NYC Pledges Review Of Health Inspectors After Rats Captured On Video At KFC

Tuesday, February 27th 2007, 9:42 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A city health inspector who gave a passing grade to a fast-food restaurant a day before television cameras captured images of rats scampering across its floor has been removed from field duty, health officials said Tuesday.

The health department also promised a thorough review to ensure that the city's roughly 100 restaurant inspectors are going about their work correctly after last week's incident at the Manhattan KFC/Taco Bell.

``They could always be better,'' Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said.

After receiving a complaint about rats in the restaurant, the city dispatched an inspector, who found at least 76 fresh rodent droppings in the kitchen and basement and ``conditions conducive to the existence of pest life,'' according to her written report.

The restaurant was told to clean up the mess, sanitize its equipment and hire exterminators, but it was allowed to remain open. A day later, video of rats scrambling about the restaurant began appearing on TV and circulating on the Internet. The city dispatched a second inspector, who ordered the place closed.

Frieden said the original inspection should have resulted in severe action. He said the first inspector and a supervisor had failed to perform a full evaluation that would have triggered a closure under the city's violation points system. The initial inspection assessed the restaurant 10 violation points. The follow-up inspection recorded 92.

``They didn't grade it as severely as they could have,'' Frieden said.

The city did not release the first inspector's name but said she had been on the job since June. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials said she was still working but had been temporarily relieved of field duties.

Frieden said he also had asked the city's anti-corruption agency to review the inspector's work, but he added that there was no evidence she had accepted a bribe. The city also is reviewing past restaurant evaluations performed by the inspector to see if she had been too lenient. Other inspectors will get similar reviews.

The city is in the process of inspecting about 20 restaurants it believes are owned by the same company. The Greenwich Village restaurant remained closed Tuesday.

A receptionist at the New Jersey headquarters of the restaurant's corporate owner, ADF Operating Corp., referred questions to Yum Brands Inc., the parent company of KFC and Taco Bell. Yum Brands has called the situation unacceptable and an isolated incident.

``We want to reassure customers that our restaurants are clean and safe,'' Yum Brands said Tuesday in a statement. ``We will continue to work closely with the New York City Health Department, and if there's ever an issue we will immediately resolve it.''