If grocers aren't following proper pest control protocols, they may be attracting more than customers.
Much has been discussed in terms of grocers enhancing their sanitation measures during the COVID-19 pandemic as customers demanded a safe shopping environment. Associates stepped up cleaning practices of frequently touched areas and throughout stores, while some food retailers used robotic solutions to automatically disinfect surfaces. In fact, many sanitation measures adopted during the height of the pandemic are still in practice today. However, while grocers have been preoccupied with preventing the spread of COVID-19, another big sanitary issue lurking in the corners may have gone overlooked: pests.
The Dangers of Bugging Out
Food retailers need to actively prevent pest infestation to avoid health hazards and reduce product loss, as well as protect their reputations.
From a health perspective, pests can transmit pathogens directly or indirectly. “Direct transmission can occur from blood-feeding insects such as mosquitoes, fleas or ticks,” explains Don Foster, ACE, technical manager at Memphis, Tenn.-based Terminix. “Mosquito populations can develop in stagnant/standing water inside of trash receptacles, potted plants, gutters or storm drains that may support breeding populations on the exterior. Fleas and ticks can be associated with feral dogs and cats, mice, rats, bats, or other wild animals, such as squirrels, raccoons and opossums, that can and do enter grocery stores.”
Foster says that indirect transmission comes from pests contaminating surfaces through physical contact. Flying insects such as flies can transmit pathogens when they land and simply walk on surfaces, or even defecate and/or regurgitate on these high-touch areas. The same goes for crawling insects like cockroaches, beetles and ants.
Insect fragments can also cause allergic reactions in customers shopping at a food retailer. “Both insect and rodent droppings can cause allergic reactions, as well as urine deposits from rodents that have not been properly sanitized,” cautions Foster. “Proteins in these deposits can cause asthma attacks or flu-like symptoms.”
From an economic perspective, John Bell, a board-certified entomologist and technical director for global pest control company Rentokil, says that stored product pests, such as some moths and beetles, can infest food products like grains, dry beans and flour products. “If left unchecked, these pests will continue to seek out additional food, and the amount of ruined product increases, causing economic losses,” Bell notes.
Additionally, a grocer’s brand may suffer, as pests of any kind — from rodents to fruit flies — can easily deflate a customer’s confidence in a food retailer.
“Small cockroaches, such as the German cockroach, reproduce quickly in the right conditions and can cause a social stigma that the store is unclean and deter shoppers, especially if those same cockroaches hitch rides to unknowing patrons’ homes in their grocery bags,” points out Bell.
Don’t forget: It takes one image of a cockroach crawling on store shelves posted to social media to go viral and cause irreparable damage to a food retailer’s image.
A More Proactive and Sustainable Plan of Attack
Incorporating integrated pest management (IPM) methods can be a more effective and environmentally sensitive approach to controlling pests.
The EPA describes IPM programs as using current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment.
Rather than setting mouse traps to eliminate the critters that you can see – and simply hoping that they’ll come in contact with the devices – an IPM provider can go to the root of the problem of why/how they’re entering the store to prevent an infestation from occurring, getting out of control or being reported by a customer.
“IPM uses our knowledge of the pests’ habitats and characteristics to guide us in preventing pest populations before they become infestations through the use of various tools such as prevention, monitoring, and then addressing the issue while it is still small,” Bell explains.
Judy Black, VP of quality assurance and technical services at Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., agrees. “An IPM approach will help to identify introductions before they become infestations, thus making it easier to eliminate those pests,” Black says. “IPM also allows for the use of fewer pesticides, although this is contingent on a partnership between the grocer and the pest management provider.”
Because an IPM approach focuses on the root cause of a pest situation, a grocer may find that it needs to focus on employee practices, sanitation measures or exclusion methods.