The Dirtiest, and Cleanest, Cafeterias in the Media Business (Hint: Skip MSNBC)

The American print-publishing industry isn't healthy -- and the food it's serving its workers may not be, either. Last week, The New York Timesclosed its cafeteria for a day as a precaution after several employees reported symptoms consistent with food poisoning. A Times spokeswoman says testing conducted in conjunction with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene detected no evidence of food contamination. Nevertheless, the company took a variety of precautions, including disposing of all prepared food, temporarily eliminating self-serve food stations and sanitizing just about everything. "While we cannot yet say with certainty whether the illness was bacterial or viral, we are confident that the issue is behind us," adds the spokeswoman.Or is it? According to the Department of Health's website, the Times eatery was cited for inadequate refrigeration of cold food during its most recent inspection, conducted in May 2009. Overall, the facility received 10 violation points, lower than the city-wide average of 14 points, and well below the 28-point threshold that triggers a follow-up compliance inspection.

However, a sister facility at the paper's printing plant in Queens fared substantially worse when inspectors dropped by in February 2009: It was cited for "evidence of roaches or live roaches in food and/or non-food areas," "conditions conducive to vermin" and improperly installed or maintained plumbing, among other issues. In total, the Queens lunchroom received 18 violations points, one of the highest totals for a New York City media cafeteria. (How come the blue-collar guys get the vermin? Sounds like an issue for the union.)

Who had the highest? Based on my quick survey, that would be Reuters, which somehow rang up a towering 40 points in its November 2009 visit from the Health Department. Most of the citations had to do with food temperature and operating conditions. MSNBC was next-filthiest, piling up 20 points. Inspectors nailed it for employing staffers with "inadequate personal hygiene" and a director of food operations who's not certified in food safety procedures. Anyone else feeling queasy?

Meanwhile, the beautiful open-air restaurant in Hearst's shiny new Eighth Avenue headquarters tower racked up 19 violation points, with citations for inadequate refrigeration of smoked fish, insufficiently heated hot food and improper plumbing. CBS's employee cafeteria was as nasty, if not more so, with 18 violation points and citations for both roaches and mice. Time Inc.'s cafeteria received 13 violation points for a couple of routine infractions on its last inspection, while Conde Nast's escaped with a mere seven points, no doubt a point of pride to the company's cafeteria-loving chairman, S.I. Newhouse.

But the cleanest cafeterias, you may not be surprised to learn, belong to two media-establishment golden children. Google earned a mere five points from inspectors (although that awful-sounding "conditions conducive to vermin" was one of its citations), while ever-punctilious Bloomberg managed a sterling four points -- surely a relief to employees there, who are strongly encouraged never to leave the building.
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