How To: Rodent Proof Your Restaurant This Winter

rodent rodents rats mice
By Jennifer Brumfield, Training and Technical Specialist, Western Pest Services

A quick Google search of restaurant closings in New York is all the evidence you need – rodents are a major issue for the metro New York area. In fact, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a $32 million plan to reduce New York City’s rat population.

Rats and mice are a year-round problem, but they become particularly troublesome to foodservice establishments as cooler weather sets in. When temperatures drop, rodents are driven indoors in search of food and shelter. Unlike other pests that come indoors during winter and emerge in spring, a rodent may never leave once inside. As long as they have food, water and a comfy nesting place, rodents may become permanent restaurant patrons.

Rodents are bad for business. In addition to alarming customers and tarnishing your reputation, they present major health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rodents are known to spread more than 35 diseases worldwide, which can be passed on to humans directly through contact with feces, urine or saliva, or indirectly by the ticks, mites and fleas that feed on rodents. A contaminated food product could spread such diseases as Salmonella, tape worms, jaundice and hantavirus.

Rodents can also damage property. Rodents love to gnaw—the word rodent is actually derived from the Latin word for “gnaw”—and gnaw they do. They’ll chew on just about anything they can sink their teeth into, including wood, paper and dry wall. They also chew on electrical wires because they resemble roots—their natural food source. This can be a major fire hazard.

To protect your restaurant from the risks associated with rodents, work with a pest management professional to implement the following Integrated Pest Management (IPM) tactics.

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Start with exclusion

Exclusion is a pillar of IPM and it goes hand in hand with rodent control. Rodents are skilled climbers, can run horizontally along pipes and wires, and jump distances of eight feet, which means there are multiple ways for them to gain access to your restaurant. Mice and juvenile rats also have slight bodies, which allow them to pass through holes as small as a dime, while adult rats can squeeze through holes the size of a quarter. All of that said, eliminating entry points should be a priority.

  • Conduct routine inspections of the building exterior to look for holes, cracks or gaps, particularly around utility penetrations and air vents. Seal these areas with weather-resistant sealant, and cover larger holes with steel wool, which rodents can’t chew through.
  • Install weather stripping on doors and windows and be sure to keep them in good condition. A common attractant for rodents during winter is warm air coming from beneath doorways that are not properly sealed.
  • Repair damaged window and door screens.
  • Make sure no plants, shrubs or tree limbs brush up against the exterior of the building, as these can help rodents access your building.
  • If possible, add a 2-foot gravel strip immediately around the exterior of the building.

Monitor for signs of rodents

After you’ve taken the steps to keep rodents out, be sure to maintain a strict sanitation routine to ensure you don’t give rodents a reason to stick around if they do get inside, and keep an eye out for signs of rodents. If you suspect rodent activity, the sooner you act to identify the problem and resolve it, the better. Rodents are prolific breeders – particularly mice. One pair of mice can produce 200 offspring in just four months, so it’s easy for an introduction to spiral into a full-blown infestation if it’s not addressed.

Consider placing tamper-resistant bait stations around the exterior of the building. These stations can be used to monitor rodent activity. Work with your pest management professional to determine what type of placements are needed.

Also, train your employees to recognize the signs of rodents, including:

  • Damaged food packaging
  • Gnaw marks on furnishings and walls – new gnaw marks tend to be rough to the touch and, if found on wood, light in color
  • Droppings – mouse droppings are about the size of a grain of rice and rat droppings are about the size of a raisin
  • Grease markings – look for greasy markings on walls left behind by rodents regularly travelling down the same path
  • The presence of indoor nests

Take these rodent proofing steps now; before the weather gets cold, to help make sure your restaurant isn’t attracting rodents this winter.

Jennifer Brumfield is a Training and Technical Specialist and Board-Certified Entomologist for Western Pest Services, a New Jersey-based pest management company serving businesses and homeowners in major Northeastern markets. Learn more about Western by visiting