Cockroaches: A Plague for Restaurants
You know them when you see them.
The ribbed, icky brown shell encasing the inch-long body. The six sticky legs. The small black head sporting two long antennae.
They are cockroaches — and chances are, they will find their way into a restaurant sooner or later.
“The situation with roaches in restaurants is that it’s not so much a constant battle as fighting every now and then,” said Joseph Davidson, district manager of Topeka-based Schendel Pest Service. “But it’s not a matter of if. It’s always a matter of when. Nobody is immune to having pests.”
Not everyone considers that to be the case, and only about 3 percent of restaurants in Shawnee County have had a roach problem in the past year, according to inspections by the Kansas Department of Agriculture. But it is a battle restaurants fight on a daily basis, because once cockroaches are present, they can be difficult to eradicate.
“It’s horrible,” Rick Garner, co-owner of Sweet Pea’s, said of the restaurant’s 17-month fight to remove cockroaches from the 85-year-old building at 1306 S. Kansas Ave. “Once they’ve gotten established, it’s something you’ve got to do constantly. You’ll never get completely rid of them. It’s almost impossible.”
At least 24 restaurants have had roach problems in the past 13 months, according to KDA inspections from Jan. 31, 2011, through Feb. 3 of this year. Eight of the restaurants — including Bobo’s Drive In, 2300 S.W. 10th Ave., Sweet Pea’s and Sakura Restaurant of Japan, 5632 S.W. 29th St. — have had roaches on more than one inspection in that time.
Bobo's had about 20 live roaches and 22 dead roaches on site during its latest inspection on Jan. 3. Owner Richard Marsh said battling the critters is a "continuous process."
"It's something we never rest at," he said, adding that Schendel comes once, sometimes twice, a month to treat and inspect the diner. "It's not an unsafe place to eat. We follow the rules and definitely take the proper steps."
Having roaches on site, dead or alive, is considered a critical violation by the KDA because the insects are vectors for disease. Roaches have been linked to the spread of such diseases as dysentery, gastroenteritis, cholera and hepatitis B. They also can carry salmonella, E coli, and other bacteria and pathogens that cause human illness.
Although each critical violation — infractions more likely to cause food-borne illness — is serious, repeat offenses are fined differently. Live roaches on site carry the heaviest fine — of $500 — on the third consecutive offense. The fourth offense results in a two-day suspension.
Pest control services have an arsenal of treatments for the vermin, ranging from growth inhibitors, which block roaches from reaching maturity, to sticky traps and bug bombs. Most restaurants have pest services out once a month, Davidson said, but without the restaurants’ help, those inspections can only go so far.
“If pests are gone, but the manager or owner doesn’t fix any conditions, it’s easier for pests to return and re-establish,” he said.
Depending on the level of cooperation from the restaurant and size of infestation, he said, roaches can take anywhere from one to three months to eradicate.
Restaurants can do their part, he said, by keeping a clean environment and maintaining a sound building. That means fixing chips in tiles and holes in walls because they can serve as points of entry, as well as hiding spots for food.
Davidson said finding cockroaches in restaurants is fairly common for Schendel employees, who service more than 800 restaurants in six states. One reason for that, he said, is because pests enter facilities through several sources, whether it is on foot, on a customer or in a produce shipment.
But the main culprit behind cockroaches encroaching on restaurants, he said, is us.
"Pests want three things: food, water and shelter," Davidson said. "We provide them all three with our own existence."
Although Davidson insists cockroaches are an inevitability for restaurants, not everyone buys into the theory.
“I have been an inspector in field, and I guarantee you that is not true,” Nicole Hamm, KDA inspection manager, said of claims that every restaurant has cockroaches.
Sweet Pea’s has been battling roaches since it moved into 1306 S. Kansas Ave. in June 2010, Garner said. It and Sakura each have had four inspections in the past 13 months with roaches — the most of any in Shawnee County.
Calls to Sakura weren’t returned.
Garner, co-owner of Sweet Pea's, blamed the aging building, inherited conditions from the previous owner and a lousy pest company — which the restaurant replaced in the fall — for the restaurant's continued roach problems.
On its most recent inspection — Jan. 31 — the restaurant had about 40 dead cockroaches. Most were found in the basement and downstairs dining room, which seats people once every other month, Garner said. As of Friday, it hadn’t had a follow-up inspection.
The restaurant hasn’t seen a live cockroach in almost three weeks, he said, and has the roach problem “under control.” Its new pest control company comes out once a month, he said.
Although having pests in restaurants is inevitable, Davidson said, that fact shouldn’t scare people from dining out.
“It’s there,” he said of the cockroach problem, “and we’re still here. We’re still alive. Almost all restaurants around will be very diligent in trying to keep something like that out of their restaurant to keep their food safe."
His advice: Judge a restaurant by what you can see.
“If it’s dirty out where you sit and eat, the kitchen probably isn’t better,” he said.
And that is exactly what the proprietors of Sweet Pea’s want patrons to do.
“We keep this place as clean as any restaurant in town,” Garner said.
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