Cracks and crevices can provide a safe haven for cockroach reproduction and population growth.
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By their very nature, food processing facilities provide everything cockroaches need to survive and grow their populations: food, water, and harborage. While it is, of course, impossible to remove food and water from a food production facility, and nearly as impossible to ensure against cracks and crevices in which cockroaches could harbor, a thorough sanitation program can go a long way toward preventing infestations by these pathogen-carrying pests.

Any area with poor sanitation can contribute to the cockroach’s ability to obtain food, water and shelter, said Bayer Product Development Manager Alex Ko. This could be a leaky pipe or spilled food that can provide water and food for cockroaches, or undetected harborage that provides a safe haven for cockroach reproduction and population growth.

Then, added Central Life Sciences Entomologist and Director, Field Technical Services and Training Mel Whitson, “Once conditions are good for reproduction and development, cockroaches can expand their range to other similar areas in the facility.”

As also would be expected, the larger the cockroach population, the greater the challenge. Small populations are more easily eliminated, and larger populations are more likely to distribute widely throughout the area, making control difficult, Ko explained.

“Cockroaches are well-adapted to human life and the places where we live and work,” said Syngenta Technical Services Manager Nicky Gallagher. “We provide them with a plethora of harborage sites and food.” Because of this, sanitation is an essential part of the integrated pest management (IPM) program needed for cockroach control. Sanitation is essential:

Sanitation is an essential part of the integrated pest management (IPM) program needed for cockroach control.
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  • “To minimize (cockroach) food sources, since they feed on fresh and decaying food materials,” said Rockwell Labs Owner and CEO Cisse Spragins.
  • To “remove harborage and food sources, and by limiting resources, competition and space limitations are increased and cockroaches can be become stressed,” said Control Solutions Technical Service Manager Janis Reed. That stress can then help reduce populations through cockroach in-fighting and deaths.
  • To limit harborage, “because cockroaches exploit micro-environments,” such as zones in/around equipment and those that afford food and shelter with environmental conditions such as high humidity and temperatures, Whitson said.

SANITATION IMPLEMENTATION. For all these reasons, “there is no potential for long-term cockroach management without sanitation, regardless of which control products or tactics are applied,” said BASF Professional and Specialty Solutions — Pest Control Technical Services Representative Tim Husen. But just what is sanitation? Often referred to as “cleaning up,” sanitation is much more than that, he said. A food facility sanitation program must:

  • Include removing potential food or water resources that would attract, sustain, and allow for cockroach population growth.
  • Use exclusion, education, and monitoring practices.
  • Preventive sealing of potential harborage areas to make it harder for cockroaches to find attractive places to live.
  • Educate employees on the “who, what, where, when, and why” cockroaches can become a problem, and how employees play essential roles in detecting, documenting, preventing, and managing an infestation.
  • Include regularly scheduled monitoring along with the interpretation, tracing, tracking, and trending of results.

Sanitation falls within non-insecticidal pest control options of IPM. While cleaning is key, this step can include the physical modification of facilities to make the environment less hospitable to cockroaches, Gallagher said. Altering the environment, such as sealing cracks and fixing leaks, can help reduce the essential resources needed by the cockroaches and, therefore, reduce population growth, she explained, adding, “These modifications also can help stimulate cockroaches to move, contact residual insecticides and feed on bait, leading to faster, more thorough control.”

Additionally, sanitation is critical for the efficacy of both pesticidal baits and targeted sprays. When baits are to be used for control, minimizing alternative food sources through sanitation helps ensure the cockroaches consume the bait. When targeted sprays are used, sanitation is needed to remove accumulated organic debris, as this debris can break down the active ingredients of the pesticide and reduce residual transfer to cockroaches, lessening the effectiveness, Spragins said.

Reed expressed a similar concept, noting that the removal of supplemental and auxiliary food sources from cockroach foraging areas will help with bait acceptance, reduce free choice of food sources, and encourage cockroaches to feed on insecticidal baits. In relation to targeted residual use, “When harborages are limited, and less access to harborage is available for cockroaches, they are more likely to enter treated areas,” she said. “Additionally, they can be more vulnerable to exposure, and focus areas for treatment are clarified.”

Those “secretive micro-environment” harborage sites of cockroaches are inherently difficult to reach and directly treat, Whitson said, so being able to effectively clean and dry areas is critical for cultural control. Cockroaches will leave their harborage to forage when hungry, but the presence of pheromones and fecal matter will lead them right back when they’ve had their fill. “In a perfect world, the pest control operator can place treatments in the foraging paths of cockroaches before they reach exposed food, or can inspect and apply products directly into the harborage.” But, she said, “Access for inspection and sanitation goes a long way for detection, treatment, and dissuasion.”

COMMON ISSUES. According to our experts, some of the most common issues seen in food plant sanitation include:

Crack and Crevice Buildup. Washdown procedures can force food and moisture into cracks and crevices which, when undisturbed, can create mini-fermentation environments which are very attractive to cockroaches and other pests, such as flies. “Moisture control is an important issue that tends to be overlooked as a strong contributor,” Spragins said. This is a particular issue because even a small amount of food particle buildup can support pests.

Incoming Goods and People. A common source of cockroach introduction, and subsequent infestation, is incoming people (e.g., staff or employees), as well as incoming goods. Thus, a key food plant sanitation focus should be placed on incoming goods and people. “Thorough incoming inspection programs, and subsequent rejection and proper disposal of infested goods are key steps in any food plant sanitation plan,” Husen said. “Beyond that, upstream supply chain facility inspection and pest management program accountability are a must.”

Common Areas. Although people are a common cause of cockroach introduction, general-use and personal-space areas are often overlooked as sanitation concerns, Reed said. Food storage, refuse disposal, and equipment storage areas can be missed or overlooked, even in food plants that are fastidiously clean. Thus, she said, “Preventive maintenance in these areas can make an impact on overall sanitation and pest management success.”

Additionally, Husen said, “Routine inspections of these areas coupled with employee education on cockroach detection and the processes for reporting a pest sighting often stop an introduction from becoming an infestation.”

Lack of Communication. An unsuccessful sanitation plan may be caused by a lack of cooperation between the pest control company and the food plant, Gallagher said. Successful sanitation requires a well laid-out strategy that is unique to each facility. Constant communication, documentation, and accountability for all parties should lessen the risk of issues falling between the cracks, enabling pest and sanitation issues to be resolved quickly.

Pest Conducive Conditions. Spilled and spoiled food, originating in, or brought into, flood plants with raw material shipments; infested incoming shipments; and standing water within the plant can all contribute to cockroach populations, Ko said. These can be particularly problematic when they occur in areas that are difficult to inspect.

With food, water, and harborage being the keys to cockroach survival, ensuring your sanitation program eliminates as much available food particles, moisture, and accessible cracks and crevices as possible will go a long way toward preventing the cockroach’s ability to survive — and thrive — in your facility.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at