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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Cockroaches and Foodborne Illness

As if humans needed another reason to avoid the scurrying, creepy pests known as cockroaches, with their infamous hissing and generally repulsive appearance, along comes an article in Quality Assurance & Food Safety with one more reason:  foodborne illness transmission.

  • According to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) publication, “Cockroaches have been found to be the cause of Salmonella food poisoning that can be life-threatening.” Noting that other pathogenic bacteria, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and coliforms, have been found in cockroaches, UNL explains, “This is because after feeding on contaminated food, disease bacteria can remain in the cockroach digestive system for a month or more. Later, human food or utensils can become contaminated with cockroach feces. It has been shown that Salmonella bacteria survive in cockroach feces for several years.”
  • The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has published a white paper, “Pest Management in the Wake of the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella Outbreak,” including reference to conducive cockroach conditions at PCA at the time of the 2009 recall. (Read the full paper at www.qualityassurancemagazine.com.)

 “Cockroaches can spread 33 different kinds of bacteria,” said Missy Henriksen, NPMA Vice President of Public Affairs. “What we are seeing right now is that it really does underscore the importance of sanitation and proper pest management.” 

So where are cockroaches most likely to be found in a food processing facility? 

  • employee locker rooms, brought in from infested homes. According to the UNL manual, “Cockroaches are easily transported from infested dwellings to new places.”
  • stored goods areas/warehouses, having come in on supplies, both in food and packaging. “German cockroaches, specifically, love that corrugated cardboard,” Dobrinska said. These cockroaches can then transmit foodborne disease, or get into the food. “That’s why it takes due diligence wherever supplies are coming in.”
  • dark, hidden areas, entering through open doors or windows. “That makes a very easy entry point,” Henriksen said.

Although all can be modes of entry, the primary mode will vary by cockroach species. Oriental cockroaches, for example, may crawl under a door or through cracks. Sewer system repairs may send displaced American cockroaches up into buildings. German cockroaches usually come in with supplies or employees, rather than from outdoors. But in most cases, seeing one cockroach means there are more. Regardless of the species, “they are not single pests,” Henriksen said.