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Yum! tries to quiet rat ruckus

NEW YORK Yum! Brands Inc. has ordered a Taco Bell-KFC combo unit here to close after the "Today" show and other media ran video clips of rats frolicking inside the restaurant.

"We will not allow it to be reopened until it has been sanitized and given a complete clean bill of health," the franchising giant said this afternoon in a statement issued by its KFC holding. The outlet is reportedly franchised to a company called ADF Fifth Operating Corp.

Passers-by apparently alerted local media after spotting the rodents roaming inside the restaurant after it closed. Some of the reports noted that the restaurant had been allowed to remain open despite a Dec. 11 inspection by the city health department that cited "evidence of rats or live rats present in facility's food and/or non-food areas." The inspector docked the establishment 10 points for that and other food-safety violations, including "inadequate" lighting. At least 28 points have to be deducted to fail an inspection, according to the posted results.

Stories about the rat infestation appeared throughout Friday, starting on WCBS-TV and including prominent coverage on Today, NBC's nationwide morning show. Some reports noted that Yum's stock price dropped by 1 percent in early trading, but did not cite any evidence that the decline was caused by the situation.

The unit is located at 4th Street and Avenue of the Americas, in the heart of Greenwich Village. The coverage came about two months after Taco Bells in the East were the scene of an E. coli outbreak. Yum chief executive David Novak recently acknowledged to investors that the Mexican brand had yet to bounce back financially from that incident.

"We want to assure our customers that nothing is more important to us than food safety and their health," KFC said in the statement. It called the situation "an isolated incident" limited to a single restaurant.

Yum, based in Louisville, Ky., operates or franchises some 34,000 restaurants worldwide, including 14,000 KFC units.

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