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Summer sanitation: Review basic practices to prevent disease

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 .

Pest control
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 system operates.
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 application.
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.
Inspect 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,
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.
Clean up 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 to hide.
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.
Clean up 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 and larva.
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 area.
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 the facility.
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 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.
Availability 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 this requirement.
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 carrier.
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.
Facility 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 be done.

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 applied.
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 arbitrary schedule.