Food 4 Thought - Dirty restaurant playground areas exposed

It's not just kitchens that are under the microscope during health inspections.

San Benito health inspectors now drop the hammer on dirty play areas at restaurants.

The one inside the McDonald's on 1144 West Business 77 is the first in the city to be shutdown by order of the health department.

A McDonald's spokesperson sent a prepared statement to the Food Patrol which read in part: "That particular playplace was closed at some point that day by McDonald's staff for cleaning.... per McDonald's operations manual, spot cleaning the play toy as needed is required, all toys are cleaned and sanitized daily, and there is a more extensive cleaning and maintenance weekly."

We asked the inspector if it looked like that kind of cleaning took place?

"It did need to be cleaned," the inspector said.

Jerry Delgado spells it out the conditions more clearly on his inspection report which states "very dirty."

Additional notes he shared with the Food Patrol highlight the playground problems.

He said there was hair, caked on food, sticky fluids and black stains on the equipment.

There are about 20 separate health departments across the Valley on the city, county and state levels.

Virtually none of them check play areas on a routine basis.

That's because they follow the Texas Food Establishment Rules or T.F.E.R on inspection forms which do not specifically address play areas at restaurants.

It's only required at daycare centers.

The City of Brownsville is one of the only exceptions.

New reports, not originally provided to the Food Patrol when they were requested because of a city "computer glitch," shed light on strict measures taken against restaurants with dirty play areas.

The McDonald's on 117 America Drive back in February was given a 72 hour order to clean up and sanitize its dirty play room.

Inspector photos showed some of the filth.

The restaurant did clean up.

The play area at Burger King on 1300 Central Boulevard was shutdown in March and issued a notice to comply order as well.

A re-inspection showed the eatery was able to avoid a potential fine of up 2-thousand dollars.

Similar notices went out in the past to the Burger King on 3235 International Boulevard and the Burger King on 3100 Boca Chica Boulevard.

The problems at play areas date back years in the city.

One report from 2008 showed the Burger King on 7411 Padre Island Highway had it's play area temporarily shutdown for a bad "urine smell.

Parents are shocked to hear the news.

"It does scare me."

"Children are there... It should be safe for kids."

"It should be part of the everyday inspection."

Across the nation, videos uploaded on YouTube, spotlight unsanitary conditions at play areas.

One mother secretly filmed inside an Arizona area McDonald's and found a number of alleged health concerns.

Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan is pushing for more state and local regulations.

As with Texas, there are none in the state where she resides.

Her alleged discoveries through independent tests turned up fecal contamination, coliforms and other pathogens in play areas that have the potential to cause disease.

"I brought these to the attention of corporate, I brought these to the attention of the Arizona Department of Public Health... The lack of regulation allowing this to be present where children play is absolutely appalling and needs to be corrected," Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan said.

Inspector Delgado says similar reports of dangerous conditions at play areas prompted him to take action in San Benito.

"I was very surprised... Very surprised... That's why I want to do it from now on."

The owner and operator of the Chick Fil A restaurant off Dixieland Road in Harlingen opened his play area to the Food Patrol.

Francisco Castellanos says he also welcomes inspectors to check up on the extensive measures taken daily, weekly and monthly to keep it clean.

"Without regulation and without mandates we have processes in place... Procedures in place to ensure our play areas are up to standards," he said.

Maggie De La Fuente is a mother who eats at the San Benito McDonald's that had its play area shutdown.

She wants to see checks and balances extend to other cities in the Valley to ensure kids' safety.

"They should do it more often and make the play areas safe for children."

Cities like Harlingen and McAllen check play areas but only after a formal complaint is filed.

Billy Dotson doesn't think that's enough.

"We need to take care of the children.. that's playing."

A spokesperson for some of the Valley Burger King's, Fred Martinez, says the company has worked extremely hard to improve cleanliness in play areas over the years.

Martinez said It included bringing in a third party to help properly sanitize.

He said all of the orders to clean over the years were complied with in the time frame allotted by the city.

If you would like to see play areas routinely inspected at restaurants, contact your local health department.

The information can be found under the Food 4 Thought section on Click here to join Ryan Wolf's Facebook Page Click here to read more about Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan's push for regulation at play areas in restaurantsClick here for a list of health department contact numbers in the Rio Grande Valley