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Cockroaches, Rodents, Flies in a Restaurant, Market, Deli etc. Is There a Minimum Allowable Number?

Aug 21, 2008
All food establishments and facilities (restaurants, delis, cafeterias, bars, grocery stores, meat and seafood markets, wholesale and retail warehouses, mobile carts and trucks etc.) must be maintained and operated so as to prevent the entrance and harborage of vermin. Vermin includes mice, rats, flies, cockroaches and other food-infesting insects. This is state and local health and safety law throughout the U.S. and in most countries, believe it or not. It's the lack of government enforcement and or business practices that is the problem.

Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no acceptable or allowable number or amount of vermin in a food facility. Vermin are strictly illegal in all areas of the establishment, which includes the kitchen, food or equipment storage rooms, restrooms, employee locker and break rooms, customer service and seating areas, trash storage areas and exterior premises. They're illegal not because they are unsightly, but mainly because they are known carriers of numerous dangerous, disease causing microorganisms that can be transmitted to your food, the food contact surfaces etc. potentially causing a serious food poisoning. They also contaminate the food with their hair, fecal droppings, urine, saliva, body parts and general filth. Need I say more?

Vermin in a food facility is a very serious problem and a public health danger, and should be immediately reported to your local Environmental Health Food Inspection Program. A heavy infestation of cockroaches or rodents will sometimes give the establishment a recognizable musty odor. If you detect this odor or any out of the ordinary odor, be wary about patronizing this establishment. A restaurant and any food facility should always smell clean and of fresh food. Anything else could mean something is wrong.

I can not count the number of individuals, including restaurant and market managers and employees, I've come across over the years that believe cockroaches, rats, mice etc. are in every restaurant and food facility, and are as much a part of the establishment as the customers. These people also believe that you can never completely eliminate vermin once they've established themselves. Both of these statements are of course, false.

All types of food facilities, even the newest, nicest, most expensive, elegant restaurant can become infested with vermin. It is fairly common because a restaurant especially, is an ideal environment for cockroaches, rats, mice, flies etc. to thrive. But with good sanitation practices and thorough rodent and insect proofing, extermination and insecticide treatment, one can readily eliminate and prevent infestations. I've not only seen it happen first hand, but as a government inspector ordered food facilities to eliminate a vermin problem countless times.

If a food establishment or facility cannot fully eliminate the vermin, the inspector is duty-bound to either suspend their permit and order them closed and or take legal action and have the local district or city attorney file a criminal misdemeanor complaint against the business and its owner(s). A permit may be suspended immediately, depending on the severity of the infestation. Some jurisdictions may also issue immediate fines or penalties in the form of a ticket or citation.

In many older buildings vermin can be more difficult, but again, certainly not impossible to eliminate. The main reason for this is that there are many more hiding spaces in older buildings that are not easily accessible for cleaning, extermination, etc. There may also be other non-food businesses adjacent to, or in the same building that are doing little or nothing to help eliminate the vermin within their space. Insects, such as cockroaches, can find other things to eat when food or wastes are not available.

So what are the possible solutions to these problems? Here are a few answers:

--A good inspector and or a pest control operator will assist the business in finding those hiding areas that are not so easily accessible and have the business either do what is necessary to make those spaces accessible or have them completely sealed off.
--A good inspector will investigate adjacent food and non-food businesses and issue orders to eliminate the vermin from their space as well, and have the two or more businesses coordinate pest extermination on the same day (vermin are illegal in non-food businesses as well).
--The inspector should point out all the possible ways the vermin can gain entry into the establishment and issue corrective orders to vermin-proof those areas.

When it comes to vermin proofing, newer food facilities have a better likelihood of preventing harborages. Newer facilities must go through a detailed plan-check process prior to opening, where all areas must be designed to prevent and discourage vermin harborage. All ceiling, wall and floor surfaces in certain areas of the facility must meet strict standards.

To learn if your favorite eating and shopping locals have cockroaches, rats, mice, flies or other vermin problems, or any serious health and safety violations, look them up on your local Environmental Health Food Inspection Program's web site, or contact them directly by email of phone to ask how they publish inspection results. You can even request a copy of the facilities latest inspection report. All this information is public record.
About the Author
Mr. Doom has worked as a Environmental Health Specialist for more than 20 years. He has conducted thousands of inspections and educated more than a thousand, food facility owners, managers and employees on food sanitation and safety, and how to prevent food poisoning hazards. To learn more visit http://www.FoodPoisoningPrevention.com.
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