UCSD hospital kitchen eliminates roaches after 2014 infestation
University of California San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest. Leo Castaneda/inewsource

UCSD hospital kitchen eliminates roaches after 2014 infestation

When a food inspector found “a few live cockroaches” in the production kitchen at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest a year ago, it was chalked up as a moderate vermin violation. The hospital was ordered to get rid of the insects, but was still given an “A” rating, which generally indicates a satisfactory level of safety and cleanliness.

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Cockroaches, which can carry disease-causing bacteria, infested the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest’s production kitchen and cafeteria in 2014.

An inspection less than two months later found no cockroaches, but fast-forward three more months, and a roach infestation was so extensive the inspection wasn’t completed. The kitchen was never closed down.

inewsource uncovered the situation at the UCSD hospital during a review of public health inspections conducted on university properties, including UCSD, San Diego State and Cal State San Marcos. Health and public safety is not enforced by the county in these eateries and kitchens. An inspection system is run by individual universities themselves.

The medical center is a nationally-ranked teaching hospital and part of the UCSD Health System. Officials at UCSD, which manages the food inspection program for the medical center, declined requests for an interview.

Jacqueline Carr, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said in an email the production kitchen is where food is cooked for patients and employees. Some of that food is served in the adjacent cafeteria, where staff and visitors eat. The cafeteria is inspected separately.

Carr wrote that management dealt with the cockroach August infestation inspection “promptly.”

“The staff in Hillcrest fully cooperated with the inspector and jointly developed a corrective action plan,” she said in the email. “The response included bringing in a specialized pest control company the same day to treat the kitchen.”

The kitchen was under renovation and there were small holes in the exterior walls, Carr wrote, suggesting that’s how the cockroaches got into the kitchen.

“The holes have since been closed and sealed,” she said.

The inspection report found parts of the wall “torn and damaged.”

Cockroaches carry viruses and bacteria. The inspection report said they can contaminate food “they walk on and the surfaces they contact.”

In the latest inspection on file of the production kitchen from March 6, no vermin issues were noted. The kitchen received a score of 94, enough for an “A” rating.

Bacteria and allergens

Jesse Alvarez, a supervisor at Colonial Pest Management, has experience exterminating all kinds of vermin, including roaches at commercial and residential properties. He didn’t comment on a specific case, but was asked to explain how a few cockroaches turn into an infestation in a matter of months.

Usually restaurant and home infestations are a species called German cockroaches, he said.

“They multiply really, really fast.” Each female cockroach, he said, can have about 30 to 60 babies.

Cockroaches, he said, have had the opportunity “since the beginning of time to hang out with us and learn how to deal with us.”

Alvarez said cockroaches can carry bacteria such as e-coli and salmonella. They can also leave a distinctive smell “like body odor and mold and humidity” because of the feces and skin left behind from molting. Those dropping contain allergens that can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

The production kitchen at UCSD was inspected by Jeff Eisert, an environmental health and safety specialist at UCSD in March 12, 2014, again on May 1 and then on Aug. 26, when he found the infestation.

Eisert noted “multi staged cockroaches” in the “food production line, in the cooking equipment at the cooking line, along the walls of the cook’s line and in the side production areas of the main kitchen.” The report directed the kitchen to “take all measures necessary to eradicate this infestation.”

On that day, Eisert wrote “signs of pest control servicing were seen, but no to little effect was found.”

The cockroaches were marked as a major violation. However, the facility did not receive a final grade because Eisert stopped the inspection until the cockroach infestation was resolved.

During the following month, UCSD’s Environment, Health and Safety department conducted two scheduled re-inspections. The reports for Sept. 12 and 26 noted large improvements in the infestation, as well as repairs to the facility’s walls. The facility received “A” ratings during both inspections.

A final re-inspection of the production kitchen on Oct. 21 found “only one live adult cockroach.” In his report, Eisert instructed the production kitchen to “continue to chemically treat this facility.” The production kitchen received an “A” rating with a score of 97.

In her emailed statement about the production kitchen, Carr noted that “over the last 12 months, the kitchen has consistently received an ‘A’ grade for cleanliness and safety.”

Not the only vermin problem

The production kitchen wasn’t the only food facility at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest to experience vermin issues last year. Roaches also were found in the hospital’s cafeteria.

In an April 28, 2014 inspection, prompted in part by a complaint about food temperature and glove use, UCSD’s Eisert wrote “a small infestation of cockroaches was noted in the main kitchen.”

The finding was considered a moderate violation, and the cafeteria received a score of 91, enough for an “A.” A Sept. 26 inspection of the cafeteria didn’t find any vermin, and it maintained an “A” grade.

According to Carr, the cafeteria is connected to the production kitchen and serves food cooked there. It also has its own grill to cook hamburgers and sandwiches.

Alvarez said dealing with an infestation at an apartment or commercial property goes beyond the chemical treatment. It involves eliminating any sources of food, water and shelter for the cockroaches, and then cleaning up after them.

“The clients need to vacuum, they need to vacuum up the eggs, they need to vacuum up the dead roaches,” he said.

Otherwise, Alvarez said, any remaining cockroaches can use the feces and carcasses as food sources to keep their population going.

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About Leonardo Castañeda:

Leonardo Castañeda
Leonardo Castañeda is a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.
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