Grimy drawers and storage racks, unrefrigerated foods and evidence of insects or rodent droppings.
The Miami VA Healthcare System’s cafeteria was so dirty, according to an inspection report obtained by the Miami Herald, that administrators at the federally run hospital for military veterans ordered the entire area deep cleaned and exterminated following an October safety and sanitation review.
“There are now no reported issues involving the canteen kitchen,” Shane Suzuki, a public affairs officer for the Miami VA, said in a written statement Thursday.
Suzuki said patients staying at the hospital were not affected by the unsanitary conditions because their meals are managed separately from the public cafeteria, which is called the Patriot Café.
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“We have a completely separate food preparation area for inpatient food service,” he said.
The Oct. 20 inspection identified evidence of pests in food service areas. Suzuki said those conditions were actually found in a washroom and chemical storage room, separate from food preparation areas.
“Out of an abundance of caution,” he said, “we conducted a thorough extermination, deep clean and re-inspection of the entire canteen.”
Suzuki said no rodents were found, though the inspection report showed the Miami VA’s cafeteria earned zero of three possible points under a section titled, “No evidence of insects, rodents - i.e. droppings.” Zero is the worst rating possible.
Five days after the inspection, Miami VA administrators closed the cafeteria for the day. A notice posted on the Miami VA’s Facebook page on Oct. 25 said the Patriot Café had closed for the day due to “unforeseen maintenance.”
Suzuki did not respond when asked whether patients and visitors had been notified of the health hazard and subsequent cleanup.
Scott Davis, an Atlanta VA employee and whistleblower who has testified before Congress about retaliation at the federal agency and provided the Herald with the cafeteria report, said the Miami VA inspection findings were nothing new.
“Roaches and food is a consistent thing throughout the VA,” Davis said, noting that the VA hospital in Hines, Illinois, had been singled out by the agency’s Office of Inspector General for persistent presence of cockroaches in its food service areas.
According to the OIG’s report on the Illinois facility, patients received food trays containing cockroaches and administrators were aware of conditions but did not resolve them.
In Florida, the health department routinely inspects public facilities that serve food, including public schools and state-run prisons. But VA hospitals are federal facilities and not subject to state reviews.
Suzuki said the Miami VA’s cafeteria is inspected each month by “trained multidisciplinary staff” and at least once a year by an accredited agency. The reviews are not made available to the public.
Miami Herald intern Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this report.