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 rodent running along the floorboards.
What are the rules for pests in food service facilities? Who regulates them? And what do you do if you do see a cockroach, rat, mouse or other pest while you are dining out? Read on ...
The Food Code
At the highest level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA has set standards for food safety in retail environments through its publication, and regular updating, of the Food Code focused toward all retail and food service establishments in the U.S. However the main purpose of the code, as detailed by FDA is to set "a model that assists food control jurisdictions at all levels of government by providing them with a scientifically sound technical and legal basis for regulating the retail and food service segment of the industry."
The standards of the Food Code include the following:
The premises shall be maintained free of insects, rodents, and other pests. The presence of insects, rodents, and other pests shall be controlled to eliminate their presence on the premises by:
- Routinely inspecting incoming shipments of food and supplies;
- Routinely inspecting the premises for evidence of pests;
- Using methods, if pests are found, such as trapping devices or other means of pest control (as specified)
- Eliminating harborage conditions.
Removing Dead or Trapped Birds, Insects, Rodents, and Other Pests.
Dead or trapped birds, insects, rodents, and other pests shall be removed from control devices and the premises at a frequency that prevents their accumulation, decomposition, or the attraction of pests.
State and Local Jurisdiction
With all this, however, the primary regulating powers are the state, local and tribal agencies within whose jurisdiction the facility lies, with the majority of these regulators use the Food Code as a model to develop or update their own food safety rules and to be consistent with national food regulatory policy.
These departments oversee and inspect restaurants and grocery stores, as well as vending machines, cafeterias, and other outlets in health-care facilities, schools, and correctional facilities.
Report a Problem
If you are eating out and you do see a single pest, your first step should be to report the sighting to a manager of the facility. It could be an isolated incident and/or you could be doing the restaurant a service by enabling them to take care of the issue 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 relevant health department.
Although every state and city varies as to the specifics of its regulations, inspections, and reporting standards, but in almost any case, you can contact your state health department to report a problem or receive guidance on the proper on how and to whom to report.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes a clickable U.S. map through which you can drill down to find contact information for your state.
For example, if the restaurant you wish to report is located in New York City
- Go to CDC's Public Health Resources: State Health Departments web page
- Click on the dark green "Eastern" region of the U.S. map.
- Click on New York. This will link you to the general New York State Health Department web page on which you can find a vast array of information.
In most cases, the next step is to search the site for a listing of local health departments, as that is generally the agency who inspects the restaurants. If you have any trouble finding a listing, click instead on the "Contact" button and request assistance.
Another option is to 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, pets, or insect infestations in food service establishments.