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FOX 29 Investigates: How Clean Is Your Favorite Fast Food Restaurant?

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FOX 29 Investigates took a look at inspection reports compiled by the Philadelphia Department of Health, and similar reports from Chester and Montgomery counties. FOX 29 Investigates took a look at inspection reports compiled by the Philadelphia Department of Health, and similar reports from Chester and Montgomery counties.
PHILADELPHIA -

Whether it's Chicken Strips from the Colonel, or cheeseburgers from McDonalds, most Americans seem to crave fast food. In fact, it's a $200-billion dollar a year industry.

But how clean and safe is your favorite sub or burger joint? And do you need to worry about getting sick after eating there?

Well, the chances of picking up a "food borne illness" at a fast food restaurant are pretty slim. But it does happen. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks food poisoning outbreaks, 100 people became seriously ill after eating at a Tennessee fast food restaurant last year.

In April, 2010, 28 people in Illinois were hospitalized after eating subs tainted with salmonella.

And in a 2009, a multi-state outbreak, 22 customers got sick from lettuce spoiled with the deadly e-coli bacteria.

Area fast food restaurants

But what about fast food restaurants in our neck of the woods, are they up to snuff?

To find out, we took a look at inspection reports compiled by the Philadelphia Department of Health, and similar reports from Chester and Montgomery counties. We found the reports online, gave them a close look, and crunched the numbers.

We zeroed in on five fast food chains, Burger King, KFC, McDonalds, Subway and Wendy's. We looked at every restaurant, and when possible, examined their last two inspection reports.

We looked at so-called "critical violations" or "Food Borne Illness Risk Factors" like hand washing and proper holding temperatures. We also examined violations of "Good Retail Practices" like cleanliness and pest control.

The results?

Philly restaurants averaged 4.75 violations per inspection. Restaurants in Montco and Chester counties averaged only 3.5 violations.

In the city, McDonalds and Wendy's averaged the most violations, with 5.3 per inspection. KFC was next with 5.2, Burger King had 4.4 and Subway fared best with 3.8.

Incredibly, 26 percent of the fast food haunts in Philadelphia were cited for some kind of insect or rodent violation. In the burbs, it was only 10 percent.

And when it comes to "critical violations," Philly restaurants averaged nearly 1.4 per inspection. Three restaurants had six.

Restaurants In Urban Areas

"Those are direct indicators that you potentially could get food borne illness," says Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, a food safety expert at Drexel University.

Quinlan says restaurants in urban areas face greater sanitation challenges than their suburban counterparts. All the more reason she says to be vigilant.

Of course, not every restaurant had problems. Wendy's on Wayne Avenue in Germantown wasn't cited for a single violation during its last two inspections.

"Our customers' health and safety is our number one priority," says Wendy's District Manager, Matt Daly. "Our customers come in and they expect to get a good, hot quality product and we want to make sure we deliver that in a safe environment."

So what's the bottom line when it comes to fast food in the city versus the burbs? Here's how Dr. Quinlan sees it.

"You could have a crumby facility, but if your food handler in the city just washed their hands before they prepared your food, you're better off than a beautiful facility in the suburbs where your food handler didn't wash their hands."

We called the corporate offices of each chain, but only Wendy's and KFC returned our calls.

A Wendy's spokesperson told us they "immediately address any violations" and they "welcome inspectors" who they say provide a "valuable service" that "helps ensure food is safe and wholesome."

KFC told us the company takes inspections "very seriously and takes any required action as soon as possible." A spokesperson added that "nothing is more important to KFC" and their franchisees "than food safety and quality."

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