Quality Assurance Article: “Cockroach FAQs”

Cockroach FAQ’s

Patricia Hottel, technical director at McCloud Services, recently contributed to an article in the June issue of Quality Assurance magazine. Hottel shared her expertise in detecting and eliminating cockroaches – before they become an issue in food plants.


CockroachIn January, a poultry producer was ordered to suspend operations because of cockroaches in the plant. Whether or not the plant knew it had cockroaches is not known, but because of cockroach habits and behavior, it can be very easy for an infestation to build before you even know they are in your facility.

To assist food manufacturers in detecting and eliminating cockroaches—before they become an issue, we asked some cockroach control experts to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about cockroaches and their control in and around food and beverage processing plants.

The following answers were provided by BASF Pest Control Solutions Market Development Specialist Bob Hickman, Bayer Environmental Science Technical Service Lead Joe Barile, In-Quiz-It Software Technical Director Bruce Achterman, McCloud Services Technical Director Patricia Hottel, Rentokil North America Entomologist Nancy Troyano, Rockwell Labs CEO Cisse Spragins, and Syngenta Professional Pest Management Senior Technical Representative ElRay Roper.

About Cockroaches

I’ve never seen a cockroach in my plant. Does that mean I don’t have them?

Just because you haven’t seen cockroaches doesn’t mean you don’t have them. Cockroaches are cryptic and primarily nocturnal insects. They prefer to be in the dark, so when they do come out of hiding, it is often when no one is present and there is little to no light. They generally only come out into the light if they have to, for example, to get food or due to overpopulation. Thus, cockroach sightings that occur when people are present, during the day, or under lit conditions may indicate the presence of a severe infestation. A thorough inspection by a pest management professional using proper inspection tools can help determine if you have a cockroach infestation, and identify conditions that may contribute to an infestation’s development.

How do cockroaches get in?

There are several ways that cockroaches can gain access to a building. Most commonly, they are brought into buildings on product and/or supply shipments. German cockroaches are effective “hitchhikers” and may hide in the incoming supplies, packing materials, cardboard boxes, pallets, etc. All incoming materials should be routinely inspected for a potential pest infestation. Employees also may carry cockroaches to work with them on their personal belongings.

Some cockroaches will travel between and enter buildings through drain/sewer pipes, underground utility lines, and steam tunnels. The sewers and floor drains can provide a never-ending route for cockroaches to enter the building unless the sewer connection is addressed.

Additionally, large cockroaches, such as American, Oriental, brown and Turkestan species, can survive outdoors in southern regions. Conducive conditions around plants need to be evaluated and monitored to eliminate or reduce potential harborage. Physical exclusion is a key management process to keep these species out of the facility.

Where do cockroaches generally live within the plant?

Once inside a building, cockroaches tend to live in cracks and crevices where they can feel the floor, ceiling, or walls with their antennae. They require habitats that are warm (generally 70+° F), humid, and dark with little air movement. Populations tend to imbed themselves in voids and spaces that have these conditions but are close to food and water sources. Cockroaches can be adaptive to plant operation schedules and are usually active when the site is offline and quiet. Any environment in the facility that offers cockroach survival resources (food, water, shelter) are susceptible to infestation.

Food can be in the form of residues on processing equipment or floors, or even light organic build-up around equipment legs and in cracks—it doesn’t take much. Moisture can be in the form of humidity. For example, the inside of equipment chassis, areas near the compressors of refrigerators, and around sinks can provide warmth and harborage. In addition to the actual plant/factory space, cockroaches will harbor in employee areas such as locker rooms, break rooms, lounges, cafeterias, and office space. Surinam cockroaches have even been found in lobby planters.

So if cockroaches tend to stay in hiding, what risk do they pose to my plant/product?

Although cockroaches may be found in floor drains, sewers, and cracks and crevices, that does not mean they stay in those hiding places. They will exit to forage and seek other harborage sites.

Cockroaches are public health pests. Associated with foodborne illnesses, they have been documented as physically carrying food contaminants and organisms of disease on their bodies and contaminating product and preparation surfaces. They are known carriers of many food contamination bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter.

Cockroaches often harbor in spaces and voids where normal cleaning and sanitizing methods do not reach. In these spaces, they live in accumulating fecal material, mold, and decaying organic debris, and feed on rodent and bird droppings and animal carcasses, from which they will pick up the bacteria on their legs and bodies, and spread these disease-causing agents to food and other surfaces.

Cockroaches also defecate along their travel paths and frequently expel saliva on surfaces to “taste” their environment. In addition to bacterial contamination, their droppings and bodily secretions can stain and leave a foul odor that can permeate packaging. Cast skins and egg cases also are potential product contaminants.

Additionally, cockroach droppings and shed skins contain allergens, and heavy cockroach populations can trigger asthma attacks in susceptible individuals. These also can be carried on air currents into sensitive areas. While the food industry needs to be especially aware of the risk from cockroaches to stored food products, it is also important to know that cockroaches can damage all types of materials including leather, books, and pictures. A cockroach infestation can damage a business’ reputation and goods, and the financial loss can be considerable.

What signs should I look for to know if I have cockroaches?

Some signs of cockroaches may include:

  • Sightings of cockroach adults and smaller nymphal forms.
  • Body parts such as legs, antennae, etc.
  • Egg casings and cast skins from cockroach molting.
  • Small, dark fecal spots on surfaces which may indicate areas of activity or entrances to hidden harborages. The sputum and droppings may be more concentrated in some areas than others, since roaches tend to congregate.

What species are most likely to infest my facility? What is the difference?

The cockroach species that infest a food processing facility can vary by geographic location, but the most common are:

  • The German cockroach (Blatella germanica) is the most common and serious food facility roach. The adult is about ½ inch long and is light brown in color with two dark brown stripes behind its head. This cockroach favors warm, moist areas that are close to food and water. Populations can build rapidly, and the cockroaches can spread through the plant. German cockroaches can infest the production floor, production equipment, storage areas, transport, employee areas and office/administrative spaces. This cockroach has the shortest life cycle—growing from egg to full sexual maturity in 123 days, so it can quickly infest a facility if not dealt with swiftly. Additionally, the egg capsule that a female lays contains about 40 eggs, and she can produce up to eight capsules in her lifetime, which can lead to a population explosion in a short period of time.
  • The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is the next most common food plant-infesting cockroach. At about two inches long, it is the largest cockroach encountered indoors. It is reddish-brown with pale yellow bands around the shield behind its head. American cockroaches require very warm, humid environments (80+°F and greater than 90% humidity). They are most commonly found in service areas of the plant including basements/sub-basements, steam tunnels, sewer and wastewater lines, drains, and boiler rooms. American cockroaches generally don’t infest the production floor unless conditions in a specific area or equipment will support them.
  • The Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis), often referred to as a water bug, is intermediate in size between the German and American cockroach. The adult is about 1 ¼ inches long with a glossy, dark brown or black body. The Oriental cockroach is more cold-tolerant, preferring cool, dark, and damp places to live.
  • Invading outdoor species include: the brown, smokybrown, Turkestan, and native wood cockroaches. Each species has specific pest impact/potential, behaviors and biology. The plant’s pest management professional will be able to identify the species of cockroach causing the problem(s).

Prevention and Control

What should I do if I see a cockroach, or any signs of them?

American_CockroachIf you see cockroaches or their signs:

  • Make a note of the location and contact a pest management professional to schedule an inspection as soon as possible. If you find cockroach body parts, egg casings, and/or cast skins, note the location and collect them in a sealed clear plastic bag as evidence for the technician conducting the inspection.
  • It is critical that exclusion efforts be conducted to prevent more cockroaches from coming in. For American cockroaches, take steps to close up the sewer highway by capping drains which are not required for water management. For active drains, place baskets or inserts made of screened material to help prevent entry by the larger stages of the American cockroach. Baits and dusts also can be used in sewers and drains with an appropriately labeled product.
  • Inspect, clean, and eliminate any possible harborage areas, and correct moisture leaks or damp areas. Biological cleaning products based on beneficial microbes can remove organic residues that can provide a food source.

What can I do to prevent cockroach infestations?

Every plant should have regular inspections by a pest management professional to identify conditions conducive to cockroaches, and to incorporate control measures if needed. Additionally, to help prevent infestations in your facility:

  • Conduct thorough general sanitation practices on a regular basis.
  • Clean working surfaces that are likely to have food residues (oils, starches, sweets, small particulate food debris, etc.) daily or as often as scheduling will allow.
  • Empty indoor garbage containers daily, and position outdoor garbage collection containers (i.e., dumpsters) away from the facility to prevent easy access of cockroaches or other pests into the facility. Dumpsters should be emptied at least weekly and more frequently during warmer months.
  • Store food and other supplies that can be food for cockroaches inside sealed containers and in designated storage areas off the floor. If possible, remove items from cardboard boxes before storage and discard the cardboard.
  • Clean up product spills promptly, repair leaky hoses and pipes, fix other water leaks.
  • Clean drains and drain openings regularly and use covers designed to trap debris flowing into them. Seal cracks and crevices with an approved caulk, and fill suspected cockroach harborage voids with expandable foam to help reduce or prevent infestations.
  • Rotate any stacked items (plastic trays, containers, etc.) to avoid cockroaches having undisturbed, easily accessible harborages.
  • Maintain clean floors and keep equipment on legs or casters for easy moving, cleaning, and inspection.
  • Have a good inspection program for incoming goods—including all types of shipments. This is essential in reducing the risk of bringing in cockroaches on shipments. Consider having the supplier change packaging to less susceptible packaging such as plastic.
  • Educate employees on their roles in preventing introduction of cockroaches and reporting sightings. Have a designated area for employee storage of lunches and other belongings to help reduce the impact of cockroaches being brought into the facility from homes.
  • Prevent problems by minimizing food, moisture, and harborage resources; eliminating clutter; using biological cleaners; correcting moisture problems; and improving sanitation.
  • Inspect equipment and building design to determine if there are places that are not easily accessed and cleaned. If so, equipment should be modified or better-designed equipment purchased. Building issues should be repaired, e.g., seal cracks in floor, determine if drain design enables thorough cleaning, etc.
  • Determine how cockroaches are gaining access and eliminate these: caulk all open access points, close doors, fix screens and close windows without screens, use air doors to help stop pest activity.

What options do I have for cockroach elimination and control?

An integrated pest management (IPM) program by in-house personnel or a contracted pest management professional should be planned and built to the specific requirements and operations of the facility. An integrated program includes constant inspection, monitoring, and diagnostics that address conducive conditions (both physical and operational). Evaluation of operations, sanitation, and physical plant conditions and regular, recorded inspections also are part of the routine program.

Once preventive and exclusion practices (in answer #8) are in place, the IPM program for cockroaches should involve accurate identification of the cockroach species and a thorough inspection to identify all possible sites of infestation.

If chemical treatment is needed, targeted insecticide applications/bait placements into cockroach harborage sites can be made according to label directions where permitted to eliminate infestations and/or protect critical areas. Baits work well for cockroach control and there are a number of products from which to choose, including different active ingredients and formulations to attract specific pest species.

Follow up includes regular inspection and monitoring, along with continuation of all preventive and exclusion practices to protect against future infestations. Glueboard monitors, ideally placed inside protective plastic stations, should be used continuously and inspected regularly, with results documented. This pest activity data should then be used to determine activity cycles (trends), sources, and potential access points.

All stakeholders need to be part of any cockroach management program and included in all communication regarding pest activity and responses. The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.

See this Article on QA's Website