It might make your skin crawl to think about, but pests in food preparation or serving environments is a problem that can quickly become out of control. Whilst legislation and strict hygiene guidance mean that the majority of businesses rarely have issues with pests, infestations are still something that you need to keep an eye out for and implement preventative measures to keep under control.
Pest control is done by qualified professionals who have experience dealing with all kinds of pests and know the best methods to effectively remove them. In this article, we explain the three main types of pest control methods, along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Pest control is a process used in hygiene management that looks to manage the existence and presence of different types of pests to minimise their impact on the environment they inhabit. Whilst many pests pose a risk to human health when they are present in places such as homes and retail or food preparation environments, it is also important to consider their place in wider food chains and habitats, which is why some pest populations are ‘controlled’ instead of just eliminated.
Pest control technicians are professionals that are tasked with finding and implementing the best solutions for removing or controlling pest populations to make a range of environments safe. Because of the potential harm that the improper use of pest control methods can cause, the professional is regulated by best practice codes and the equipment or products needed for pest control are only available to those with appropriate qualifications and experience.
There are a variety of pieces of legislation connected with pest control that impacts what needs to be done and the appropriate ways to go about dealing with infestations of different kinds of pests. One of the most important of these is the ‘The Prevention of Damage by Pest Act’ (1949) which gives authorities the right to inspect any premises and requires property owners to keep their buildings free of pests.
‘The Food Safety Act’ (1990) is another key piece of legislation that holds food and catering businesses accountable for ensuring that the products they sell and serve are safe to consume. Under this law, business owners are required to source appropriate pest control forces to deal with infestations that pose a risk to food safety.
Finally, ‘The Public Health Act’ (1961) gives local authorities the power to issue a notice for immediate action to be taken if a premise is considered to be infested with vermin.
There are a wide variety of different types of pest that require official pest control measures, but all of these can be roughly divided into the following three categories.
Insect infestations are perhaps the most common pest control issues in both domestic and commercial premises, especially as most species are so small that it takes a while to notice when a serious infestation has taken place. Common insect pests include ants, cockroaches, bedbugs, fleas, and wasps or bees.
Rodents tend to be what people first think of when it comes to pests. Whilst rats are one of the most common pests, mice are also a problem that pest control is sometimes called out to deal with, especially in food or catering businesses.
Birds and other kinds of animals are the least common pests, but can still cause issues and pose a threat to the health and safety of a business and its customers. Pigeons and seagulls are common bird pests, whilst creatures like foxes and squirrels can also cause serious problems in large numbers.
Pest control services use a variety of approaches to deal with infestations, but these can be sorted into three main types of pest management, which we will explain in detail below.
Physical pest control involves the trapping and killing or removal of pests to remove them from an environment. It may also involve putting up physical barriers and ‘pest proofing’ premises to stop pests from returning or entering in the first place.
Common examples of physical pest control include removing or destroying nests, blocking holes, windows or doorways, temperature control methods to kill pests, or setting traps to catch pests and then remove them from the area. In farming, methods such as field burning and trap cropping are also common physical control methods.
Chemical pest control methods are the most widely used approach to pest control. They are also commonly used to control weed infestations and diseases in crops.
Pesticides are the name used to describe chemical pest control substances, which usually poison and kill the pest that consumes or is exposed to them. These may be used in combination with physical traps or just be left out in places where pests are known to be. Only qualified pest control technicians can and should have access to chemical pesticides, as these substances are toxic and can be incredibly harmful if ingested by a human.
Another chemical pest control method is ultra-low volume (ULV) fogging, which is used to combat insect infestations and spreads small amounts of insecticide. On the opposite end of the scale, fumigation is an extreme chemical pest control method that involves sealing a building and filling it with pesticide to annihilate any pest on the premises.
The last of the 3 methods of pest control is biological methods which is one of the oldest forms of pest management. This consists of using other natural organisms to reduce or remove a species of pest, which usually involves introducing their natural predator to the same environment to manage the pest population. It’s not commonly used as a method of dealing with pests in a health and safety context, but may be used to control larger populations of pests which could pose a risk to those who live in the same area.
Natural predators are one form of biological pest control method, but another that tends to be used on plants is the introduction of microorganisms that protect their host species by deterring any pests.
The frequency that pest control will need to take place depends on the kind of infestation. For example, if you have a one-off problem with pests then pest control measures will probably only be needed a handful of times in a short period at most, whilst seasonal infestations will need regular pest control to manage. Regular pest control may also be needed if initial measures aren’t successful and the pests come back, which may require a different approach.
When it comes to hygiene both in retail or hospitality businesses or at home, the best way to deter pests is to ensure that food is kept in sealed containers in locations that aren’t easily accessible to any kinds of pests. It’s often the scent of food products that attract pests in the first place, so it’s important to make sure that everything is sealed away so that no smells escape.
You can also deter rodents in particular by blocking any holes into the building with a material that is resistant to gnawing, as well as fitting pest screens over any doors and windows that are regularly left open.
Chemical pest controls and poisons may be an effective method of pest control, but they are also the worst method when it comes to environmental impact. Whilst physical pest control can take longer to effectively complete, it doesn’t have a lasting impact on the environment where it takes place and also doesn’t pose a threat to any other living creature, which chemical pest control methods can do.
The majority of food and catering businesses should never have to deal with serious pest problems, particularly if you ensure that you’re following appropriate health and safety guidelines to keep your premises as clean as possible. But if you do develop a problem with pests, acting quickly and working with a qualified pest control technician is the best way to deal with the problem effectively by using one of the methods mentioned above.
If you’d like to learn more about pest control and its importance in food health and safety, this topic is covered in all of our Level 3 Food Safety and Hygiene courses for Supervisors, Manufacturing, Retail and Catering.