Pest control in a food business

Trading Standards Institute - General Information


This information is for all food businesses involved in catering, food retail, food production and food preparation, whether working at business premises or from home.

The pest problem
Pest problems cost you money by contaminating your food, causing damage to your building, furniture and furnishings, as well as causing disease. If your customers know you have pest problems then the reputation of your business will suffer and you may lose trade. You need to do all you can to prevent pests getting into your building.

By law, as a food business, you must be able to show that you have done everything you could to prevent pests getting into food storage and preparation areas. 

Pests can contaminate your food with dead bodies, nesting material, droppings and can cause bacterial contamination.

Rats and mice can be a serious health risk and can also do a lot of damage to premises by damaging structure and equipment.  Rats and mice carry fleas, mites and ticks as well as bacteria and viruses that can kill, including Salmonella, E. Coli, and Cryptosporidium, and they can cause tuberculosis. 

Rat urine can contaminate food and food packaging, which can cause leptospirosis (also known as Weil's disease). This may cause a range of symptoms from mild flu to jaundice and kidney failure and, in serious cases, can sometimes kill.

Cockroaches carry food poisoning organisms on their bodies and will eat almost anything, including faeces (such as animal droppings). 

They can spread diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and polio. 

They like warm, damp conditions and they don't like light so they are most active when it's dark.  Large numbers of cockroaches produce a musty, almond smell. 

Birds can carry bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Contamination can occur when they feed or from their droppings. 

Mites carried by birds or downy feathers from their wings can contaminate food products.

Nesting birds can damage the structure of buildings.  Larger food stores or warehouses can also have problems with nesting materials contaminating food and food containers.

A fly causes contamination when it lands on food, equipment, or a work surface.  Flies carry diseases, spread bacteria such as salmonella, typhoid and cholera, and parasitic worms. These are carried on their body hairs, the pads on their feet and in their faeces.  They can also contaminate through their saliva when feeding.

Stored product insects
Stored product insects (SPI) include pests that, even though they are not seen as a major source of food poisoning, can ruin or contaminate food.  These insects should be controlled as you would any other pests.

SPI include silverfish, beetles, flour weevils and moths.

Wasps fly a long way to find what they need, so it may be hard to find the nest or stop the problem.  They carry bacteria on their legs which can contaminate food when they touch it. Wasps can also be a physical hazard (problem) in any food production business, particularly in bakeries, fruit processing factories, at outdoor food areas or areas with open or uncovered food.

Common garden ants are mostly a nuisance as they can get into and contaminate food rather than carry diseases. 

However, the pharaoh ant carries diseases.  Pharaoh ants are usually linked to central-heating systems as they need a temperature between 18°C to 30°C to breed.  They can spread through buildings in ducts to food production and sterile areas and have caused problems in some hospitals.

Domestic pets
Bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, have been contracted from dogs and other pets.

You should keep dogs, cats, birds and all other domestic pets out of your food production area.

You should wash your hands after you touch pets and before you handle food.

You should label pet food and keep it away from other food that is to be eaten by you and your customers.

Take action
You should try to prevent pests from getting into your building instead of waiting for pests to get in before you take action. It is more effective and you will probably save money if you do this.

  • controlling pests starts outside the building
  • what are pests looking for? 
  • what attracts pests to your premises? 
  • by removing the things that attract them, you can stop most pests coming to your building
  • as the 'business operator', you are responsible for any problems and you must check your premises regularly for signs of pests (the business operator is often the business owner)

Pest controllers and contractors
Arranging a pest control contract is always a good idea.  Pest control contractors offer a range of services:

  • they may specialise in protecting food premises
  • they may offer service contracts for flying insect killers (insectocutors)
  • they may provide an efficient emergency call-out service

A good pest control provider will tell you about potential problems and check and report results.  Pest control is not just about putting poisons down (bait) but, if you need to do that, you should leave handling poisons to a professional. Most bait from domestic retailers is not suitable for food businesses and could cause food contamination if not handled properly.

The building
The building, layout and design of your food premises should help prevent contamination by pests. You should have as few areas as possible that aren't used.

Pests can get into a building at any level, through a broken drain, an open door or window and through gaps in the eaves of the roof. 

Parts of your building, such as cupboards under stairs, holes in ceilings and behind wall cladding, are places where pests are more likely to live. You should check these areas regularly. 

You should fit a brush or rubber strip to any gaps at the bottom of doors. You should also seal other gaps where pipes or cables pass through walls or on suspended ceilings so that pests cannot get in. If you need to leave a window or door open for ventilation, you should fit a fly screen to keep pests out.

Looking after your building
You should keep your building in a clean and tidy condition.

You should fix dripping taps.

You should keep any unused equipment and materials such as stored wood, metal, masonry, garden waste away from the building as pests might be attracted to them.  It is also easier for you to clean the building and surrounding areas if there is no debris around. 

If you keep to a well-designed cleaning schedule you will make sure that walls, floors, doors, windows and ceilings are all cleaned regularly.  A cleaning schedule will also make sure your equipment is kept clean, inside and out.  You should move fridges, freezers, ovens and so on so you can clean them underneath and behind.

By keeping to a 'clean as you go' policy, you will make sure you clean up any food waste or liquid spills immediately.

In store rooms, you should keep food in pest-proof containers off the floor (150 millimetres off the floor is recommended) and away from the wall.  This means you can get to food easily which will help you with stock rotation and to spot any damage done by pests to food packaging.

Waste management
You should keep your waste bins away from the outside wall of your building.  You should always have enough storage space to put all waste under a closed fitted lid.

Rats and mice can easily get into a bin bag, so you should never leave bags to the side of, behind, or in front of a waste bin.

You shouldn't store any waste inside your building and you should put any bins outside as soon as possible.

Staff should be aware of the signs of pest activity.

If any of your staff see a rat or mouse, droppings, or greasy smear marks along the bottom of walls, shelves or other surfaces, they should report it to you immediately.

Packets of food and packaging materials may get gnawed or damaged.  Any marks or damage to the structure of the premises should also be reported.

If there is a pest problem
If you find a problem, you should contact a pest-control contractor straightaway so they can deal with it.

You should stop preparing food until:

  • the problem has been dealt with
  • all food that may have been contaminated has been got rid of
  • all equipment, food storage, preparation and service areas have been effectively cleaned and disinfected

This information is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is only intended for guidance.