NEW: Rats and restaurants are an icky and dangerous combination

Since January, state inspectors have cited 51 Palm Beach County restaurants for evidence of rodents. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation inspectors found just a few tell-tale droppings at some establishments, and dozens and hundreds at others. They even spotted a few dead rats.

Such evidence is a high-priority violation that requires the restaurant to close until the issue is addressed. In 2016 inspectors cited 87 Palm Beach County restaurants for rodent-related violations.

Sure, there’s a definite “ick” factor to finding out that a restaurant you like has the problem, and it’s so bad that the place was temporarily closed because of it, but should you be worried?

» Check inspection reports for your favorite Palm Beach County restaurants

Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites. Diseases carried by rodents can also be spread to humans indirectly, through ticks, mites or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent.

The CDC lists seven diseases that rats and mice in North America transmit directly such as Plague and Rat-bite fever and 11 they transmit indirectly. That list includes Lyme Disease, Relapsing Fever, West Nile Virus and others, some of which can be fatal.

“Rodents spread diseases through droppings and urine. In addition, they have fleas on their skin. They have thousands of bacteria. They urinate as they walk. The droppings spread disease and contamination. It makes people sick,” said Ken Kuscher, a Boynton Beach-based state-certified food safety instructor with 35 years’ experience.

» Why you should be concerned about roaches in restaurants

Even a rat rubbing against equipment or scurrying across a counter can cause contamination. It’s just unsanitary.

Kuscher, who also owns four Miami restaurants with his son, said there’s no excuse for restaurants to have rodents, and they shouldn’t be blaming the landlord.

“If you have a rodent problem, you’d better fix it fast and fix it right. And if you don’t, you should not be exposing the public to this,” Kuscher said.

Restaurant owners shouldn’t do their own pest control, Kuscher said, but should hire a professional exterminator on a regular basis. Exterminators have access to the needed chemicals and can do a better job.

» Breakfast cafe west of Lake Worth cited for roaches, rodents

If restaurant owners think the cost of hiring an exterminator is too high, they need to consider what the cost will be in lost business if they do not get on top of the problem and are cited for a rodent-related violation.

Tim Husen, technical services manager for Atlanta-based Orkin, said prevention is key to keeping rodents out.

“Rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. And mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime. So it’s important to stay vigilant for signs of rodents and to seal up places they can squeeze through. Just like humans, they are looking for food, water and shelter,” Husen said.

Restaurants should take measures such as replacing door sweeps, making sure vents and other openings are screened, and that fixing holes.

» Four restaurants get perfect scores in Pa lm Beach County

The health risks are significant, Husen said, as food and surfaces could become contaminated by rodents.

The West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce area ranks 36th on Orkin’s rattiest cities list. The cities are ranked by the number of rodent treatments the company performed form Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016 at both residential and commercial properties.

The top three rattiest cities are Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., and Miami-Fort Lauderdale ranked 13th, Orkin said.

Kathleen Keenan, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said the Florida Administrative Code requires food and lodging establishments to rodent-proof their buildings which must be free of rodents. They must establish effective control measures to keep out rodents, flies, roaches and other vermin.

If a consumer believes a restaurant establishment is out of compliance or does not meet general safety and sanitation standards, they are encouraged to file a complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation at

Anyone can look up recent inspections of any public food service establishment in the state of Florida from brick-and- mortar restaurants to food trucks online or by downloading DBPR’s free mobile app from the iTunes or Google Play app stores. Check it out before deciding where to dine.

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