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The Connection Between Pests and Foodborne Illness

The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) tells us that foodborne illness is a major cause of disease in the United States. Each year, more than 48 million Americans are infected with a foodborne illness. Of those who become ill, 128,000 will need to be hospitalized, and foodborne illness will claim about 3,000 lives per year.

70 percent of the foodborne illnesses, and 50 percent of foodborne illness deaths come from two categories of food: produce and meat/poultry. These are two of the most common types of food prepared in homes and restaurants.

Foodborne illness is a disease caused by consuming food or drink contaminated with bacteria, toxins, viruses, prions, or parasites. Food can become contaminated at any point during production, however, unsanitary conditions combined with disease-carrying pests can lead to widespread outbreaks. Insects and rodents are major factors in how bacteria are spread through food and beverage processing facilities, warehouses, restaurants, and homes.

The Four Main Types of Pests

That Spread Foodborne Illness

  1. Rodents

Rodents destroy about 20 percent of the world’s food supply, and are carriers of over 35 diseases. The three primary rodents of concern are the Norway rat, the roof rat, and the house mouse. These rodents are known to urinate and defecate frequently, and if they are left uncontrolled, a large amount of excrement can accumulate quickly. Food contamination then occurs because the bacteria from all of these droppings spreads so easily.

Here are four basic steps needed to control rodent infestations:

  • Eliminate food sources. Start by properly storing food, including food for pets, in sealed containers. Sanitation is also important. Clean up any spilled food, collect refuse, and dispose of it in sealed trash cans that are located outside.
  • Remove clutter to eliminate breeding and nesting places.
  • Rodent proof your structure to prevent them from getting inside. Mice can get through openings the size of a pencil, and rats can get through holes the size of a dime. These openings should all be sealed with solid materials, such as cement, metal, or wire mesh. Many rodent problems are caused by trees and plants that are touching or growing over roofs. These all should be cut back about four feet, with no branches hanging over the house, to prevent rodent access to the roof.
  • Trap and remove any rodents left in the structure. When done properly, trapping is very effective in eliminating rodents. The use of poisons on interiors of structures is not recommended because the rodents may wind up dying inside of walls, etc.
  1. Cockroaches

Cockroaches are known to spread at least 33 types of bacteria and 6 types of parasitic worms. They also carry 7 other kinds of human pathogens, including Salmonella, Vibrio cholerae and Staphylococcus aureus. Roaches can also pick up germs and debris on their legs while they crawl through sewage and debris, which can lead to contamination of food, food surfaces, and equipment.

The basic steps for controlling roaches are:

  • Prevention is key! Roaches are often imported into your house from other locations. That is why bags, boxes, or packages should be carefully checked before you bring them indoors.
  • Roach proof your home by sealing cracks and crevices in kitchens, bathrooms, exterior doors and windows.
  • Sanitation is extremely important. Your goal is to deny roaches of food, water, and shelter.
    • Clean up food particles, spilled beverages, and don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink.
    • Routinely clean under and around stoves, refrigerators, furniture, etc.
    • Don’t leave food and water in pet bowls overnight.
    • Keep trash cans clean and empty them on a regular basis.
  • Treat with pesticides if needed. At this time, desiccant dusts and roach baits are the most effective products for controlling roaches. Liquid and spray products can be used in some instances, but they are usually not as effective. Diatomaceous earth and are low- toxicity dusts that work very well. Most roach baits are low in toxicity, and if the correct type of bait is placed properly, it can yield excellent control.
  1. Flies

The common house fly is known to carry over 100 types of germs that cause disease, such as Salmonella and Listeria. The house fly and its cousin, the filth fly, breed in decaying trash or excrement. Once these flies enter your home or business, they will have ample opportunity to spread disease-causing bacteria and contaminate everything they touch.

You can help to control flies by:

  • Practicing good sanitation and quickly clean up any spilled beverages or food. Place any waste in clean and sealed trash containers. Make a regular habit of taking your trash out. Refuse should be disposed of in sealed trash cans, located away from your house.
  • Check door and window screens to make sure they are in good repair and tightly fitting.
  • Seal openings around doors and windows to keep these pests out. Caulking or weather stripping works very well in most cases.
  1. Stored Product Pests

This group of pests includes flour beetles, mites, moths, and weevils. Many of these pests are brought into homes and restaurants in items that were purchased from a store shelf.

Stored product pests can infest the equipment in food processing plants. Once the equipment is infested, the food will then become contaminated by all of the old body parts and cast skins that the pests leave behind. These pests may also be ground up into the food we eat. Some of the eggs from these pests can survive all of the processing, and that is why you may find them living in your flour, grains, cereals, spices, and other products.

Food infested with these pests is unsuitable for human consumption. If you see food beetles, moths or their larvae in your kitchen, here are some control measures you should take:

  • Prevention is key. Always check food items for signs of food pests before you bring them into your home. Carefully inspect birdseeds and pet foods. Store susceptible foods in tightly sealed containers.
    • Find the source! You’ll often find these pests living in items that have been stored in your pantry for an extended period of time. Place infested items in sealed plastic bags and dispose of them in your outside trash bin.
    • Inspect thoroughly. After you have removed the infested food, carefully check all other items for any signs of activity. These pests often spread from one item to another and if you miss one single infested item, your problems will continue. If you have items that are questionable and you don’t want to throw them out, you may want to place them in your freezer for four days at zero degrees.
    • Vacuum storage areas and use hot soapy water to clean them.
    • Pesticides are not usually needed. If a pesticide is necessary, follow the product label carefully, and avoid contact with any food.


    Need help with any pest problems? Call us at (949) 631-7348 and we’ll be happy to schedule an appointment at your convenience!