Bed Bugs in Retail Stores: What you should do now

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Bed bugs have created problems in a wide variety of business environments over the past decade. While hotels are a hot spot, as bed bugs have become an established pest, retail stores are also seeing an uptick in bed bug introductions.

Bed bugs are most often introduced to stores via employees, shoppers, and returns, so having a pre-established bed bug action plan in place is critical to stopping an introduction from becoming a larger problem.

Help your employees know how to spot a bed bug and know what to do if they find one by having an established reporting and action plan.

Bed bug identification and behavior

  • Adult bed bugs are roughly 1/4” long and 1/8” wide and are reddish-brown in color and are often compared to the size of an appleseed. They are visible to the naked eye.
  • Bed bugs prefer to feed on human blood, but can and will feed on other animals, such as pets.
  • Bed bugs can hide in any gap, void, crack or crevice. Furniture, wall voids, and spaces in decorative items are potential hiding places. If a credit card can fit in the gap, a bed bug can as well.
  • Bed bugs are expert crawlers and often spread by crawling to new areas. If they are introduced to an area where there are no human or animal hosts, they will crawl to find hosts.
  • One of the most common ways bed bugs are introduced to a facility is by “hitchhiking” on objects – incoming supplies, personal belongings such as handbags or reusable grocery bags, clothing, equipment, and even returned items. Any employee or guest with a bed bug issue at home could unknowingly introduce the pests to your store.
  • While bed bugs do feed solely on blood, they have not been proven to carry or spread any diseases.
  • Complaints about “being bitten” by employees or guests may be a signal of a bed bug problem. Like mosquito bites and bee stings, every person reacts differently to a bed bug bite; some may not react at all, while others may develop large, red, itchy welts.
  • Traditionally bed bugs feed during the early hours of the morning, however, in non-traditional locations such as retail stores, they will adapt to feed when a host is present – even if it is during the day.

Know your bed bug risk areas in stores

There are hot spots in your retail environment that may be more likely to encounter bed bug activity. Consider having regular inspections of these areas, and educate employees working in these areas of the potential signs of a bed bug problem.

  • Bed bugs are most likely to appear in highly trafficked areas where humans are present.
  • Any employee areas, especially break rooms, lounges, reception areas and lobbies with upholstered furniture or areas where employees may relax.
  • Locker rooms and employee personal belonging storage areas.
  • Holding areas or frequently traveled routes for goods, supplies, equipment may also be prone to bed bug activity, as the pests can hitchhike on things such as incoming goods, vacuums, carts, etc.
  • Areas where previously purchased items that are returned are stored, as well as carts or other items used to return these items to their place in the store.

How to prevent bed bugs in your store

A critical step in managing bed bugs is to assess your facility operations and identify likely methods of introduction and high-risk areas. Then, use these best practices or work with Rentokil Steritech to help reduce the likelihood of bed bug infestation at your store.

Store inspections

  • Regular canine inspections can help quickly and accurately identify bed bug activity in large areas (more than 20,000 square feet).
  • Monitoring devices can be installed in high-risk areas.

Incoming supplies, goods, and returns

  • Inspection for bed bugs should be performed on incoming goods, supplies, and objects. Visual inspection by employees may be enough, depending on the item. High-risk items may require other inspection methods.
  • Inspect retail returns, second-hand items, and other objects to determine best course of action (i.e., quarantine, verify activity free, or treat).
  • Have a quarantine process in place to store items suspected of bed bug activity.

Employee areas and common areas

  • Enforce weekly or monthly locker cleanouts to find activity sooner.
  • Minimize clutter to reduce hiding places to find activity sooner.
  • Restrict where personal belongings can be placed or stored (handbags, backpacks, etc.) to minimize introduction points.
  • Quarantine personal belongings of both employees and visitors by placing them in sealable clear plastic bags to prevent the spread of bed bugs.
  • “Lost & Found” boxes may require that isolation measures be put into effect for all incoming items.

Preventative maintenance and removal

  • Seal cracks where bed bugs can hide, especially in high-risk areas.
  • If bed bugs are found, call Rentokil Steritech immediately for a positive identification.
  • A quick method for removal can be to vacuum the pests, although this may not remove all life stages or catch all bed bugs. If facility vacuums are used, care must be taken to dispose of any bed bugs that are collected in the vacuum.

Involve your Human Resources team in developing your response

Bed bug issues in employee common areas may involve having sensitive conversations with an employee or employees who may be unknowingly introducing the pests. Involve your Human Resources team in developing your response so that the situation is handled confidentially and without embarrassment to your employee.

Rentokil Steritech’s regional companies, Ehrlich, Western, and Presto-X, can assist with resolving bed bug issues at employee homes.

Having a plan prevents panic

The most important thing to remember if you spot a bed bug in your store is that quick action can prevent a problem. It is crucial to save any specimens found for absolute verification by your pest management provider.  Have a reliable pest control partner like Rentokil Steritech who can respond quickly to your concerns, have a written and established plan of action, and ensure that employees know what to do if they suspect a bed bug introduction. Most retail store bed bug introductions that have not become established infestations can be resolved without significant disruption to your business.

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