Video of rats scampering across a New York City restaurant floor may have disturbed viewers worldwide but some experts say the rodents are less dangerous than other creatures drawn to restaurants -- humans.
The video broadcast on television a week ago showed rats running wild at a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant just one day after the outlet had passed a city Health Department inspection.
It took a bite out of the share price of parent company Yum Brands Inc. and forced a city Health Department shake-up that removed the inspector who conducted the review from duty and led to 13 more restaurant closures on Thursday.
The owner of the KFC/Taco Bell franchise, ADF Companies, has closed 10 of its restaurants until they pass inspections, and the city closed three other restaurants because of unsanitary conditions or mice, the Health Department said.
Yum Brands on Friday hired an urban pest control expert to review standards at its New York City restaurants.
The Health Department warned that greater threats to public health include restaurant employees who fail to wash their hands or food stored at improper temperatures.
One epidemiologist agreed.
"I would worry much more about poor hygiene on the part of employees of a restaurant than mice or rats living in the basement," said Philip Alcabes, a professor at New York's Hunter College School of Health Sciences.
"If you were to ask me would I eat in a restaurant where there were rats, I would say I probably already do."
Still, the incident reinforces New York's reputation of having a more severe rat problem than other big cities.
"New York has more rats than Chicago because Chicago has more alleyways," said Leonard Douglen, executive director of the New York Pest
New York's crowded quarters force restaurants to store trash indoors until it can be collected, providing rats with an indoor food source.
In addition, New York's real estate boom means construction is pervasive, scattering rats to a wider geographic area, Douglen said.
"I once opened up a door in a restaurant and a rat ran between my feet," Douglen said. "The guy warned me that you have to knock on the door first to scatter them away. I couldn't solve the problem because it was structural."