Here's a twist that could turn stomachs: Los Angeles County health officials have put the kibosh on a cafeteria in Norwalk that feeds the county's own workers.
It seems employees may have had some uninvited guests at their tables.
A spot check Jan. 19 by a health inspector unearthed an infestation of cockroaches. Three pages of infractions forced the closure of what is known in sanitary parlance as an "in-plant feeding facility."
Some things, clearly, were feeding. And breeding.
"It was an active infestation in various stages of the life cycle. That means they've been there for a while," said inspector Lorna Ung of Food and Milk, the health services division that looks at in-house cafeterias, food warehouses and cases of food poisoning.
The piece de resistance is that Ung saw the cockroaches all over the cafeteria, where about 1,000 people can dine.
Left to brown-bag it are registrar-recorder employees and others in social welfare offices housed in the county building at 12400 Imperial Highway. Also affected are Hall of Justice workers who moved into leased space next door after the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged their digs downtown.
Health officials scurried to cover county tracks at the cited cafeteria, insisting it is not one of their facilities.
They say it serves Bechtel employees working at 12440 Imperial Highway. The Bechtel Building, once owned by Bechtel but sold when the company started reducing its Southern California staff in the late 1980s, is adjacent to the county building and is connected to it by a portico. The county rents more than 60,000 square feet there, along with 252 parking spaces.
Cafe Cucaracha is on its ground floor.
"My job is to run the cafeteria for the people who work in the two buildings. It's the only place around," said Ted Swantko, manager of California Dining Services in Irvine, contractor for the kitchen.
"Anybody can walk in," he said.
Swantko, for the record, pooh-poohs the health inspector's claim of a "heavy infestation of vermin" and instead charges the county with heavy-handedness.
"There's this policy the county has that if one rodent is sighted on the property, then they can close the cafeteria down," he said. "Maybe there was a certain amount found there, but it couldn't have been very many."
Alas, the cafeteria has failed two subsequent inspections. It remains closed.