It can be enjoyable to dine out in a fancy, casual, or fast-food restaurant. But the experience can quickly become a nightmare if you look up mid-bite to see a cockroach scurry up the wall or mouse running along the floor.
What are the rules for pests in restaurants? Who regulates them? And what do you do if you do see a cockroach, rat, mouse, or other pests while you are dining out?
Who Regulates Pest Control in Restaurants?
Food operations are held to standards at the federal, state, and local levels. These standards include:
- The Food Code. At the highest level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sets standards for food safety in its regularly updated Food Code for all retail and food service sites (including grocery stores and food processing plants as well as restaurants). The main purpose of the code is to create "a scientifically sound technical and legal basis" by which government inspectors can regulate retail and food service operations. According to the Food Code, restaurants and grocery stores must keep out insects, rodents, and other pests by routinely inspecting incoming shipments of food and supplies and inspecting the building and property for signs of a pest presence. Additionally, restaurants or food retailers are required to remove any dead or trapped birds, insects, rodents, and other pests. This is required whether the pests are purposefully trapped in control devices or through poison bait, etc. This must be done often enough to prevent pests from accumulating or decomposing—or attracting other pests.
- State and Local Pest Control Regulations. Even with the federal Food Code, however, it is the state, local, and tribal agencies who have the most power in inspecting, fining, closing, or otherwise punishing these operations for lack of pest control. Most organizations use the Food Code as the basis of their food safety rules to keep them consistent with national food regulatory policy. These local agencies oversee and inspect restaurants and grocery stores, as well as vending machines, cafeterias, and other food operations in hospitals, schools, and prisons.
How Can You Report a Pest Problem?
- If you are eating out and you see even a single pest, your first step should be to report the sighting to a manager of the facility. It could be an isolated incident, or you could be doing the restaurant a favor by helping them take care of the problem on their own.
- If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, or it is a major or ongoing problem, the next step would be to report the problem to the state health department.
- Each state has some differences in its regulations, inspections, and reporting standards. However, in almost any case, you can contact your state health department to report a problem or receive guidance on how and to whom to report.
- You can find your state health department contact information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For example, if the restaurant you want to report is located in New York City you would:
- Go to CDC's Public Health Resources: State Health Departments webpage.
- Search the site for a listing of local health departments.
- If you have any trouble finding a listing, click on the "Contact" button and request assistance.
Alternatively, you can:
- Do a general web search including your state name. For example, a Google search brought up a New York City Food Facility Complaint Form, which enables the visitor to place a complaint about the food safety practices, unsanitary conditions, and pest or insect infestations in food service establishments.
Why Should You Report Pests in Restaurants?
Not only can pests carry disease, but if you see even one pest of a certain species, such as a single mouse or cockroach, it usually means there are more living back in the walls and coming out at night to contaminate food that you, your friends, or family may eat the next time you visit.