Pest Control: How Restaurants Keep Flies Away
“Boogers with wings”. That’s my favourite description of Musca domestica, or the common housefly. But that’s just a silly, and rather tame way to talk about what is in fact a killing machine, not just an annoying bug that is an inevitable element of the Mumbai monsoon. The common housefly is a carrier for parasites, bacteria and viruses that cause over a 100 diseases including poliomyelitis, cholera, leprosy, salmonella, anthrax and tuberculosis. And these days, flies seem to be everywhere, sampling our food wherever they can get it, in our kitchens, at street food stalls, and in restaurants, especially those with deli counters and al fresco sections. The monsoon, with its cooler temperatures and ample humidity, fosters breeding conditions.
This very detailed WHO report on Musca domestica lays out some plain facts, including why this might be their favourite season, which diseases they carry and spread, and how their very grossness makes them deadly. For example:
The female fly lays eggs five times in her life, every two weeks, 120 to 130 eggs each time, and on fine quarters such as faeces, manure or garbage. Adult flies feed on similarly rich pastures such as animal dung, excreta (including human sweat), organic waste including dead animals, blood and food. They are also ready to reproduce two days after they become adults. The fly’s body and legs are covered with tiny hairs that transfer particles from one feeding ground to another.
If it wasn’t clear already, a fly resting its legs momentarily on a morsel before you eat it, has dropped a package of inedible and downright dangerous material on that bite. (This is also true for any surface that comes in contact with food, such as fingers, or a plate. And flies love to touch down on any matter that may be edible to them because their taste buds are on their legs.) But the problem is not so much what’s outside a fly’s body. Flies suck food in through their proboscis. So before they eat solid food, they liquefy it by dropping saliva on it, or by vomiting (digestive juices and recent meals) on it. Because it eats continuously, it also needs to er, shit, continuously. So the fly has not only dropped other animals’ pathogen-laden shit on your food, but also vomited and shat on it. As disgusting as all of that sounds, not everyone who has eaten food that’s been touched by a fly falls sick. Yet it’s obvious that consuming a contaminated item involves a fair bit of risk.
Flies aren’t going to buzz off anytime soon; they’ve been around for over 20 million years. The best we can do is take precautions, and hope that the food service industry does too. Also, the fly is an equal-rights offender; it visits everyone from the roadside sandwichwalla to a fancy dim sum house like Yauatcha, leaving it to the staff to shoo, smoke out, chemically block, zap and generally keep the pest away.
At Sanjay Singh’s sandwich stall in Kala Ghoda, Laxmi dhoop burns continuously in a small steel saucer, not for religious reasons, but because “makhhi nahin aati hai”. And indeed, in spite of the sugarcane juice stall nearby, there are no flies on Singh’s work surface. The dhoop tactic is not only for the streets. Churchgate restaurant Samrat’s bakery 210 degrees has about six of the incense stubs around the place.
There are other ways to smoke out bugs. The Out of the Blue restaurants in Khar and Powai have their own fumigation machines, and they use them twice a day during non-service hours. They also have staff members who are assigned to the job of keeping the place bug-free, said Rahul Bajaj whose family runs Out of the Blue. Early evening visitors to Yauatcha will notice that the staff uses fogging machines that distribute insecticide around the building to deter the bugs from getting inside the restaurant. For most dining establishments in the heavily infested Bandra Kurla Complex, the fight against flies and bugs is part of the daily routine, year round. Yauatcha has recently amped up its efforts after initial complaints. To enter the restaurant, visitors pass through a swinging door armed by a guard who makes sure it doesn’t stay open, then an air curtain and finally, automatic sliding doors. The macaroon and pastry counter on the ground level is a temperature-controlled glass box with sliding doors that the staff opens only on receiving an order.
Providing easy access to sugary treats will make any place a hit with flies. Pastry chef and founder-proprietor of Le15 patisserie Pooja Dhingra uses a multi-pronged approach for her shop at Palladium: fly-kill machines, the tennis racket-shaped bug zappers, food-safe Forest Essentials mosquito repellant oil in diffusers, and closed glass counters. “We open and close them quickly; no flies have gotten in so far,” said Dhingra. Recently Dhingra met a friend at Olive in Mahalaxmi. “There were no flies, but the moment our coffee arrived, so did the flies.” she said. When they didn’t go away even after much shooing, the staff—in what qualifies as ingenious service—handed Dhingra and her friend a racket zapper.
Ashwin D’Souza, the deputy general manager for restaurant operations at Olive, confirmed that they use the rackets sometimes. Also, in addition to standard procedures and judiciously placed fly-kill machines, they wipe down the restaurant’s tables with herbal disinfectant, and use lemon grass oil in the courtyards. “It not only keeps the flies away but also helps to keep the surroundings fresh,” he said. At Theobroma, apart from using double doors, fly-kill machines and air curtains, owner Kainaz Messman also cling wraps everything in and on the counters during these months. “It makes the food look less attractive, but it’s the only way,” she said. “Despite our best efforts, in Mumbai we cannot eliminate the problem, but we can minimise it”.Tags: Flies, Le15 Patisserie, Olive, Out of the Blue, pests, Restaurants, Samrat, Sanjay Singh, The Tastemaker, Theobroma, Yauatcha