NYC Health Commissioner: Rats Are Not A Health Risk

NYC Deputy Health Commissioner Jessica Leighton says rats are not a health risk. From NY1:

The city spends $8 million a year on rodent control and has a team of more than 100 inspectors who close about 500 restaurants each year.

“We can always use more to address the problem. It’s a big problem,” says Deputy Health Commissioner Jessica Leighton.

Leighton points out rats are a quality of life issue, not a health risk.

“They are not what causes food borne disease; they are not what causes poor health conditions,” says Leighton.

“For certain communities, the reasons that they have high rodent problems will be different than in other communities and we are trying to address the underlying factors,” says Leighton.

Why do we not find this comforting? —MEGHANN MARCO

Health Commissioner: Rats Are Not A Health Risk [NY1]

PREVIOUSLY: Massive Pound-And-A-Half Rats Infest KFC/Taco Bell In The West Village
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  1. HawkWolf says:

    weren’t rats why we had the bubonic plague?

  2. WindowSeat says:

    @HawkWolf: Kinda, sorta, the rat’s fleas carried the plague.

    Anyway, rats aren’t a huge health threat, but sloppy food and food waste handling that attracts rats is.

  3. niteflytes says:

    Yes, it was transmitted from rats to humans, not human to human and the disease still exists in the wild. Human cases of it are extremely rare now. The problem during the plague was poor sanitation such as garbage in the streets and a high concentration of rats. As far as I know the rats we have in cities don’t carry bubonic plauge but it’s not impossible for it to happen. FYI – I work for a state health department. I’m shocked that a health official would make such a stupid statement.

  4. niteflytes says:

    Yes, the fleas…I forgot about those little buggers being the source

  5. guroth says:

    They are trying to say that rats don’t cause poor kitchen conditions; poor kitchen conditions cause rats.

  6. matukonyc says:


    New York has rats.. lots of them, perhaps even a number eight times the number of humans. Clearly, if they posed a health risk, we would have felt the effects.

    One is morely likely to become ill from food handlers who don’t wash their hands than rats.

  7. NeoteriX says:

    I don’t see how rats and their excrement are not a serious health risk.

  8. krunk4ever says:

    @NeoteriX: probably the same way other animals/pets and their poop aren’t serious health risks.

  9. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I think the health threat from rats probably depends on restaurant procedure. I’m pretty sure if you have rats running through packages of food and nesting in the dishes, it’s going to cause a detriment to health. It’s about numbers, too. A rat or two probably isn’t going to be as much of an issue as a hundred of them would be.

    I would imagine, however, if a restaurant keeps its food, dishes, and utensils in closed cabinets and keeps the kitchen clean and sanitized, the risk from rats is minimal (no matter how much the idea of the presence of rats turns your stomach). If the idea of a rat hair in your burrito supreme grosses you out, you probably shouldn’t read the guidelines on how much contamination is allowable in processed food (a certain number of rodent hairs, insect fragments, fecal particles, etc.).

    And yes, unwashed hands, spoiled food, insects, bacteria, sick workers and all manner of disgusting contamination sources are equally as likely to cause food-borne illness as rats.

    So, where is everyone eating out tonight?

  10. olegna says:

    >> I don’t see how rats and their excrement are not a serious health risk.

    They aren’t. The one time I got a bad case of food poisoning from a restaurant in the tony Upper West Side of Manhattan, it was a spoiled pork dumpling, not a rat, that caused it.

    As people have implied, rats a symptom of poor sanitation. On the other hand, a lack of rats doesn’t guarantee healthy conditions, either.

    Still, if I see rats pouring out of a place, I’m probably going to go in the opposite direction. They are kinda gross, like pigeons without wings. (Ha-ha, get it?)

  11. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    I know two people who’ve worked extensively in cleaning restaurants, and they both tell me that *every* restaurant has rats. They’re warm places that smell like food where the doors open and close a lot, and they rarely have dogs or cats to chase the rats away.

    Echoing, then, that what’s important is the food handling and sanitation procedures — the rats shouldn’t be in or near the food, and everything should be properly cleaned (way more often than it is in most places!).

  12. jgodsey says:

    did we rewrite history again and no one told me?
    didn’t the fleas ON rats start the bubonic plague?

  13. etinterrapax says:

    And hantavirus. You really don’t want that.

    Bottom line, infestation does not seem like a good sign. If the rats themselves aren’t the health risk, the level of carelessness about kitchen cleanliness implies that there are other health risks present.

  14. Mogbert says:

    Yes, the fleas carried the Bubonic Plague and the rats were the vector (I think it is called) that carried the fleas. Rats are a problem.
    A health commisioner who believes they aren’t should be replaced by one that knows better.