It’s that time of year again. Sweaters are brought down from the top shelf. The heavy jackets come out of the closet, and we do whatever we can to keep the cold temperatures at bay. When we’re not bundled up, you can rest assured we’re heading inside where it’s warm and cozy, but so too are all sorts of pests like insects and rodents. Just like us humans, as the winter months grow colder, many pests seek refuge wherever they can find warmth, food and water, and a good spot to rest for the winter. Often, this could mean they head into your restaurant.
While many types of pests and rodents search for warmer ground in the winter months, you should be on the lookout for two types in particular. The first are those looking to hibernate, or rest, in your restaurant throughout the winter — typically ladybugs, wasps and stink bugs. These pests can often sneak in through cracked doors, crevices around eves, space around a utility penetration or even with inventory shipments. The other types of pests to look out for are rodents such as rats or mice. Like humans, communal rodents are warm-blooded creatures, so for many that are not native to the area, their life depends upon keeping their body temperature warm. Mice can enter your restaurant through a hole no bigger than a dime, and rats only need a hole the size of a quarter to enter, but once these rodents are in your restaurant, they have the potential to wreak havoc. As known carriers of diseases like Salmonellosis and Hantavirus, rodents have the ability to cause serious health concerns. Moreover, rodents have been known to chew through electrical wiring, sometimes sparking electrical fires.
While it’s tough to spot a pest issue during the winter months, the time elapsed while these pests are staying warm can introduce new problems; therefore, if you wait until you notice a pest problem, then you have likely waited too long.
Interestingly, the rodents smart enough to come inside and seek refuge are the ones that are smart enough to find a good hiding space. After just a few months of hiding, they’ll be ready to reproduce, which can lead to an all-out infestation. In fact, sightings typically start to occur once the rodent’s offspring begin to run around the restaurant. The same goes for hibernating pests. While there may be no sighting of the pest during the winter, once they wake up from hibernation, rest assured they will be ready to move around extensively in an effort to gather food and water. So, to be sure pests don’t spring on you in the spring, prevention is key.
The first step to preventing pests from using your restaurant facility as their personal cold-weather shelter is to know how they get inside. Here are a few common entry points for pests, as well as some suggestions for keeping them out:
• Front Entrance: One way to cut back on pests entering your restaurant along with your customers is to install an automatic door at all entrances to keep frequently used doors closed when not in use. You may also consider installing air curtains or door sweeps and seals around these doors to prevent pests from squeezing in under the door.
• Landscaping: While lining your building with trees, shrubs and flowers may be aesthetically pleasing, pests are also attracted to these types of landscaping. Pests typically don’t like being out in the open, so if they can enter your building under the cover of shrubbery, you better believe they’ll do it. Try trimming back your landscaping to at least 2 feet from the exterior wall. You might even consider adding a gravel track around the building to further discourage pests and rodents from getting near your building.
• Utility Penetrations/Cracks: Chances are your restaurant likely has at least a couple utility vents either on the sides of your facility or on the roof. These are easy entry points for pests. Inspect these vents and make sure they are covered and have no holes larger than the diameter of a pencil. If you find a breach, repair it using stainless-steel or copper mesh, so rodents cannot gnaw through it.
• Loading Docks: Often when your food shipments arrive, so too do the pests. Consider installing plastic strips on loading dock entryways that remain open for long periods of time, or perhaps even a double-door system to prevent pests from coming in while shipments are unloaded. The other thing to be cognizant of is that sometimes pests can hide on the pallets or cartons that your shipments arrive on or in, so be sure to carefully inspect these containers.
While prevention is your best defense, don’t forget that clever pests can out-do your best efforts. Here are some tips on how to spot a winter-time infestation:
• Droppings: A strong indicator of an infestation is visible droppings. Mouse droppings are about the size of a grain of rice, and rat droppings are the size of a raisin. Insect droppings can be far smaller, but still visible.
• Gnaw marks: Rodents are always gnawing. Since rodents can squeeze through small openings, look for holes that appear to be chewed or gnawed.
• Rub markings: Look for any greasy markings along walls, near the floorboards inside your structure, that indicate a rodent is regularly traveling along the same path. Rodents feel protected when they can crawl along a wall.
• Cast skins: Cockroaches and other insects leave behind their exoskeletons as they mature and molt.
• Live or dead pests: The best evidence is spotting an actual pest. Use glue boards and insect light traps to help monitor for pests.
The key to winterizing your restaurant starts with awareness. With these tips, you are now equipped to work closely with your pest management professional to ensure that your patrons — not pests or rodents — stay warm and cozy this winter.