Back to Service: Managing Pests During the Pandemic

Media Mention / Retail & Restaurant Facility Business

Pat Hottel, technical director for McCloud, contributes to Retail & Restaurant Facility Business’ article, “Managing pests during the pandemic”

Characterizing the effects of the pandemic on restaurant pests can be difficult due to the varied responses across the industry. Coping with COVID-19 challenges has resulted in varying degrees of business innovation, dependent upon the type of facility and geographic location. Reduced hours to complete shutdowns have been a common practice. Just as businesses have continued to adapt, so have pests. Restaurateurs should continue taking the steps that help limit threats to food safety, as risks are still present.

Pandemic and Pests

Due to shutdowns and reduced hours, pests are more likely to go undetected in facilities.  Although shutdowns did not always mean pest management services were reduced, cutbacks to pest management services can compound the situation. Good COVID-19-appropriate practices to help reduce pests include:

Cleaning and Sanitation

Proper preparation prior to shutdown is essential. Facilities should take proactive steps to leave the restaurant as clean as possible prior to any shutdown, regardless of closing for the night or several days.

Inventory Management

Food inventories, including non-perishable ingredients, must be managed. The longer non-perishable ingredients, like flour, rice and cereals, remain in inventory, the more likely they are to become infested with stored product pests.  Refrigeration can help reduce potential infestation as well. Perishable food products’ shelf life and suitability for long term storage should be made prior to shutting down. Items should be discarded accordingly to prevent pest breeding sites.


Due to closures in response to the pandemic, cities have reported increased rat activity. Although not a universal issue, reduced exterior food sources can lead pests to seek interior sources. It’s important to ensure doors are sealed and tightly in place, as well as exterior openings remaining smaller than a quarter-inch to exclude mice or smaller to exclude insects.

Waste Stream

Managing garbage and wastewater properly can have significant impacts on pests. Water traps placed in drains can help prevent drain-based pests from entering the facility. Even when a restaurant is closed, water traps should be maintained to help reduce these pests. All drains should be cleaned prior to shutdown to reduce potential pests inside drains above the water trap line. There are one-way valve drain inserts that can be installed to help reduce water evaporation and pest movement into the facility. Water can flow down the valve, but pests cannot move up from the drain. Additionally, garbage and recyclables should be removed prior to closing to prevent hospitable pest conditions.

Outdoor Dining

The use of outdoor dining areas has increased due to COVID-19-related precautions and regulations as restaurants return to service. Streets, parking lots and sidewalks are increasingly becoming dining spaces. Special vigilance is needed in removing food from tables in a timely manner to decrease fly, bird and rodent activity. Clients should be discouraged from feeding food scraps to pests like birds. A cleaning plan for paved dining areas should be considered before utilizing the space. Surfaces with numerous cracks are difficult to clean and can encourage pests. For example, the use of gravel lots for outdoor dining spaces would be nearly impossible to clean.

Although not always feasible, the addition of ceiling or pedestal fans to outdoor eating areas can help reduce pests like filth flies and mosquitoes from bothering customers. Trash cans with self-closing lids are recommended to help prevent pests from foraging in the area. Open trash cans will attract a variety of pests from flies to stinging insects like wasps.

Since this may be a new dining area for your facility, ask your pest management professional to inspect the area and to evaluate any conditions conducive to pests. Pest management program additions or adjustments may be needed and additional rodent control equipment and insect control procedures may be advised.

The impact of additional movement by restaurant staff in and out of the building is the last consideration. Doors should never be propped open and any self-closing doors should close in a timely manner. If not, pests may find their way indoors.

Drive-Thru Redesigns

To reduce human-to-human contact, many facilities have reduced the size opening for drive-thru windows. For example, one restaurant, Creator, in San Francisco even devised pressurized chambers for delivering food to guests from their pickup lines. Drive-thru windows have long been a potential source of pest entry.  Windows may not close properly or staff may leave them open longer than necessary.  The reduced sized opening to the exterior can reduce pest access — an unforeseen benefit of reducing people-to-people contact.

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