

CEO-Quality, Food Safety & Environmental Management Systems Consultant

Vally Consulting

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