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Cockroaches and Foodborne Illnesses

For businesses handling food, adhering to necessary food safety regulations and standards is imperative to help ensure the food and beverage products produced are safe to eat and free from foodborne illnesses such as Salmonellosis and Gastroenteritis

Pest control plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of food, as many species of pests have been linked to the spread of diseases. Cockroaches are known to spread foodborne illnesses and, according to the Department of Transfusion Medicine at Bangkok University, are: among the medically important pests in urban environments that cause serious public health problems.

Types of foodborne illnesses spread by cockroaches

Although there is strong evidence that proves the link between cockroaches and foodborne diseases, it is important to note that cockroaches are not direct vectors of these illnesses, but rather play a role in the spread of some diseases.

Cockroaches are known to spread the bacteria which cause foodborne illnesses and contribute to the contamination of food products.

The common harmful bacteria spread by cockroaches are:

  • Salmonella
  • Escherichia Coli
  • Listeria monocytogenes


The CDC estimates that Salmonella causes around one million foodborne illnesses in the US each year. It is a major cause of foodborne illness throughout the world and is 1 of 4 key global causes of diarrhoeal diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation, the symptoms of Salmonella infections usually appear 12 to 72 hours after infection in the form of fever, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. Usually, the illness lasts between 4 and 7 days, with most people recovering without treatment.

The WHO also states that: Salmonella can pass through the entire food chain from animal feed, primary production, and all the way to households or food-service establishments and institutions.

Escherichia coli

Escherichia coli (E.coli) is a bacterium which lives in the intestines of people and animals. Although most E.coli are harmless, some are pathogenic and can cause serious foodborne illnesses.

Shiga toxin-producing  E.coli (STEC), also referred to as enterohemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC), is the pathotype most commonly associated with foodborne illness outbreaks.

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeria monocytogenes is the bacterium which causes listeriosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 1,600 become infected with listeriosis each year.

The symptoms of a listeria infection are similar to those of other foodborne illnesses showing signs of fever and diarrhoea, however, they can vary depending on the person.

Foodsafety.gov explains that listeria can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk. It can also live in food processing plants and contaminate a variety of processed meats.


How do cockroaches spread foodborne illnesses?

Cockroaches aid in the spread of foodborne diseases through contamination – primarily through their feeding habits.

Cockroaches are omnivorous and will eat almost anything including faeces and other cockroaches.

Did you know, that if a cockroach feeds on an item infected with a foodborne illness the disease bacteria can remain in its digestive system for a month or more?

The bacteria living within the cockroach’s digestive system is then deposited through the cockroach’s faeces, and in turn will contaminate anything it touches such as raw ingredients, cooking utensils and food processing machinery.

cockroach diseases

Minimising Your Risk

In food handling establishments the potential of cockroaches to transmit food-borne diseases should not be ignored or simply rejected without further investigation.

Preventing cockroaches is a necessary precaution to help reduce the spread of foodborne illnesses.

How to prevent cockroaches

As outlined in the Codex Alimentarius, pest prevention is a vital procedure to ensure food safety and hygiene.

The prevention of cockroaches can be achieved through:

  • establishing effecting procedures and methods to ensure food production areas equipment and waste management areas are kept clean and hygienic
  • storing food in pest-proof containers
  • ensuring an efficient waste management system is in place
  • regularly inspecting and maintaining the facility to prevent cockroaches gaining access through windows, drains, vents, piping etc.
  • carrying out inspections of incoming ingredients, equipment, packaging, containers and vehicles for the presence of cockroaches
food safety support for food processing companies

Integrated pest management

An integrated pest management programme is an effective solution to control cockroaches, helping to reduce the potential for foodborne illnesses spreading and complying with food safety legislation.

An integrated pest management programme can manage cockroaches by:

  • setting action thresholds designed to support your business needs, enabling faster interventions
  • providing 24/7 wireless, remote pest monitoring
  • practising good sanitation to prevent and exclude pests along the entire supply chain

Click here to learn more about our integrated pest management solutions.

Looking to protect your business from cockroach infestations? Contact the experts at Rentokil today or call us at 1300 882 911.

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