As bartenders we like educating not only ourselves, but also our guests on different spirits, cocktails, beers, wine, aging processes, distillation, fermentation etc. When it comes to basic cleanliness and keeping fruit flies out of our bars (and out of our drinks) we are certainly uneducated.
At least once a week someone asks “How do I get rid of fruit flies?” on reddit. The responses are always the same:
- Call a bug guy
- Dump bleach down the drains
- Put up bug strips
- Cover drain holes
- Burn the entire place down
- Put out trap jars of sugar/dish soap/booze/poison and cover them with saran wrap that has holes poked in the top
I hate these suggestions because it’s the blind leading the blind. None of us are certified exterminators but a tiny bit of research can move us in a better direction. Everyone is up in arms about disposable straws but do they know that every bartender in creation is dumping bleach down their drains at night?! According to the Household Products Database at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), chlorine bleach is corrosive to the eyes; injures skin and mucous membranes on contact; and is harmful if swallowed. While you can technically pour bleach down a sink (it breaks down into basically salt water over time) there are other safer methods. Also it can be pretty rough on your pipes if you clean with other cleaning products. Using other products and then pouring bleach on top of them can cause problems. Not the end of the world of course (unless you mix bleach and ammonia in a closed in space like a bar) but to kill the little fruit flies you can do it without using chemicals. Behind the bar we have a few things like glass cleaner, sanitizer, and dishwasher detergent that should never come in contact with bleach. Bleach is a fast and temporary fix that could cause problems. I think we would be better off not dumping that down the sinks.
Bug strips are gross and no one wants to see the tiny carcasses of the flies stuck to them while they are sipping a cocktail that took the majority of their twenty dollar bill. Covering drain holes is just delaying the inevitable and burning the place down involves tons of paperwork. The homemade traps just piss me off and waste inventory while barbacks and bartenders swear up and down that their concoction is better or that it “worked at the last place.” Also they are gross eyesores and the liquid inside will harbor tons and tons of eggs. Where do you think they get dumped out at: the sink.
Know Your Enemy
We need to learn about the fly. The one in question is the Drosophila melanogaster. It is also known as the vinegar fly or the common fruit fly. It is the perfect specimen for biological research in the fields of genetics, microbial pathogenesis, and evolution. They are so perfect because they mate quickly, lay tons of eggs, only have four pairs of chromosomes and exist on all continents. The fly has a lifespan of about a month if temperature and living conditions are ideal. When the temperature is at 82°F they develop fastest, but if the temperature is higher or lower their development slows.
To attract a mate the male does a dance and makes some music like the tried and true move of a first date at a karaoke bar. The male then immediately starts with some smooth talking and oral sex to show that he means business. As soon as she lets her guard down he tries to deposit a few hundred sperm cells into the nether regions of the female. A female can store multiple sperm samples from different males and usually uses a premixed baby gravy cocktail of her own choosing to actually seal the deal. The females also prefer their own brothers to mate with as opposed to a male of no relation. After the female is fertilized, which inversely to humans it’s the females who prefer short bouts of intercouse while the males want to go all night long, she lays her eggs in rotting fruit or other decaying matter. They usually deposit about 100-400 eggs a day. In her short lifetime she will lay on average about 2000 eggs.
The eggs are way small (.5mm long) and take about a half day to hatch if the temperature is around 77°F (or a bar with its AC off at night). The larvae take about 4 days to grow and molt twice within the first two days. The little buggers eat the sugar from their fruit crib and the other smaller guys that are actually decomposing the fruit. Then the mother, out of true love, puts her feces all around the egg sacs to keep the microbial environment similar to what worked for her and after four more days full grown adults emerge from their pupa prisons. Females are ready to mate about a half day after they emerge.
So how do you get rid of them?
I think this is the wrong question. We should be asking: how do we prevent them from laying eggs? The full grown flies are dying left and right. They are an annoyance but if you see flies you have to know that in about eight days you will have more flying around. All too often we find a way to get rid of them and then we go back to our dirty habits not realizing that the eggs have already been laid and they will be back in no time. Prevention is the strategy. Keep these suckers from mating and laying eggs.
- Keep Everything Clean
- Duh. But are you really doing it? Pour spouts? The ring around the drains? Soda guns? Under the bar top? Speed rails? The new barback that is in that weird band? The fruit bowl? The y peeler? Sticky bar top in the morning because of a lazy closer? You’ve got fruit flies on the way my friend.
- Keep All Fruit and Syrups in a Walk-in or Refrigerator
- The flies hate the cold and can’t do much below 40°F. Leaving fruit out for fruit flies would be like leaving bullets out for a bank robber. The fruit will last longer in the fridge too.
- Ice the Drains
- For the first week or so of treatment ice your drains. We need to get over the 8 day egg to adult cycle. Just fill the sinks with ice before you leave at night. The temperature is too cold for the flies and the constant drip will keep things moving around. Whoever opens in the morning should burn what is left over.
- Fan Out
- The best piece of advice I can give you is to put up some cheap fans at night. Nothing expensive or crazy. No need for a Vornado or the magic Dyson one, just something to move air. One fan at each end of the bar to keep air moving and one fan on the floor blowing under all the pipes and stuff. Bigger bar more fans. The air flow keeps the flies from being able to land. If they can’t land, they can’t mate, and if they can’t mate, they can’t lay eggs. This is what will keep them away permanently. This is why outdoor beach bars don’t seem to really have a problem with them. Constant breeze.
To summarize. Be clean. Ice your drains for a week. Put up fans anytime the bar is closed starting today. Live fruit fly free. Get going, you are already behind.