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Dirty Dining At The Health Club
An Eat At Your Own Risk Special Report
Jan 30, 2003 2:30 pm US/Eastern

The Equinox fitness club on Lexington Avenue is a place to eat and run, but take a look at their cafe's health inspection record and you might want to stick to the running, far away from the food.

The ritzy club racked up three critical violations last March, including hot and cold food held at unsafe temperatures.

Just last week, a CBS 2 bacteria test showed a health shake was anything but. The smoothie contained a sickening bacteria count well into the millions, the manager says they're just too busy to manage. CBS 2’s Kirstin Cole reports in this Eat at Your Own Risk investigation.

“This kind of people, they're rushing, they want to be in and out,” says the manager.

So it's okay to give them food that is contaminated with bacteria if they are in a rush? Replies Cole, “Not at all,” is the manager’s response.

It's the latest trend, eating out where you work out, today's health clubs are as likely to have a juice bar as a jacuzzi, but a CBS 2 investigation found unhealthy conditions at health club snack bars. A random sampling of city health inspection records for 10 gyms found that 9 of them had at least one critical violation on their annual health inspection record.

So we decided to test each of the gyms' fare, taking samples of items like fruit smoothies and protein drinks. We packed the samples in coolers and took them to an independent lab. The results? A shocking 9 out of 10 samples contained dangerous levels of bacteria. Levels, Dr. David Nash, Director of the American Food Safety Institute says could make you sick.

“If there is a filthy food place attached to a gym it's an oxymoron, that means if I get a good work out then I can get a good work out on the toilet when I get home,” says Nash.

Food for thought, according to city health codes levels of bacteria 100,000 or less per gram are acceptable. A strawberry smoothie the CBS 2 tested from Bally Total Fitness on Sheepshead Bay Road in Brooklyn contained a bacteria level of 1.1 million, more than ten times the allowable level of contaminants. Dr. Nash says a number of things could be to blame, bare hand contact, unwashed fruit, dirty blenders or worse, vermin.

Which is exactly what health inspectors found last November, 30 fresh mouse droppings were noted around the sink, two open mouse holes were found in the floor and on the wall and under the kitchen counter, mouse poison.

“Please don't film in here....” the manager says to Cole.

The manager at Bally’s couldn't speak to us on camera but referred us his corporate offices, in a written statement the company said after it got inspected they took "prompt and immediate action" to clean up, but gym members found the violations unappetizing.

“That's disgusting,” says member Amy Ditcheck, “That's terrible, that shouldn't be,” adds Vinny Lemb.

But Bally isn't in a league of its own; eight other health clubs were also cited with critical violations and the one they all had in common? Failure to send employees to food safety courses, a must according to the health department or you can spread disease. This was the violation at the one thousand-dollar a year Excelsior Club. At the Excelsior a trainer was caught by inspectors serving food, “That's like saying the brain surgeon is busy and I happen to be an auto mechanic but I'll give it a try it just doesn't make sense,” says Dr. Nash.

At the exclusive Reebok Sports Club on Columbus Avenue you can enjoy a smoothie or frozen yogurt after a tough work out at the club's café. While the club received a clean bill of health from the city, our CBS 2 inspection found a fruit smoothie contained a whopping 1.8 million per gram bacteria count

“When a level is 18 times what it should be then that tells us there is a gross unsanitary procedure,” says Dr. Nash.

The manager said there is no problem:

Cole: As the general manager of the club, is this something that you think your members are concerned about?
Manager: Oh, absolutely not, in fact we just had the health department in here and they didn't find anything wrong....

The manager of Equinox told us he would hold a meeting with his employees to go over food safety and Bally Total Fitness said since last year, the company confirmed that all employees have been properly certified in food management preparation and have completed a food certification class.

The following is a list of clubs that had at least one critical violation on their annual inspection record:

Bally Sports Club
335 Madison Ave
NY, NY 10017

Bally Total Fitness
1720 Sheepshead Bay Rd.
Brooklyn, NY 11235

140 East 63rd Street
NY, NY 10021

404 Lafayette Street
NY, NY 10003

Crunch Fitness
144 West 38th Street
NY, NY 10018

Excelsior Club
301 East 57th Street
NY, NY 10022

Gold’s Gym
38-01 35th Ave
Bayside, NY 11101

New York Sports Club
153-37 Cross Island Pkwy
Queens, NY 11357

New York Sports Club
1736 Shore Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11214

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