Starbucks that Received “A” Grades from NYC Health Dept Found Teeming with Fecal Organisms
posted at 10:41 am on May 30, 2011 by Howard Portnoy
Heckuva job, Bloomie. That shout-out is for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose much ballyhooed letter grading system for city restaurants was a personal guarantee of cleanliness. The plan was implemented last year despite complaints that inspections were wildly inconsistent and that “scarlet letters” of the type the mayor was proposing would be a kiss of death at a time when businesses were already hurting. So how effective is the mayor’s new system?
That was one of the questions underlying an investigation by FOX 5, the New York FOX TV affiliate, which took its cameras and testing kits to several Starbucks in the New York area. All had received a grade of “A”—the highest rating given by inspectors with the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
An investigator swabbed high-traffic areas, including countertops and the handles on the self-serve milk dispensers. Specimens were sent to Philip Tierno, director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center. About half were contaminated with “fecal organisms.” One specimen taken from a countertop at a Starbucks near Times Square was teeming with bacteria, including E. coli and a host of other organisms indicating “that fecal matter was placed on the counter at some point.”
A swab from a countertop at Hell’s Kitchen Starbucks revealed a colony of yeast, which the doctor identified as either gastrointestinal or vaginal in origin. When asked about its provenance, Tierno responded:
Either the washing fluid [used to clean the surfaces] was dirty, or they didn’t use a sanitizing agent, a disinfectant. Or it wasn’t done.
He noted that another possibility was that a customer touched the surface with dirty hands.
Samples taken from milk containers in three separate Starbucks stores tested positive for traces of Enterococcus, fecal strep, E. coli, and Klebsiella.
When confronted with the findings, a spokesman for Starbucks defended the coffee chain’s record, noting:
All of our New York City stores meet or exceed New York City Department of Health standards, including the three stores sampled.
More’s the pity.
In the meantime, the mayor’s office has yet to issue a statement regarding this investigation.
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