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Officials Indicted for Allowing a Fast Food Joint Teeming With Rats in New York to Function

Third Word Officials may take heart. Their counterparts in the Health department of the much-vaunted New York have been blamed for allowing// a fast-food joint swarming with rats to continue to function.

The city health inspector responsible for the “shoddy audit” resigned Monday.

The infestation, which was captured on videotape, created a national stir and prompted increased enforcement of health code rules at city eateries. Only after the tape was aired, the restaurant was closed down.

According to the New York City Health Department Web site, the KFC/Taco Bell restaurant has been cited for rat or mice problems no fewer than four times in the past three years.

Last year, the restaurant was cited for 14 violations, including inadequate personal cleanliness; evidence of roaches or live roaches present in the facility's food; and evidence of mice or live mice present in the facility's food and/or non-food areas.

The Department of Investigation, found plenty of shortcomings such as the city's lacking an "adequate mechanism" to respond to repeated restaurant complaints and focusing too heavily on signs of rodent activity rather than conditions that fostered infestations.

"After a thorough investigation, DOI found a disturbing lack of diligence on the part of the public health sanitarian who inspected the restaurant as well as a breakdown in the supervision of the inspector," DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said.

The DOI said the inspector, Cemone Thomas, "underreported the rodent-related findings and failed to take proper action ... which constituted a 'gross dereliction' of her duties."

On Feb. 22, Thomas documented only 87 rat droppings and didn't cite an additional 20, which would have caused the restaurant to fail the inspection and could have forced it to close immediately, the DOI noted.

The very next day the rodent invasion was captured on camera.

She perhaps re frained from putting together a more comprehensive report as doing so would have meant more responsibility for her. She would have had to take necessary follow-up action. She did not want to be burdened with such work, the investigating officials reasoned.

Thomas resigned before the contents of the rat reports were made public.

One of Thomas' supervisors, the food safety program's director of customer service, was accused of botching up the Health department’s procedures in relation to preparing the reports on the restaurant.

He is being reassigned and will no longer have supervisory responsibilities within the department, it has been stated.

There were failings of personnel, policy and practice, New York Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said.

"We have identified weaknesses in our system for handling restaurant complaints and combating rodent infestations," Frieden said.

A spokesperson said "a lot of things are going to change."

Among them: The city intends to develop a system to monitor 311 records for restaurant complaints, to establish a threshold for inspection based on the nature, frequency and timing of complaints and to revise the inspection system to place greater emphasis on conditions that attract and sustain pests.

In the wake of the incident, the parent company of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut said it had asked a leading rat expert to review company standards at its New York outlets. The company apologized for the rats and said it was working to ensure another infestation didn't happen again.

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