Green Room

Starbucks that Received “A” Grades from NYC Health Dept Found Teeming with Fecal Organisms

posted at 10:41 am on May 30, 2011 by

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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If it’s the Tines Square Starbucks I’m thinking of, you definitely want your coffee perked above 212 degrees to kill off the germs — crush loading with virtually no place to sit, and people’s hands all around the counter and the standee drinking tables.

Mayor Mike imported this brainstorm from California, but in a high-volume place like Times Square, even if the inspectors are doing their jobs, things can change a hour later. You don’t want a sanitary scandal like the Kentucky Fried Rats Chicken one in Greenwich Village a few years ago, but this system is more to make the mayor look good than to be a 100 percent guarantee that the guy buying the coffee/food in the store five minutes ago bothered to wash his hands before he put them on the counter you and the clerk are now touching.

jon1979 on May 30, 2011 at 11:09 AM

things can change a hour later

Correctamundo. It’s one of the flaws in Bloomie’s “scarlet letter” system of grades.

Howard Portnoy on May 30, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Oh my gosh! Sure make you want to go out and eat doesn’t it? Another place that should get tested are those cooking and serving the food. Lots of people do not wash their hands after the bathroom. They are suppose to, but I bet most don’t. I think I will do more cooking at home from now on.

letget on May 30, 2011 at 11:41 AM

jon1979 on May 30, 2011 at 11:09 AM

I know you are correct in what you say. But knowing that and the store manager also knowing it, addressing the issue, and advising all his other associates is another matter altogether. Even at the highest levels at any restaurant these folks know, they just don’t invest in keeping the joint clean.

Robert17 on May 30, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Who cares about fecal organisms? Just tell me the Salt Police are on the job.

J.E. Dyer on May 30, 2011 at 7:52 PM

Just tell me the Salt Police are on the job.

🙂 Not just the Salt Police, J.E. This is erstwhile Republican Michael Bloomberg, so the Climate Change Police are busy as well.

Howard Portnoy on May 30, 2011 at 8:02 PM

The letter grading system here in NYC is nothing more than a graft operation, and Bloomterd knows it. I’ve seen the cleanest spic n span restaurants tortured by health inspectors who don’t even speak English in order to shake down efficient operations for bull$hyte fines while the scummiest hellholes in NY get A ratings, because they either pay off the inspector or it’s not worth the inspector’s time to do a thorogh inspection because the joint would just go out of business. Starbucks most likely paid the inspectors to go away.

I’m not a restaurant owner, just a keen observer. This rating system has terrorized not just small business owner, but the eating public. 95% of the time, a sentient being can determine for himself if the place is clean or filthy; if it’s not, complaints to the health dept add up and people don’t go there anymore.

Bloomterd needs a fecal check on his oral content. He is a true little emperor whose contempt for his subjects is constantly on display.

Western_Civ on May 31, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Starbucks … Found Teeming with Fecal Organisms

That would be the one closest to the House and Senate offices, right?

Mary in LA on May 31, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Thank goodness they didn’t report on trouble at Papaya King. One Weinergate scandal at a time is my limit.

docjeff on May 31, 2011 at 11:34 PM

That wasn’t a double mocha???

Roy Rogers on June 1, 2011 at 9:12 AM