Taco Bell rats are stars for a day

Rats seen in a closed KFC/Taco Bell in New York City's Greenwich Village cause another public relations setback for the company.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A pack of a dozen or more rats scurrying around a closed KFC/Taco Bell restaurant in New York City's Greenwich Village early Friday morning prompted shrieks from onlookers and fodder for the morning television talk shows, which aired video of the infestation.

The restaurant, on 6th Avenue near New York University, had been cited as recently as December for a number of health code violations, including evidence of rodents and live cockroaches.

KFC and Taco Bell is owned by Yum Brands (Charts) - a publicly held corporation based in Louisville, Ky. The two restaurants often operate in the same retail space.

The company said in a written statement that the restaurant was inspected as recently as Thursday and tried to address the problem by doing construction in the basement. Ironically, it said that work may have temporarily worsened the infestation problem.

"This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards," the company statement says. "We've talked with the franchisee, who is actively addressing this issue, as is evident by the preventative construction in the basement yesterday that temporarily escalated the situation.

"This store will remain closed until this issue is completely resolved. The health department inspected the restaurant yesterday and we will ask them to return when work is complete to give the restaurant a clean bill of health"

Most Taco Bell restaurants are owned by franchisees.

Public records indicate that the last listed owner on record for this franchise is Matthew Bernardo of Madison, Conn. Calls to Bernardo were not returned.

Although it passed its health inspections, the restaurant was cited for evidence of rodents several times in the past three years, among other violations. 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 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. Spokeswoman Sara Markt said if there is an "imminent risk to health" - a "critical violation that can't be corrected" - closure could be a possibility.

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 Prevention traced back to the chain's supplier of lettuce.

The outbreak prompted the closure of many Taco Bell restaurants throughout the Northeast.

- By CNN's Caleb Silver. CNN's Chris Kokenes, Mythili Rao and Katy Byron contributed to this report.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention traced the outbreak of E. coli at Taco Bell to onions.)


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