A study on the potential of ants to act as vectors of foodborne pathogens

AIMS Microbiol. 2018 Apr 20;4(2):319-333. doi: 10.3934/microbiol.2018.2.319. eCollection 2018.


Ants (Technomyrmex difficilis and Solenopsis geminata) are insects often found in domestic kitchens of Mauritius. Unfortunately, they harbour disease-causing organisms and can potentially transfer these pathogens to food. This study was carried out to (i) investigate the knowledge, perception and behaviors of consumers in relation to the problem of ant infestation of domestic kitchens; (ii) identify the pathogenic microorganisms carried by ants; and (iii) determine the potential for ants to transfer these pathogenic microorganisms to food. A survey based on a stratified sampling design was carried out with 100 consumers using a questionnaire. To identify the pathogenic microorganism(s) harbored by ants, bait traps were set up using sterile sugar as a non-toxic attractant. Captured ants were then subjected to microbiological analyses. Most respondents (72%) agreed that ants constitute a hygienic issue but they did not perceive ants as a serious threat to human health. However microbiological analyses of ants (n = 50) confirmed the presence of various pathogenic microorganisms as well as fecal contaminants. Ants were found to harbor yeasts and molds systematically (100%), coliforms frequently (52%), Bacillus spp. and Escherichia coli occasionally (26% and 18% respectively) and Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes sporadically (8 and 6 % respectively). Ants were also found to transfer E. coli to food surfaces at a moderately high frequency of 70%. This study demonstrated that the majority of consumers acknowledged the problem of ant infestation as a sanitation-related problem rather than a food safety issue. Since ants have the ability to harbor and subsequently transfer pathogenic or toxigenic microorganisms, ants may act as disease vectors and contaminate food, water and food- contact surfaces of kitchens resulting in foodborne illnesses.

Keywords: ants; consumers; food; pathogens; vectors.