Pests can be the root cause of a host of problems in the workplace, with many establishments struggling to control a number of different pests all year round. All workplaces are at risk of a pest infestation, but environments, where food is prepared, stored or sold, are particularly susceptible to infestations and can face serious problems if these issues aren’t dealt with.
Although the majority of pests may be harmless on their own, there are a number that can pose a significant health risk. For those who work in a workplace involving food preparation and consumption, it’s very important to be aware of the signs of pest infestation so that you can react accordingly to prevent any significant health risks from impacting either your customer base, yourselves or other employees.
Following the necessary precautions to prevent the likelihood of pest infestation is highly important in the workplace, especially if you work in a food establishment. Failure to do so may breach food safety legislation, which states that food business operators must follow guidelines to prevent any food pests from contaminating food storage and preparation areas.
In this article, we explain exactly what pest infestation is, the different types of pest infestation, the signs you need to be aware of, and how you should react and prevent a pest infestation in your place of work.
A pest infestation is when a species that is considered a ‘pest’ infiltrates a location or area, whether individually or in a group. This can place those in the affected environment, and the environment itself, at increased risk of health-related problems or damage.
A pest infestation is considered to be one of the worst signs of a risk of dangerous diseases. So, for those who face a pest infestation in the workplace, it places the entire workforce and customers who frequent the establishment at a heightened risk of becoming ill.
Each different type of pest has different signs that indicate they are in or are inhabiting a particular area. Whether it be cockroaches, rodents or birds, each pest indicates its presence differently.
Being able to identify the signs of pest infestation is highly important to prioritise the health and well-being of employees and customers in your establishment. Below are some of the most common ways that you can tell if a pest is present in your workplace.
Droppings are an obvious sign that a pest may be living or roaming in your area of work. It can be more difficult to identify the droppings of certain pests than others, so this is a sign that tends to be mainly associated with rodents because of the size of their waste.
If you’re facing an insect infestation, it may take you much longer to identify droppings, which may mean the infestation has already grown when you do identify them. However, if a workplace is regularly and thoroughly cleaned, you should be able to notice them quickly.
Footprints are another obvious sign of the presence of pests in a location. A series of footprints is a definitive indication that an area has been infiltrated by pests, such as mice and rats. If many pests have been tracking in and out of an area, you may find less defined indications of footprints that resemble more of a smear.
In some cases, despite this being a negative indication that your workplace does have a pest infestation, a track may be useful in helping you identify where the source of the pests may be coming from. You may find that pests can access your work area from a specific location, which could be easily blocked to avoid future visitors and infestations.
Further signs of pest infestation include damage to items or areas that are accessible or reachable to the pest. Typical damages inflicted by larger pests may include chewed furniture or loose items, including wiring, or wooden materials.
Other physical damage caused by pests includes pests getting into food storage areas and working their way into food containers and packaging, which can lead to increased wasted food and thus increased expenditure for a business.
Finding evidence of a nest created by pests is another typical indication of an infestation. Depending on the type of pest that has created the nest, the evidence will vary.
Things like wasps, bees and ants nests tend to be quite easy to locate and identify, whereas rodent nests are often much harder to identify, as they tend to be found in ceiling voids and beneath or behind cluttered storage areas and shelves.
A foul or unpleasant smell in areas acts as a good indication that an area has been infested with pests. With pests such as rodents, they are often accompanied by an ammonia scent, which is likened to urine, and cockroaches are best known for emitting a greasy or oily smell.
There are several different types of pests that can infest your workplace. Here are some of the most common types of infestation that you may encounter.
Known to move in large groups, ants are a nasty infestation that can easily become a nuisance in a business environment. They are known to travel searching for food and will often centralise themselves when they find a food source.
The most common signs of an ant infestation include:
One of the most common forms of pests that we see regularly, flies can quickly become a deep-rooted annoyance in businesses as they breed at a rapid rate - laying up to 150 eggs at any one time.
The most common signs of a fly infestation include:
Cockroaches are one of the most feared insect infestations around, known for their strong scent and distinct hissing noise. They are characterised by their flat oval brown or black bodies, and long, thin antennae.
The usual telltale signs of a cockroach infestation include:
One of the most feared and dangerous rodents known for carrying diseases are rats and mice. Despite being common household pets, they are also common pests and infestations can place people at increased risk of illness and disease.
The usual signs of a rat or mouse infestation include:
Pigeons are a lesser-known but equally dangerous pest that can infest businesses, particularly food establishments. Signs of a pigeon infestation may include:
The first thing you should do if you see signs of a pest infestation is to call a pest control professional. A certified pest contractor specialises in the safe removal of pests from your premises, minimising further damages and preventing any negative repercussions linked to the infestation from occurring in the future. You can find certified pest contractors in your local area either on the internet, through social media or in your local area telephone directory.
The ‘Food Safety Act’ (1990) is a crucial piece of legislation which holds food establishments and catering businesses responsible for keeping their products safe for consumption, meaning that business owners are legally obliged to find pest control services to deal with infestations that would pose a risk to safety.
Despite being an inconvenient occurrence and posing a significant risk to individual health and wellbeing, pest infestations are highly treatable.
There is always a pest control solution for the different types of pests that often infiltrate a workplace environment. But the sooner you find the infestation, the lower the likelihood of damage and thus lower the chance of harming those that have been in the environment with the pests. This is why it is important to be able to identify the signs of pest infestation anywhere at any given time.
How do I prevent a pest infestation?
Not only should immediate action be taken in the event of a pest infestation, but it is also important to put preventative methods in place to ensure the likelihood of having a pest infestation in the workplace.
Ways in which you can prevent pest infestation from occurring include:
By making yourself aware of the signs of different types of pest infestation, you can be sure that you can identify and therefore react to any infestations accordingly with quick effect.
Moisture is a form of nourishment for pests who often can go for long periods without feeding. Making sure that no water or excess moisture is in areas such as sinks or work surfaces will minimise the attraction of pests to workplace areas.
Regularly cleaning areas in a workplace prevents pests which tend to gravitate towards areas with excess food waste such as crumbs. Ensuring food or drink is stored in containers and in areas out of reach from pests and removing rubbish regularly from your premises will help minimise their attraction to workplace areas.
Often, pests can gain direct access to your premises through entry points that have not been sealed or secured. By ensuring that any potential entry gaps are sealed and doors and windows remain shut, you can minimise the likelihood of larger pests getting into an area.
For smaller pests like insects that can get in through fine cracks in floors and walls, ensuring that any cracks are filled or fixed is necessary to prevent insect infestation.
By conducting regular inspections to look for any signs of a pest infestation, you can react before the infestation worsens or gets out of control. We recommend that you carry out pest inspections at least once a year, and would encourage you to do this more regularly.
Pest infestations are a food safety hazard, so handling a pest infestation quickly is important to ensure food safety in a business. When pests can gain access to food stores or areas of food preparation they can contaminate ingredients and products, which can present a huge health and safety risk to businesses specialising in catering or food retail.
In some cases, pests can get inside food packing, leading to contamination and rendering the contents of the packaging inedible.
The presence of a pest can also increase the risk of negative health implications for those who come into contact with contaminated areas. Pests are commonly known to spread diseases through their fur, droppings, saliva, urine and feet. Common bacteria carried by these pests that are harmful to humans include E.coli and Salmonella, which can cause illness and occasionally life-threatening complications.
This not only places a business's customers at risk but also can have negative repercussions for the business's reputation, which is why you should be able to identify pest infestation early on, act accordingly to remove the infestation and implement preventative methods so that future infestations don’t occur.
Being aware of different types of pests and signs of their infestation is important for the health and safety of your customers. By ensuring you are taking the necessary preventative measures, you can ensure that you minimise the likelihood of having a pest infestation and can react to an infestation early on to avoid any long-term impact.
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.