HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The rodent-infested cafeteria in Pennsylvania's Capitol where Gov. Ed Rendell, lawmakers, and many statehouse visitors and employees regularly dine was not inspected for four years, despite a law requiring annual such checks.
That revelation behooves the need for a new food safety law to
greatly improve the restaurant inspection process, state Auditor
General Jack Wagner said Thursday.
A 2005 audit by Wagner's office found that thousands of
Pennsylvania restaurants were being licensed without the required
annual inspections for sanitation and health, and that penalties
for failing the checks had been rare and insignificant.
As part of the audit, Wagner raised the concern that
jurisdictional wrangling between the state and the city of
Harrisburg was leaving the Capitol cafeteria uninspected.
As a result, the Agriculture Department inspected the cafeteria
in November 2005 and, according to Wagner, told his auditors in
2007 that it was continuing regular inspections.
Agriculture Department spokesman Justin Fleming called the
four-year lapse an "unfortunate oversight" while the agency
worked to correct problems cited in Wagner's audit.
As to whether the agency misled auditors in 2007, Fleming said
the Agriculture Department was working to locate any records of
written communication on the matter.
Last week, Agriculture Department inspectors finally arrived at
the ground-floor cafeteria, a popular coffee and lunch spot.
They found a "severe" rodent infestation, including an
"excessive" amount of rodent droppings on food preparation
equipment and in cabinets, utensil bins and elsewhere.
The droppings indicate the presence of live mice and are
considered an imminent health risk.
The now-closed cafeteria is not expected to reopen until
January. Aramark Corp., the Philadelphia-based food service company
that runs the cafeteria, is working with state workers to clean it
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)