Don't let your business go to the rats

Rentokil Initial Pty Ltd
Tuesday, 03 September, 2013

Food manufacturers need to be vigilant of rodent infestations to prevent reputation backlash and physical damage to their businesses.

Rodent infestations can quickly get out of control, within a period of a year a single pair of mating rodents can result in a rodent population of 400-700. One female rodent is capable of giving birth to between five to 10 offspring more than four times a year and those offspring are ready to reproduce just three months after birth. So if you notice evidence of a rodent you need to act quickly or better still, you need to have preventative measures in place so there is no chance of an infestation.

From summer 2012/13 to autumn 2013, Rentokil saw a spike of 18% in its call-out rate and the company is expecting to see further increases. So businesses should definitely start preparing for potential rodent infestations and have adequate rodent control programs in place.

As with most businesses, in the food industry, reputation is everything, but by taking preventative measures when it comes to rodent control, businesses can counter any potential damage to their reputation. A positive reputation that has taken several years to build can be destroyed in several seconds and the emergence of social media is exacerbating this problem. Just one customer complaint can spiral into major customer backlash and significant financial consequences for your business.

More about rats in large buildings

The most common pest rodent species in Australia are the black rat, brown rat (Norway rat) and house mouse, all of which are widespread throughout Australia’s highest populated areas. Rodents are nocturnal and build their nests in wall cavities, under floors, in roof voids and close to areas where they can scavenge for food and water.They can all carry diseases by leaving infected urine or faeces in places where people can come in contact such as food preparation and storage areas and rubbish tips.

The effect of rodents can consequently be more serious for businesses serving or selling food and businesses with large storage areas, where rodents can find areas with food, shelter and nesting sites.

Research from Rentokil indicates that mice can change behaviour in large buildings.Typically, the home range of a mouse is 5 m; however, Rentokil has observed that when there is lack of females in these environments male mice are forced to hunt up to 1 km to find mating partners. Large buildings work as closed ecosystems with adequate food, shelter and warmth; they enable mice to set up temporary residences throughout. For large buildings, this means there is an increased risk of mice infestation that is harder to treat and control.

Danger signs
  • Droppings - Rodents leave small, dark droppings particularly along walls or in enclosed areas. Rat droppings are sausage shaped, approximately 1-2 cm long and mouse droppings are thin, spindle shaped and approximately 5 mm long.
  • Distinctive smell - If you detect an ammonia-like smell that is particularly strong in more enclosed areas, the chances are it may be due to rodents.
  • Damaged stock and damage to fabric of premises.
  • Nesting material - Rodents build nests with shredded material such as newspaper, cardboard and fabrics.
  • Damage - Rodents have teeth that grow continuously and will gnaw on wood, plastic, cables and other hard materials, which can be a fire hazard.
  • Smears - Grease marks from the body of the rodents as they repeatedly brush up against objects.
Potential harm
  • Rodents are known to spread infections such as Salmonella, Weil’s disease, E.coli, Tuberculosis and Hantavirus.
  • Damage to stock and buildings.
  • Contamination of foodstuffs and goods.
Business consequences
  • Alarm - Immediate loss of customer and employee trust, which will affect the bottom line.
  • Damage - To goods, foodstuffs and your health and hygiene reputation.
  • Cost - Can be considerable; temporary closure may be necessary, which means loss of business and the costs of replacing damaged stock.
  • Legal - Failure to comply with legislation
Preventive measures
  • Hygiene and housekeeping should be a key focus with thorough, regular cleaning taking place frequently to avoiding infestation.
  • Crates and boxes should be stacked 70 cm away from the wall to ensure you can check what’s behind them.
  • Set up a contractual relationship with your pest controller, rather than hiring them on a reactive basis to ensure there is no risk of recurring infestations.
  • Staff need to be educated on the risks of infestation and act responsibly.
  • If you do spot a rodent on your premises it is essential to seek professional advice immediately.
  • If you own a property that is standing empty for any period of time, make sure you inspect it regularly to look for any signs of rodent activity.
  • Seal up holes in the building to keep rodents out.
  • Ensure all pipe‐work is in good working order.
  • Look after your drains, clean them regularly to avoid infestations and unblock gutters.

Steps to take

  • Arrange immediate removal with rodenticides handled by qualified technicians.
  • Get rodent proofing and design advice.
  • Schedule regular rodent control visits to prevent further outbreaks.

Rentokil offers a comprehensive survey process that includes a review of the site to identify areas of risk, consideration of all control procedures including attention to sanitation and hygiene, trapping, proofing of entry points and the use of baiting procedures. In high-risk industries like food processing and pharmaceutical, the appraisal goes one step further with a scientific approach completed by a field biologist.

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