Summer sanitation: Review basic practices to
Summer is an excellent time to review health and sanitation
practices. The warm weather allows you to inspect the building
and make needed repairs. Vacation season provides a break in
routine that you can use to update parent handbooks and train
staff about sanitation and other topics.
This article offers information on pest control, head lice, and food sanitation
practices. For information on handwashing, diapering, toilet learning, taking
a child’s temperature, disinfecting surfaces, dealing with illness, and
preventing disease while swimming, see the sanitation article in the Summer 2000
issue of Texas Child Care.
You open the pantry door to get graham crackers for snack, and a roach scurries
behind the cereal boxes. Then you set the crackers on the snack table, and
a fly lands on the cut-up bananas.
It’s time for the roach and fly spray, you think. Or is it?
As a child care provider, you walk a fine line between getting rid of pests
and protecting children from poisonous pesticides.
Dangers of pests and pesticides
Pests are any insects or small animals that can cause disease or harm. Rats,
mice, mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas can carry diseases such as salmonella,
murine typhus, West Nile virus, encephalitis, and Lyme disease. Flies, roaches,
and mice can contaminate food. Studies have shown that asthma attacks can
be attributed to roach droppings and cast skins. Fire ants, bees, wasps,
scorpions, and certain spiders can bite, causing pain or even threatening
life in people allergic to the venom.
Pesticides are chemicals that kill pests. The toxins in pesticides pose serious
health risks to people and the environment. Studies have shown that infants
and children are more susceptible to these health risks than adults. Because
children are more active on the floor where pesticides are often applied, they
are at greater risk for exposure. Their bodies are still developing, making
it harder for them to cope with the negative effects of pesticides.
Pesticides may inhibit the absorption of nutrients needed for healthy growth.
A child’s excretory system may not be developed enough to fully remove
harmful chemicals. There are also critical periods in human development when
exposure to a toxin can permanently change the way an individual’s biological
Because of the dangers associated with pesticides, at least 34 states regulate
the application of pesticides in schools. In Texas, for example, only licensed
pest control firms or individuals may apply pesticides. In addition, parents
must be notified at the time of their child’s enrollment that the facility
occasionally applies pesticides. This required notification gives you an opportunity
to discuss pesticide use with parents. As a best practice, you may want to
maintain a list of parents who want to be notified before any pest control
As challenging as it may seem,
you have a number of options to ensure that pest control is as safe, legal,
and cost-effective as possible.
Start with prevention
You can reduce pest problems and lessen the need for pesticides through Integrated
Pest Management. IPM combines prevention, environmentally sound practice,
partnership with pest management experts, and common sense.
your facility. The first step is to look for ways that pests may enter
your building and places they can hide. Ideally you will have this done by
a trained pest control specialist. A pest control firm may be willing to do
this inspection free as part of preparing a bid for service. The inspection
should pay particular attention to garbage and food areas in addition to doors,
windows, and other building features.
Another option is to use the checklist available from the Southwest Technical
Resource Center, which was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
in 2001. See box above. The checklist not only lists items to inspect but also
explains each item in the instructions. For example, item No. 6 says, “Doors
seal tightly.” The instructions explain: “If light is visible under
doors, weatherstripping should be installed to prevent entry of rodents and
crawling insects and spiders.”
In addition to an inspection, set up a pest-sighting log. Ask staff to note
which pests they see, location, and time and date of sighting. To help staff
identify common insects, refer to a field guide with color photos. Texas Cooperative
Extension offers one online, http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/.
A log can be useful in identifying specific pests and judging the severity
of a problem. Once your IPM program is underway, you can use the log to note
the response by a pest control technician. A sample log is available from the
Southwest Technical Resource Center. See box above.
Block entry. Once you have identified places where pests can enter and hide,
take steps to prevent them from coming in. These steps may include repairs
such as 1) filling cracks, 2) covering holes, 3) installing windows screens
and screen doors, 4) placing weatherstripping around doors, and 5) placing
grates or screens on drains and vents.
Other steps include changing behavior. Teach children and adults to avoid leaving
doors standing open. Inspect items for pests before bringing them inside. Check
backpacks and grocery items as well as toys and materials that have been used
outdoors. Make your facility less attractive to pests by reducing
what they’re looking for—food, water, and shelter. Cut down tall
grass and weeds next to the building. Keep shrubs and wood mulch at least a
foot away from exterior walls. To discourage ants, maintain a healthy lawn.
If you apply fertilizer, do it lightly in spring, summer, and fall rather than
in one heavy application. Remove trash, stacked wood, cardboard boxes, and
other materials standing next to the building. These materials give pests places
Outdoor lights near doors attract insects; consider moving the lights away
from the door but to a location so that they still shine at doorways. Experts
recommend placing the lights 30 feet from the entryway, using sodium vapor
lights instead of mercury vapor lights.
Don’t let water accumulate in unused wading pools, rain gutters, buckets,
or ground holes. Repair dripping faucets and keep from over-watering plants
and lawns. Keep trash cans and dumpsters at least 50 feet away from the building
entrances. Keep lids on garbage cans closed, and clean cans regularly.
indoors. Inside your facility, maintain a positive air pressure by
using an effective heating and cooling system. Empty and clean closets and
storage areas at least once a year. Eliminate clutter that may harbor pests.
Keep floors swept and mopped, and vacuum carpet and rugs. Clean pet cages regularly,
and knock down spider webs.
Store food in sealed, plastic
containers rather than cardboard boxes. Rotate food stock so that the oldest
food is eaten first. Promptly clean up any spilled food. Dispose of all food
scraps after meals and snacks.
Use nonchemical control
After identifying pests, consider mechanical control measures wherever possible
before using pesticides. If you have only one or two flies, for example,
use a fly swatter. Before treating carpet for fleas, use a vacuum cleaner
with a rotary beater bar. It will pick up a significant number of flea eggs
Ask your licensed pest control professional to use light traps, flypaper, glue
boards, sticky traps, funnel traps, and snap traps. For yellow jackets or bees,
for example, consider placing yellow jacket traps in trees close to the problem
Be careful to place these traps and boards where children cannot reach them
and where adults and children will not get fingers or toes caught in them.
Keep a record of where these traps are and the date they were set. Incidentally,
glue boards are also helpful in monitoring the type and number of pests in
For other nonchemical options,
check the Web site of Beyond Pesticides, a national nonprofit membership organization.
Study the fact sheets on controlling individual pests at www.beyondpesticides.org/ccpai/index.htm.
Before using home remedies, consult with your licensed pest control manager
to ensure compliance with regulations.
Pesticides—a last resort
In some situations, nonchemical solutions are impractical, and you must use
pesticides. If so, your decisions must comply with laws and regulations.
Perhaps the most critical decision is who will apply the pesticide. Twenty-six
states have minimum requirements for pest control applicators at schools. In
Texas, for example, state law requires that all pest control applicators at
child care centers and schools, regardless of the product or device used, be
licensed. Texas allows you to meet this requirement by 1) contracting with
a licensed, commercial pest control business, 2) using an employee who is a
licensed, noncommercial applicator, or 3) a combination of the two.
When making your decision, consider the following factors:
Cost. The cost of contracting with a licensed firm varies widely depending
upon the size of the facility, the type and number of pests, the geographic
area, and other factors. When a pest problem gets out of control, get bids
from several companies, and only those that are properly licensed. In Texas,
you can check licensing status online at www.spcbtx. org/license/lic_search.htm.
Develop a list of specifications you want the company to follow, and place
these in your bid. Talk with companies about their philosophy of pest control.
Look for a firm that’s willing to work with you to achieve control with
the least health risk.
The cost of licensing an employee can range from $2,000 to $3,000. Training,
manuals, examination fees, and an initial license will average about $220,
not counting time and travel. Basic equipment, such as a compressed air sprayer,
duster, bait gun, granule spreader, chemical-resistant gloves, and goggles
will cost roughly $500. Re-occurring annual fixed costs, such as license renewal,
continuing education, liability insurance, and supplies will be between $1,700
and $2,400 per applicator. These figures do not include secure pesticide storage
and termite treatments.
If employees are fully occupied with current duties, it may be necessary to
hire an additional person to do pest control. The person’s wages and
benefits add to the cost.
of service. Location in a small town or rural area could limit
pest control service. Texas, for example, has more than 3,300 licensed, commercial
pest control businesses, most of which are concentrated in major metropolitan
areas. If your facility is in a small town, it may be worth the cost to have
one person on staff licensed to handle emergency situations.
Liability. A child’s illness or disability associated with pest control
could result in a lawsuit against you, the applicator, and the pest control
business. In Texas, the Texas Structural Pest Control Board—the state
licensing agaency for pest control operators—requires all licensed pest
control businesses and certain noncommercial facilities to maintain liability
insurance. A child care employee who is a licensed applicator must comply with
Other states have similar requirements. The minimum insurance requirement in
Texas includes $200,000 for bodily injury and property damage and a total annual
aggregate of $300,000 for all situations in which damage resulted from pest
control activities. Many pest control businesses carry insurance in excess
of the minimum requirement. By having pest control done by a licensed business,
the compensation burden is shared by the pest control business and its insurance
Expertise. Safe and effective pest control requires knowledge of pests, pest
control techniques, and pesticides. Texas, for example, harbors more than 30,000
species of insects, although only a few hundred may be considered pests. In
addition, there are several species of rodents as well as other small mammals,
snakes, birds, mollusks, and arachnids that can inhabit buildings and grounds.
In addition to correctly identifying pests, applicators must know pest biology,
exclusion techniques, pest control equipment, and proper use of pesticides.
They must be able to read pesticide labels and follow the directions. Licensed
applicators have passed exams that test their knowledge of mixing and calculating
appropriate amounts of pesticide products. Applicators also must keep records
and comply with state and federal laws.
Size. The size of your building and grounds and the number of children
in your care can significantly affect the type and amount of pest control to
Managing pest control
Regardless of whether you assign pest control to an employee or contract with
a business, you have options in the types of pesticides used and how they’re
Pesticides come in a wide variety of formulations, but sprays, dusts, and baits
are the most common. Baits are a mixture of a pesticide and food or an attractant.
They are well-suited to IPM programs because they are pest-specific and can
be used in childproof containers. Baits require correct identification of the
pest species, especially ants, because different species prefer different foods.
Sprays and dusts can often be applied to inaccessible areas where pests hide,
which lowers the chance of human contact.
Pesticides represent a potential risk to the environment, to wildlife, and
to human health. That risk increases when a pesticide is used incorrectly,
stored improperly, or discarded carelessly. All pesticides are potentially
dangerous. Unsafe use can harm the applicator, staff, children, pets, and neighbors.
Misuse of pesticides is also a violation of both federal and state laws.
To reduce risk, have all pesticide applications done after business hours when
no children and staff are present. This is especially true if a residual or
aerosol treatment is used.
Ask that “green” products—with ingredients that have minimal
negative impact on the environment—be used whenever possible. Arrange
pest control applications on an as-needed basis rather than according to an