Avoid an invasion of pantry pests

Prevention is the best tactic to keep your home free of rodents and cockroaches.

As the temperature falls, some folks might be experiencing a home invasion! An invasion of pantry pests! The colder weather brings with it an opportunity for pests of all kinds to seek the warmth of a house to set up for the winter. Specifically, we are talking about, cockroaches and rodents. These pests can become a source of foodborne illness pathogens, spoilage organisms, toxins, and allergens. For this very reason, entry into the pantry and food preparation areas needs to be denied.

By rodents, we are talking about mice and rats. All rodents have strong front teeth. These four front teeth grow about six inches per year, which means they need to do a lot of chewing and gnawing to wear them down. The hardness of the enamel on these pests can be compared to the hardness of a steel knife blade. With these strong teeth, rodents will gnaw their way through wood, plastic, plaster, aluminum, lead pipe, cinder block, porous concrete, soft rubber, cardboard, paper and cloth materials to get to the food they need. Rats will find a place where there is a lot of food they can eat at one time. They will hunt for a place where the food can be eaten in secret. If they need to, they will drag the food to a safe place. Rats have even been known to store food for later.  Rats also need a lot of water during the day. Rats will squeeze through an opening the size of a quarter to gain entrance to a new home.

Mice, on the other hand, are nibblers. Since they eat very little at one time, mice have the ability to contaminate a lot of food. They tend to eat small amounts of food throughout the day. Mice need very little water. They usually get enough water daily from the food they eat. Mice will defecate as they travel, but most often it is when they feed. Mice have poor vision and will set up pathways close to walls. Mice have the ability to squeeze through a hole the size of a dime to get inside where it is warm.

To prevent rodents from finding their way into your house, caulk and seal cracks in walls and crevices around your house, particularly around water pipes, drains, and cracks in the foundation of the house. Rats like to burrow near the foundation of the house. So if you see tunnels next to the foundation of the house, look for a spot where they might find access to your house and seal it up. Folks with “Michigan” basements will have a harder time keeping rodents out because of the soil. Placing traps in the territories is an option. Mice have a territory of around 20 feet in diameter, while rats have a territory of up to 150 feet. Check the traps daily for dead rodents. Since rats are “bait shy,” and more cautious than mice, rat-proofing will work better than baiting and trapping.

Cockroaches come in over 55 species. But the most common and most active one is the German cockroach. It varies in color from very light brown to very dark brown. The adult is ½ inch to 5/8 inch in length and tends to be the slenderest of the cockroach family. They have two dark streaks running the length of the back. The German cockroach is usually found in the kitchen and cooking areas where it is warm and moist. They like to live under the sink, in the cupboards, in stoves, under refrigerators, near water pipes and drains. If you see a cockroach in the lighted areas, you have a huge problem because only the sick and weak ones will be seen in the lighted areas. The healthy ones prefer the dark, moist areas.

Cockroaches have been linked to spreading Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, spp., and Staphylococcus aureaus just to name a few foodborne illness pathogens. You know you have a problem if you smell a strong oily odor, see fecal matter that looks like grains of pepper, or see a cockroach itself in the light of day.

To prevent cockroaches from setting up house in your home, caulk and seal all cracks and crevices around the water pipes, under the sink and cupboards. Use a glue type trap to help identify what type of cockroach is trying to invade your home. Michigan State University Extension recommends contacting a pest management professional for help in getting rid of the cockroaches.

Prevention is the best policy when it comes to keeping pantry pests from coming into your home. Remember rodents have strong teeth and like to chew and they can squeeze through the tiniest of holes. Remember if you see a cockroach in the daylight you will need help from a pest control operator to rid your house of this pest.

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