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As seen on TV.

The national hysteria over unsanitary conditions in our country’s restaurants and markets continued this week when television stations captured footage of shrieking onlookers as they saw numerous rats scurrying around a closed Taco Bell/Pizza Hut restaurant in Greenwich Village Friday morning.

The restaurant, near New York University has been cited as recently as two months ago for a slew of health code violations, including rodent and cockroach infestation. According to an Associated Press news report, the rats were scampering around the floor, playing with each other and sniffing for food as they dashed around the tables and children’s high chairs.

Officials at Yum Brands, which owns both Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, said that the rats may have been disturbed as a result of construction in the restaurant’s basement, which was ironically being done to bring the building back to compliance with the health code. Although the restaurant passed its health inspections, it was cited for evidence of rodents several times in the past three years, according to a news report on CNN.

Surprisingly, in its most recent inspection, the restaurant scored a 10 on the city Department of Health’s inspection meter. A score of 28 or more indicates that the restaurant poses a public health hazard.

The restaurant’s scores have reportedly improved from a 16 in 2004 and a 14 in March of 2006. Still, the Department of Health has cited the restaurant for evidence of rodents and live rodents and insects in each of the past three years.

The Taco Bell chain suffered an enormous public relations setback last fall when dozens of people were sickened by E. Coli bacteria, which the Center for Disease Control and Taco Bell traced back to the chain’s supplier of lettuce. The outbreak prompted the temporary closure of many Taco Bell restaurants throughout the Northeast and has spurred lawsuits nationwide.

Watching this video of rats running around in a Taco Bell was enough to put me off fast food tacos for a few light years. Seriously, you have to wonder how health officials are enforcing the code. If this place has been receiving citation after citation for the last three years, specifically for rodent and roach infestation, shouldn’t they have been shuttered at least two years ago? Apparently the consequence of repeated citations is not enough to gain compliance. Isn’t the health department exposing the public to the multitude of diseases these rodents and insects have been carrying around?

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