ANALYSIS: Who is responsible when rats eat out at restaurants?

ANALYSIS: Who is responsible when rats eat out at restaurants?

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Consumers are feeling a bit ratty about customers seeing rats in two stores of Food Lovers’ Market. So who is responsible for ensuring that rodents and pests do not get to eat out at restaurants and delis?

Would it be the municipality’s environmental practitioners, the landlord of the mall or the store management?

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“The main responsibility definitely rests on the store management,” says Nicola Brook, director of Foodpath, a company that specialises in all aspects of hygiene and food safety.

“The municipality issues the certificate of acceptability after an inspection of the premises [which is] in the name [and the ID number] of the person responsible. Therefore this is the person responsible for ensuring that we do not see rats in food stores.”

Although South Africa reportedly has only one environmental practitioner per 30 000 people while the World Health Organisation recommends one for every 10 000 people, Brook says this is not the main problem.

“Rats are drawn by food scraps and other rubbish and it is possible that rubbish in the vicinity was not collected on time during the festive season, leading to more waste lying around.

“However, it was still up to the store and specifically the person whose name is on the certificate of acceptability to ensure that conditions such as rubbish that was not collected does not create a breeding ground for rats,” Brook says.

She explains that these certificates of acceptability are not checked annually due to the low number of environmental health practitioners employed by each municipality.

“Only eThekwini issues certificates with expiry dates for a period of two years. Circumstances can change a lot quicker than that. Also, if a new person is put in charge of a store, according to the regulations, that person is supposed to apply for a new certificate from the local municipality.” 

There is not much communities can do to alleviate the problem if rubbish piles up, but the responsible person can take steps to avoid problems. Rats and other rodents are pests in urban areas because they contaminate food, damage infrastructure, may cause injury and carry diseases such as plague, murine typhus, leptospirosis, ricketsialpox and rat-bite fever according to the  World Health Organisation.

You do not have to wait until you see rats in a store to know they are there. They can also be detected by smell, damage to food, packaging and property, gnaw marks, droppings, grease marks, foot prints and tail marks and holes in the ground outside the property.

Rats get into food premises in food packaging, through broken air bricks, open windows, missing roof tiles, the drainage system, open fresh air inlets and doors being left or propped open. The most effective form of pest control is good housekeeping by keeping premises clean and free of refuse or food scraps. Other forms of pest control are repairing broken doors, windows, tiles, airbricks, fresh air inlets, drainage systems and holes and the use of pesticides to kill the rats. 

It is also important to keep doors and windows closed, ensure the drainage systems are in a good state of repair, adopt a clean as you go policy, do not leave food lying around, dispose of food waste and other refuse in bins with lids and train and instruct staff to recognise signs and action to take on seeing rodents.

According to a statement on the company website from Brian Coppin, CEO, Food Lovers’ Holdings instructed the owner of the Diepkloof store to close it temporarily with immediate effect to allow a team of specialists to do a deep clean to ensure that it is clean, hygienic, up to the normal Food Lovers’ standard and ready to operate at the required level when it re-opens in about a week’s time. 

Coppin also reiterated in the statement that all Food Lovers’ stores are dealt with equally, particularly regarding procurement, display and cleanliness of product.

“We also demand where stores fall short of our standards that they take immediate remedial action, failing which they are dealt with severely.”

According to the statement, the company’s stores are subject to a monthly mystery shopper visit by an independent company and are also audited quarterly by its internal Health and Safety Division.

“Where a store falls short of our standards, we work with them to implement immediate remedial action and conduct regular follow up audits.” 

Consumers have a lot more power in the age of social media. Once the news of a rat in a shop goes viral, it cannot be stopped and as consumers get more health-conscious, they will rather shop somewhere else.

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