By Marcia Anderson
Cockroaches can be major pests in restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices and buildings with food-handling areas. Cockroaches are known to carry human pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can result in human diseases, such as food poisoning or diarrhea.
This message came from the state of Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Really, it could come from nearly any state, any country or any continent. Cockroaches are one of the most common animals on earth.
Late last summer, I visited a school in the Northeast that was overrun with cockroaches. A custodian led us to classrooms, restrooms, storage areas and, finally, the cafeteria and kitchen. Most of it was cleaned during summer break. But when we entered the cafeteria, we found the floor littered with debris – food wrappers, papers, plastic drink bottles, and food.
We flicked on the lights and the floor moved. Thousands of cockroaches were scurrying from the light. We did a dance to avoid the mass of moving bodies.
Custodians had been directed to clean the building from the top down and the kitchen and cafeteria were on the ground floor. They were told not to clean the kitchen – that was up to kitchen staff. As the end of the year approaches, this results could be instructive for this year’s summer cleaners.
The kitchen staff had only a few days at the end of the school year to clean. Countertops, stovetops and sinks appeared clean, but ovens were caked with grease, as were pipes coming from the stoves, and floors under appliances.
Large indoor cockroach populations are a leading cause of allergies, asthma and other bronchial disorders. In fact, cockroaches are one of the main triggers for asthma attacks for children in inner cities..
The presence of cockroaches is an indication that food, moisture and save havens for the roaches are present. Conditions in this school kitchen allowed the cockroach population to explode.
We advised the school to reduce the cockroach infestation by incorporating Integrated Pest Management practices. EPA recommends all schools manage pests using this approach.
Cockroach control is best accomplished through prevention, exclusion, sanitation and monitoring. Not only would these measures help prevent an infestation, they would reduce cockroach-related allergens.
Because of the severity of the infestation, we recommended the school get professional advice and service.
Here are some IPM-based actions your school can take to help reduce and prevent cockroaches and other pests. These tips can also work in your home if you have a problem with unwanted insects.
Sanitation. Eliminate sources of food and moisture, as well as hiding places for pests. Every day, sweep and mop areas that could attract cockroaches. Empty trash containers frequently, and line them with plastic bags. Kitchen appliances and areas around appliances should also be kept clean.
Exclusion. Cockroaches easily move through plumbing and electrical connections. Gaps around plumbing, electrical outlets, and switch plates should be sealed. Kitchen staff should scan grocery items for evidence of cockroaches before putting items away. Remove cardboard as cockroaches love to dine on the glue that holds boxes together.
Eliminate Water Sources. The single most important factor in determining cockroach survival is the availability of water. German cockroaches live less than two weeks without water.
Eliminate Harborage. By nature, cockroaches prefer dark, warm cracks and crevices. Any small gap or hole (1/16” or larger) that leads to a void is a prime cockroach living area. These cracks and crevices should be sealed.
Following these simple steps in your school will result in fewer pest problems.
EPA offers information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website and visiting our school IPM website.
Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine