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The top 5 food safety risks in supermarkets & grocery stores

Businesses in the food retail sector such as supermarkets and grocery stores face threats from pests from multiple sources. Large stores can stock tens of thousands of food products from multiple sources with complex supply chains, requiring efficient monitoring and control procedures for supplies brought onto the premises.

Food-handling activities range from preparing raw meat and fish, fresh dairy products, freshly-cooked foods, freshly-baked products, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as dealing with packaged goods too. It is important for businesses in the food retail sector of all sizes to maintain sanitation standards and actively prevent pest infestation in order to maintain a high standard of food safety as well as protect both staff, customers and reputation.

The top 5 pests found in supermarkets and grocery stores

The major pests affecting the food retail sector range from rodents such as rats and mice to crawling and flying insects such as flies and cockroaches, each bringing their own unique way to conflict with food safety and other legislative requirements.

1. Rodents

Rats and mice are attracted by food supplies but do not venture far from their shelter or nesting sites, so will nest close to food sources. They are capable of a rapid increase in population given an abundant food supply, shelter from predators and benign environmental conditions inside a building.

The threats from rodents in supermarkets

  • damage to buildings, fixtures, machinery and electrical equipment
  • damage to food containers and packaging;
  • eating food in storage and on display;
  • contamination to food, machinery and equipment with droppings, urine, filth;
  • transmission of diseases, including Salmonellosis, Leptospirosis, Toxoplasmosis, Lyme disease, rat-bite fever;

The common signs of rodents

Rats and mice have distinct signatures which suggest their presence:

  • droppings
  • sightings of live or dead animals
  • squeaks, gnawing sounds, scurrying sounds
  • smudge marks along runs
  • gnawing of building materials, wiring, food and packaging
  • urine stains and pillars

How to control rodents in grocery stores

The control of rodents involves the elimination of harbourage in and around buildings and preventing access to food, water and shelter. There may be many points of entry to a building, such as cracks, vents, pipes, cabling, drains, doorways, windows, screens, where measures can be taken to prevent access.

Any rodents present must be controlled using traps or poison according to acceptable practices and legislation related to food safety. Technology developed by Rentokil for use in zero-tolerance environments such as food and grocery retail companies can capture mice, eliminate them humanely without toxic chemicals, isolate them hygienically and wirelessly communicate with a secure online system to record the capture. The RADAR mouse capture unit and the PestConnect remote monitoring system enable 24/7 remote monitoring of a mouse infestation by the customer and Rentokil’s technicians.

2. Cockroaches

Cockroaches can cause particular problems in businesses that handle food because of their ability to hide in small places, their varied diet, rapid reproduction and the diseases they can carry.

Cockroaches are primarily nocturnal, sheltering in the daytime and coming out at night to find food and other sites for shelter. They can shelter in shelving in food stores, dark places that provide the right temperature and humidity. These places are also hard to reach using normal cleaning and sanitation methods.

The risks from cockroaches in the food retail industry

  • Spread of diseases and allergens: cockroaches can carry a large number of disease-causing bacteria, including Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Listeria and E. coli.
  • Droppings and bodily secretions stain and leave a foul odour that can permeate infestation areas, food and packaging;
  • Contamination of food items and equipment from saliva, droppings and bodily secretions.
  • Droppings and shed skins contain allergens, and heavy cockroach populations can trigger asthma attacks.

How to identify cockroaches

Although they can be difficult to spot due to being mostly nocturnal and their nesting habits, there are a handful of signs which could indicate an infestation in your supermarket:

  • A lingering unpleasant odour
  • Droppings which are brown/black in colour, cylindrical-shaped approx. 2mm long
  • Brown and irregularly shaped smear marks along horizontal surfaces.
  • Shed cockroach skins close to where they are sheltering.

How to manage cockroaches in a supermarket

Good sanitation practices will help prevent infestations and pick up the presence of cockroaches. These consist of cleaning up food and drink spillage, storing food in cockroach-proof containers, maintaining drains and removing food waste.

A number of treatments are available for the control of cockroaches in supermarkets, including sprays, aerosols, dusts and bait. In food handling premises the insecticides used must be permitted for use by the relevant authority and will require competent, trained personnel to apply them.

At Rentokil, we are developing a non-toxic pest control solution for cockroaches which uses fungal spores to effectively control and manage cockroach infestations within the food retail industry.

3. Stored product insects (SPIs)

Stored product insects (SPIs) is a generic term that covers beetles, weevils, moths and mites (which are arachnids) infesting food in storage anywhere in the food chain from the farm to the kitchen. Stored product pests are most likely to be in a food ingredient on delivery to the retail store or in a processed food product when stored for a long time.

The risks from SPIs in the food retail industry

SPIs will feed on food products which can lead to contamination — through physical damage, faeces, cocoons, etc and the introduction of microorganisms that cause further degradation, making food unfit or unacceptable for human consumption, introducing new expenditures in the form of replacement costs.

Additionally, research carried by Rentokil discovered that an infestation from stored product insects can cost the average business around $35,941 each year, double the costs of a typical infestation from other pests.

The common signs of stored product insects

  • damage to stored products, such as small holes in nuts or grain
  • live or dead insects (small beetles and moths), larvae, pupae or silken webbing on food storage bins
  • infestation, holes, larvae or webbing on the outside of packets or bags
  • larvae, pupae or silken webbing in food harbourages in cracks and crevices around shelves or on machinery

Controlling SPIs in supermarkets

The most effective solution to control stored product insects in the food retail industry is through the use of an Integrated Pest management Programme (IPM). Rentokil’s IPM approach combines four core principles:

  • Exclusion: Eliminating the opportunities for entry
  • Restriction: Training staff in pest awareness to spot the early signs of infestations
  • Destruction: Utilizing innovative solutions to remove pests from the premises
  • Monitoring: Regular checks and monitoring devices to detect early warning signs of pest infestations

Each integrated pest management programmes are tailored to an individual company’s business needs. This will enable us to support compliance with food safety regulations, and help safeguard your reputation and profits.

4. Birds

Buildings such as food retail facilities, provide safe areas for birds to roost around the structure and in spaces such as under roofs. Food stores and waste storage areas may also provide a food supply that attracts the birds. Wild birds and their nests are protected by legislation and only birds regarded as pests can be controlled. The most common bird pests are pigeons, house sparrows, several gull species and starlings.

The damage caused by birds in supermarkets

Birds can cause physical damage by dislodging roof tiles, particularly the larger birds, and blocking guttering with nests and feathers. They produce substantial amounts of droppings which foul buildings, vehicles, paved areas and building entrances where there are deliveries and staff and the public walk, park vehicles and enter the premises.

Inside buildings, bird droppings, nesting material and feathers can contaminate surfaces, food products on display and in food preparation areas, equipment. Apart from being unsightly, bird droppings can also transmit many human pathogens including Salmonella, and E.coli.

The common signs of bird pests

  • Birds settling on roofs and ledges
  • Droppings concentrated in areas where birds nest
  • Debris from nests and feathers
  • Continuous bird cries

How the food retail industry can control birds

Bird control consists of preventing access to food, water and shelter. Basic practices to prevent access to food and water are:

  • keep doors closed when not in use;
  • remove spillages quickly;
  • keep garbage storage areas clean and containers shut;
  • garbage containers should be bird proof;
  • remove any standing water where possible;
  • regularly check food storage and delivery areas for potential bird access points.

Denying shelter includes eliminating nesting and feeding sites on buildings and in the vicinity of the facility. This should start with the design of the facility and include measures to prevent access to flat roofs, balconies, ledges, chimney stacks, guttering and culverts, which are favourite areas for nesting.

5. Flies

A number of fly species are attracted to food odours present in grocery stores, including fruit flies, drain flies and house flies. Flies are known to be able to carry over 100 pathogens that can cause disease in humans, including Salmonella and E. coli.

The risk from flies in food and grocery retail

One of the most common risks from flies in supermarkets is their ability to contaminate food products with pathogens which can cause illness customers. 64% of businesses worry about compensation claims resulting from an outbreak of food-borne diseases, which flies can be responsible for.

Additionally, research carried out by Rentokil discovered that flies were the leading cause of staff illnesses, creating a big disruption to productivity. Around an average of 9 working days are lost each year following a fly infestation.

The common signs of a fly infestation

The most common sign of fly infestations is the siting of both live flies and maggots. In supermarkets, flies can be found in multiple areas which provide prime locations to both feed and reproduce from. This include, but are not limited to:

  • Garbage and other refuse areas
  • Food storage areas
  • Drains and sinks

How to prevent flies in supermarkets

The application of standard hygiene practices is particularly important for controlling flies to reduce the attractive odours, feeding material and breeding sites. These can include regular inspection of supplies, cleaning food preparation areas and disposing of garbage regularly.

In addition, using screens on windows and vents as well as ensuring proper air circulation and proper building maintenance can also help prevent flies from entering a food retail facility.

Lumnia is an innovative commercial fly control trap designed to hygienically attract and encapsulate flies and other insects. The use of LED technology the Lumnia range attracts flies at a greater distance compared to traditional electric fly killers whilst also providing an energy saving of 61%.

Pest management for the food retail industry

Rentokil offers a wide range of innovative pest management solutions to support the food retail industry in proactively managing and controlling pest infestations, helping ensure food safety compliance is delivered to the highest standards.

Innovative solutions to support supermarkets and grocery stores in proactive pest management

Digital pest control

Technology and data-driven digital pest monitoring for effective, smart pest management solutions

  • Our digital pest management system monitors constantly, reacts instantly and reports directly
  • Real-time alerts and data-driven insights help mitigate risk and inform preventative measures
  • Rapid response pest control from your local service team to tackle pest problems fast
Find out more

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