Midnight. A restaurant parking lot.

Some new busboy emptying tumblers into the sink that evening must have tossed out the lemon along with the tea. Now, a fly, lured by the esters in yeast forming on the decaying rind somewhere down the pipe, is heading straight for the outdoor drain opening.

And you thought the health inspector was your enemy ….

flyspotting-infographic
Flies want three things: food, water, and in.

To get these three things, they do what we simplistically refer to as “flying.” From the moment they emerge from their pupae as adults, flies are on a high-speed binge. Wheeling and banking through space and out of harm’s way, they’re moving rotting wet pathogen-laden organic matter through their machinery faster than any woodchipper, drooling and retching, lurching and purging from both ends. That’s right: the whole time flies are flying–or landing, mating, laying eggs, dying–they’re also eating, and vomiting or defecating or both.

To accomplish this noble work, flies are equipped with brains and bodies that are at least as much more powerful than ours as they are smaller. There’s that outrageous metabolism. Then, wings. Flies can feel and taste through their wings. They can read the wind and smell through their antennae. They have gyroscopes.

Flies are amazing. Compared to them, we suck. But given that we suck, what’s even more amazing than flies is how easy it is to keep them out of a restaurant.

Above all, flies are about the eyes. For something that regurgitates its way through life, the fly is downright OCD about its eyes, constantly grooming them around the edges to keep debris away. You would be, too, if your eye were the fastest visual system on the planet. Flies have two of those, plus another bonus set of eyes on the top of their heads that we don’t even understand. And, you know how your eyes give you a single view? Theirs do, too–except our view comes from two lenses and theirs comes from thousands. Our view span extends about 120 degrees; theirs, 360. Their eyes can’t focus, but they can detect polarized colors and colors on the spectrum that we can’t. Our optical flow–the apparent motion that we detect through our eyes–is based on a rate of about 6 frames per second. They see at 250, and their optical flow is, simply, sick.

A fly’s eyes recognize even the slightest movements in a wide field, but also react faster, sending information to their brains at super-high frequencies. What’s more, their comparatively minuscule 100,000-neuron brains, nervous systems, and musculature, do, too.

The same parking lot. 12:01 a.m.

Back at the restaurant, the fly is millimeters from entering the drain when suddenly, a burp of noxious air disgorges a fleck of something wet through the narrow openings in the drain cover. To avoid a body blow with the relative impact of an airbag, the fly, in the blink of a human eye, must switch up a pattern in a hinge at the base of its wing that corrects its pitch, yaw, roll, and trajectory for the disruption in flight path more than ten times until it spins away to safety and the next airborne whiff of rotting food.

And all the joint had to do was screen off its outdoor drain.

Epilogue

Flies are amazing. Compared to them, we suck. But given that we suck, what’s even more amazing than flies is how easy it is to keep them out of a restaurant.

KaTom has the air doors, floor mats, lights, fans, washdown equipment, and janitorial supplies needed to implement the exterior solutions detailed on our infographic.

Smart guys will consult their local health department for detailed requirements on keeping both the insides and outsides and their foodservice operations clean and compliant. In most cases, a thorough cleaning to remove wet, organic matter done twice weekly can completely disrupt flies’ life cycle, turning a sanitation nightmare into a realistically manageable routine–so that law-abiding folks can dine in comfort once again.

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing. Connect with Elaine Evans on Google+