Saturday, March 13, 2004
At USDA, the Mouse Is in the House
( "Employees at the Department of Agriculture's main cafeteria were just sitting down to lunch on Friday when security guards ordered everyone in the huge eatery to leave.

Al Qaeda? Bomb scare? No. Mouse droppings. The D.C. Department of Health closed the cafeteria for failing to pass inspection.

Yes, the USDA, home to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the meat and poultry inspectors -- the agency that is part of the federal system for protecting the nation's food supply, was in violation of the D.C. Health Code.

There were several citations, according to the inspection report, including: 'water leaking excessively' in the ceiling, employees not wearing hair restraints, and inadequate cleaning of the inside of ice machines, cabinets, surfaces and equipment.

The biggest problem, however, seemed to be mouse droppings found everywhere -- in the dry storage room, by the salad bar, behind the ovens, near the serving line, behind the soda machines. There were dead mice in one trap. The rodents can cause some serious diseases.

'These conditions make people sick,' said Theodore J. Gordon, senior deputy director for environmental health science and regulation for the D.C. health department. 'It's inexcusable for these conditions to be allowed,' he said. 'This is just basic sanitation. This is elbow grease -- it doesn't cost money. People are entitled to safe food.'

The cafeteria, which feeds many hundreds of employees each day for breakfast and lunch and afternoon noshes, is more important for employees at USDA than cafeterias at other agencies because there are few commercial alternatives nearby."

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