Integrated Pest Management: Why Restaurants Need It More Than Ever During COVID-19

The importance of IPM for restaurants during COVID-19.

NYC Restaurant Pest Control During the Pandemic

Article by Joseph Salvatore Knipper

Dear NYC Restaurants,

We know you’ve had a tough year: layoffs and hires, masks and sanitizer, throwing away food as business was suddenly shut off and repurchasing it when outdoor dining resumed. For the record, we appreciate all your efforts. You’ve done a wonderful job with the sidewalks; every day feels like a block party.

Now, things are looking up again. Your regular visitors are returning in droves to feast on your bounty. They come at night, crawl under the door, drink from the leaking pipe under the sink, tear through the trash for the choicest tidbits, and defecate on your counters. If they really like your restaurant, they might even bring their kids. I’m speaking, of course, of pests.

In this letter, I will explain how to beat back the pest problem with Integrated Pest Management—a form of pest control that uses the least intervention to obtain the best results. I will also explain why now is the perfect time to take these steps.

COVID-19 and Pests

COVID-19 is an equal opportunity disruptor; the chaos it causes does not discriminate on the basis of species. Pests have been suffering too, and they couldn’t be happier that you are open for business again.

When the lockdown first began, rat populations, for instance, declined rapidly as people dropped fewer bagel crumbs on the subway tracks during their morning commute. Rats, beings rats, turned cannibal, weeding out the weaker members of their population.

Now with people dining outside, the rats have a new food source; the descendants of those aggressive, cannibalistic survivors are multiplying. To exacerbate the situation, NYC has had to cut 2.2 million from the sanitation budget, eliminating the fourth day of trash pickup.

New York City rat drinking out of Starbucks cup on the street

Of course, pests plague the cleanest restaurant. New York city could not be more hospitable to its thriving rodent populations if it tried.

Besides the close quarters common in any city, NYC has a pest problem for one very important reason: it has no alleyways. According to the New York Times “[Wishing] to maximize the amount of real estate available for development, the commissioners who devised the 1811 street grid for most of the island did not include alleys in their map.”

This means trash goes out in bags on the street for pickup rather than dumpsters, making it extremely accessible to mice and rats.  Given enough food, rodent populations can climb exponentially. For instance, a single mated pair of rats can become 15,000 in only a year.

Cockroaches are no better. There are plenty of tiny spaces in old buildings for them to thrive, and they can feed on anything from garbage to cardboard. A single cockroach can produce thousands of offspring a year.

The Solution: Integrated Pest Management

NYC cannot win this battle with poisons and traps. The only solution, the solution recommended by the EPA, and the solution followed by M&M Pest Control (MMPC), is Integrated Pest Management or IPM.

According to the University of California, Integrated Pest Management is defined as “an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties.” 

In other words, IPM works with pest behaviors to prevent them in the first place, using targeted elimination only when necessary.  Rather than a nuclear bomb, it’s a sniper strike.

Basic integrated pest management steps

The EPA website lists 7 aspects of Integrated Pest Management.  I’d like to discuss 4 that are particularly relevant to restaurants here:

1. Reduce Access: Put sweeps on doors, repair holes in screens, seal up openings pests can crawl through, etc. For restaurants offering indoor dining, set up screen doors and windows rather than leaving them wide open. This allows for plenty of outdoor air circulation to combat COVID-19 while also preventing the entry of rodents and pests seeking shelter from colder weather.

This may seem like an overwhelming project, but I promise it’s not. We’ll even do it for you. NYC also has a wonderful guide on this specifically for restaurants.  

2. Reduce Sources of water: They don’t call the American Cockroach “water-bugs” for nothing. Everything needs water to live. Fix leaks and drain standing water before leaving for the night.

3. Cleanliness: use metal bins for both trash and recycling. Make sure you wash your recycling, seal your trash, and empty both frequently. In NYC, this also means cleaning your sidewalk regularly from any trash spills.
Of course, you already clean the surfaces of your restaurant regularly, but vacuuming can reduce insect numbers. 

(Note: Do NOT vacuum up rat or mouse droppings unless you want to expose yourself to Hantavirus. See the CDC guidelines for dealing with such).

4. Use pesticides and poisons sparingly: This is also something MMPC can assist with. IPM prefers using baits rather than sprays, as baits are more targeted. Sprays only kill those pests who are directly exposed to them, while risking contamination of food. Meanwhile, the right bait will kill an entire colony of cockroaches. 

Bait is trickier for rats. Rats actually have designated poison tasters in their colonies (the lowest ranking rats). For this reason, any bait targeting rats must be gradual so as not to alert the rats to its harmfulness. Humane traps are also an environmentally friendly option.

Why Now?

Why during COVID-19 should restaurants take these steps when they are the most financially pinched they’ve been in years?

First, as mentioned, outdoor dining is causing the rat population to boom again; with indoor dining extended indefinitely in the state, you’ll want to nip this problem in the bud now.

Second, indoor dining is back! As your customers return, a good impression is going to be key.  It only takes a few bad reviews to tank your business’s ratings.  Adopting Integrated Pest Management will help you put your best foot forward during your triumphant reopening.

Most of all though, Integrated Pest Management saves money. It treats the causes, rather than treating the disease. Investing in sealing metal trash bins is a one-time investment. Fixing a leak only needs to be done once.  Washing out the recycling is a new habit, and costs very little. A few days of work and a few good habits can save you from having to call the exterminator again and again. 


Thank you, NYC restaurants, for taking the time to read this open letter.  I hope this introduction to Integrated Pest Management was helpful. I also hope you take advantage of this all-important opportunity and begin to implement it. 

If you have any pest control questions, MMPC is here to help!