NEW YORK Operators of restaurants with multiple rodent-related health-code violations would be required to take a course at the health department's new "anti-rodent academy" under remedial measures issued by the city yesterday in response to the rat infestation of a Taco Bell/KFC unit in February.
The new requirement was disclosed in a comprehensive report issued by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on the highly publicized incident, where rats were videotaped frolicking in the Greenwich Village restaurant's dining areas. The report revealed that someone claimed to have been bitten by one of the rats before the infestation was caught on video, yet the department had failed to respond to that and other safety-related complaints about the place.
"Our restaurant program performs well overall," health commissioner Thomas Frieden is quoted as commenting about the study. "But in this instance there were failings of personnel, policy and practice."
The study notes such systematic shortcomings as not having a mechanism in place to trigger action when multiple complaints are logged about an establishment. It also noted such mistakes as a failure by supervisors to order a complete inspection of the KFC/Taco Bell store, which might have disclosed the rodent problem. Instead, the unit was inspected to only a partial inspection on Feb. 22, the day before the rats' antics were caught on video and broadcast via news programs and online video sites such as YouTube.com. The restaurant was closed on Feb. 23.
What's more, the report said, "The sanitarian who inspected the [unit] on Feb. 22nd observed more signs of rodent activity than she reported to her superiors. Had she cited these violations accordingly, they would have justified a failing score and possible a closure of the restaurant." That inspector has since resigned, the report noted.
Despite the acknowledgement of those failings, the department nonetheless asserted that responsibility for the situation lay with the restaurant. "The KFC/Taco Bell was cited for rodent-related violations as recently as December," Frieden said. "If the operators had responded appropriately, they could have prevented the February incident."
Yet the requirement for a remedial course in rat control was apparently the only action required of operators as a result of the study. The curriculum is still being developed, the report noted, though other courses presented by the department's anti-rodent academy were taken by 147 public-safety personnel in March.
Other changes prescribed by the study included the development of a system to monitor restaurants that generate repeated complaints; a revision of the inspection system to put more emphasis on detecting conditions that can foster rodent infestations; and a coordination of the agency's food-safety and pest-control programs, which currently function independent of one another. The report noted that full inspections are now mandated after complaints are filed about a restaurant. It also cited a need for New York communities to help in combating rats, noting that "restaurants are a common source of rodent infestation in New York City."
In releasing the study, the department acknowledged that it had closed more restaurants than usual "during the weeks of intense media scrutiny" following the KFC/Taco Bell situation. But, it said, the pace has since slowed to the traditional level of 20 to 30 closings per month, out of the 700 restaurants that are typically inspected.