Few retailers admit to having pests in-store - but you can bet most will get them at some stage. Jo de Mille finds out how to beat the bugs.

However clean and tidy your store, however efficient your waste disposal and litter-free your car park, you cannot rule bugs out of your business.

Just imagine the impact of a customer finding something nasty in a sandwich from your deli counter. You’ll lose custom and may even face prison. So don’t wait until pests become a problem: put preventative measures in place now and you’ll sleep easier at night.

The only legal requirement for retailers regarding pest control is to keep flies away from areas where food is stored, prepared or served. Any environmental health officer (EHO) visiting the store will be checking this is in place. Fly paper or fly-screen doors, mesh on windows, strip doors or a blue light ultra-violet fly killer will all suffice.

Jane Moore, who owns The Village Store in Cheswardine, Shropshire says: “We have a couple of flycatchers on the walls, as well as an electric fan in the summer to help keep the air moving around, which seems to deter the flies. I also clean under the shelves twice a week, sweep under the counter and clean the tops of the fridges every morning.” On the advice of an EHO, Jane ensures there are no boxes left under the shelves and that the floor space is as clear as possible. Rentokil’s key account manager Gill Sheppard says retailers should make sure any recommendations given by a pest controller are put in writing, as this will provide proof that the problem is being tackled if an EHO notices evidence of pests. Sheppard points out: “Under the 1990 Food Safety Act, if you don’t have a pest control service but do have pests, you can be prosecuted and receive a fine of up to £20,000, or imprisonment.”

Pest activity, including rats, mice and wasps, has increased dramatically over the past 20 years due to global warming, excessive wastage and the privatisation of UK sewers, which are no longer baited against rats. According to the National Rodent Report 2004, published by the National Pest Technician’s Association, summer rats increased by 59% in the UK between 1998 and 2003 and brown rats by 34% over the same period. Sheppard says: “Our throwaway society means there is more waste and litter. Also, round-the-clock central heating has created a comfortable environment for pests to live in, and we no longer get the cold winters which used to kill off many of them.” Whether or not they carry any bacteria, any animal in-store is clearly not hygienic. For instance, although ants have no disease potential, they are what’s known as a ‘foreign body’ contaminant. Nigel Binns is a technical adviser for the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), the trade association that ensures its members are properly trained professional pest controllers. He is also Rentokil’s business development director. He says: “Prevention is better than cure. Have a walk round the outside of your store to look at any potential access points. THINK LIKE A PEST
“Think like a pest and work out how you’d get in - is there a broken drain cover, or a breakage somewhere that needs sealing? Remember, any gap of 8mm or more is big enough for a mouse or rat to squeeze through.” Inside the store, he urges retailers to make sure there are no gaps under doors - draught excluders or bristle strips can be used to remedy this problem. Gaps around sinks are also an easy access route for pests. These should be sealed with mortar, or a wire sponge such as a Brillo pad will work well too. Spillages, leaks or drips should be cleaned up immediately since they can provide an excellent food source for pests. Retailer Ian Chapman, of Chapmans, Kettering, Northamptonshire, says: “We have a cleaning rota which means we all have to do our bit. The floor is swept clean and washed every night and the warehouse is cleaned every Saturday. This year the EHO has come twice - they always check we have a rota in place.” The same goes for staff areas and back office. Director of Castle Pest Control Kevin Smith advises: “Any rubbish such as sandwich packs, crisps and noodle pots must be deposited in a lidded bin. No waste should be left around.” He says stock rooms should also be kept clean and tidy, with as little clutter as possible. This should prevent problems such as stored product moths, which can eat their way through packaging, into packets of nuts, chocolates or crisps. Dustbins outside the front of a store should be lidded and nothing should be spilling out of wheely bins. Waste disposal units should be kept away from the back door, as flies will come straight in. Rentokil’s Binns warns: “Flies could be in dog mess one moment and on a meat pie the next.” You may have no holes, gaps or other weak spots but have the bad luck of inheriting pests hidden in packaging, such as cardboard boxes. And since many pests are nocturnal, you might not be aware of the problem until you notice pee on packaging, droppings or nesting material. Mouse droppings are as much of a contaminant as the rodents themselves as they carry food poisoning bacteria, like salmonella. RATS ARE A PRIORITY
As soon as you suspect you have a problem you should contact a professional pest controller who is a member of the BPCA. The pest controller should attend within 24 hours, although if your store has rats you will be a priority. Binns continues: “The first call will be free. The pest controller will survey the property to work out what the pest is, how it’s getting in and what remedial treatments are available. Could it be an isolated incident or has the animal set up camp?” “Retailers will then be offered either a one-off treatment or a programme of pest-blasting solutions depending on the nature of the pest. The pest controller is likely to set up monitoring devices in the store under shelves or counters. Each device will have bait attached, which could be toxic or non-toxic.” Many local authorities can offer advice over the phone about what to do. But as the Association of Convenience Stores’ legal adviser Graham Randall points out, a retailer might not want to involve the local environmental health department as this would be acknowledging a pest problem to the very people who could launch a prosecution. However, Randall adds: “If a retailer is seen to be acting responsibly and doing something about the problem, there is no reason why they should be prosecuted.” Retailer Sharon McKenna of Vivo, Temple Patrick, Belfast, agrees: “The EHO visits us regularly as we have a big food to go offering. She checks for general cleanliness, looks under counters, shelves and everywhere. But we don’t worry about it as we know they’re there to help us and point out any improvements we could make.” If a retailer was in the process of tackling a pest problem, there is no law to say they can’t carry on trading. Randall says: “The one instance when you should shut the store is if the problem is uncontrollable and there is risk of a repetition in the store area of, for example, mouse droppings.” A PEST FREE FUTURE
Rentokil’s Binns recommends getting a contract with a pest control company. An adviser will fit monitors in store, which will then be checked several times a year. A four-visit contract is likely to work at around £1 a day. Cost will reflect the size of the store and the complexity of the problem. But be warned, if you have so far been one of the lucky ones who has never had to deal with pests in your store, this doesn’t mean you will never get them. While very few retailers will admit to having encountered pests, one retailer summed up the situation: “All retailers get pests. If you stock food, you’re going to get pests at some point or another - it’s just a matter of keeping on top of them.” RETAILER'S VIEWS
Jane Moore, The Village Store, Cheswardine, Shropshire

“I clean the store every lunchtime. I Hoover the carpet and sweep the tiled part of the store with a brush. I then clean the floor on my hands and knees, using washing powder and disinfectant diluted in a bucket of water. It can get quite grimy as we get lots of farmers coming in the store with muddy boots.

“We’ve been very lucky. We have two cats which wander around the front of the store, and I think they must keep the mice at bay. Lots of people in the village have said they’ve had lots of ants this year, but so far we haven’t.” Sharon McKenna, Vivo, Temple Patrick, Belfast “We have contract cleaners who come in for two hours six days a week. They clean the floor and counters. We also have a lady who cleans the staff rooms, toilets and shelves. It’s essential the store is always clean, not just to prevent pests but for hygiene purposes.”