The Dirty Half-Dozen

Wall Geckos, Rats, Cockroaches, Flies, Ants, and Spiders. These fellas make up what I have dubbed “The Dirty Half-Dozen”.

Present in almost every place that man occupies, whether residential or commercial, these guys have been implicated in many food borne illness incidents. By defecating on, feeding on, walking on, or dying in food, they contaminate food without restraint. And when such food is consumed without adequate food safety preventive measures the results are incidents of food borne illness.

They all conduct their activities in similar manner i.e basically by being carriers/ vehicles of pathogenic bacteria (bacteria are largely static and needs to helped around) and spreading them into food.

I’ll try and profile them one by one:

Wall Geckos – The stealthiest of them all. In complete silence and with high reflexes, these creatures creep from kitchen walls and ceiling to shelves and cupboards contaminating every kitchen utensil in their path. When such utensils are used for eating it can result in food borne illness albeit not directly from the food.

Rats – Rats don’t waste much time with kitchen hardware. What they are after is the food itself. Leftover food in the sink, waste food in the dustbin, raw food in the larder are all their favorites. However they don’t just have a bite and move on…in many cases they routinely defecate on the food and by this introduce dangerous pathogens into the food. Inevitably they crawl around and over utensils in the kitchen like the geckos and contaminate these as well. Urine deposit of rats on canned foods have been implicated in a number of deadly food borne illness incidents.

Cockroaches – Cockroaches are known to carry various food borne illness bacteria. Being very versatile (they can climb, crawl and fly short distances), they are very difficult to eradicate once they gain a foothold in a place.

Flies – Perhaps the best known of the lot. Flies pose a danger to health because many pathogens have been found on and in flies and their droppings.

Flies contaminate food in four ways:
1. To feed, they regurgitate enzymes and partly-digested food from the previous meal;
2. They continually defecate;
3. They carry bacteria on the hairs on their body and legs;
4. Pupal cases, eggs, and dead bodies end up in our food.
(R.A. Sprenger 2005)

Ants – Ants are vigorously attracted to sweet foods and that’s where you would almost always find them. However where there are no sweet foods in sight, all other kinds of food may be attacked. Ants transmit bacteria picked up from the soil, from drains, from the toilet into food as they forage around. Their physical presence in food is an equally nuisance form of physical food contamination.

Spiders – Spiders are usually not considered as pests that propagate food borne illness bacteria. They seem to be harmless idyllic creatures lazily spinning their webs in obscure corners of the kitchen. Nevertheless behind this unassuming profile is a reputation of being a transmitter of food borne illness bacteria. What makes spiders a double worry when it comes to food borne illness is that they occupy a low rung in the animal kingdom food chain such that wherever there is widespread presence of spiders one can be certain that wall geckos would follow suit in search of food (spiders are perfect meals for wall geckos) further enhancing the infestation of the house with pests.

Having profiled these creatures, it must be mentioned that no matter how hard humans try, one or more of these folks will inevitably get into the house one way or the other. The trick is to prevent them taking a foothold to reduce the chances of food borne illness incidences in the home. This can be done by:

1. Good housekeeping – maintaining a clean and tidy environment to deprive them of food and harbourage.

2. Storing all food in closed covered containers where possible.

3. Ensuring waste food generated are disposed of quickly.

4. Avoid clutter in the house. Old newspapers, rags, empty cartons make very comfortable nests for rats and hiding places for cockroaches.

5. Employ the use of pesticides and rodenticides – although with caution as these may end up contaminating food if not used with great discretion.

6. Employ physical control means such as traps, nets etc.

7. When coming from the open market, decant the local produce into clean containers before bringing into the house to avoid bringing home these creatures from the market.

8. Keep kitchen utensils and crockery secured and well stored.

With these few steps and many more that can be devised, The Dirty Half-Dozen will be put in proper check and the frontier of food borne illness is pushed back further.