Dirty Movie Theaters in NYC

Jason Bellini 03/02/11  MyFoxNY.com

Under the microscope, it’s a horror show. Swabs taken from local movie theaters by Fox 5 revealed a wide range of unappetizing bacteria. It was found lurking in places often touched by moviegoers right before grabbing fists full of popcorn.

Fox 5 chose New York theaters with some of the most health inspection violations.

Dr. Philip Tierno Jr. , the director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, analyzed the results of our spot samples taken from arm rests and concession areas.

On the website for New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Regal Cinema near Battery Park had a total of nine sanitary violation points. One of them was for not keeping food at the required temperature. A sample taken from the theater’s condiment counter revealed what Tierno described as “gross contamination.”

“This is a pure culture of E. coli ,” Tierno said, pointing to a Petri dish from the counter top. “There could be any kind of virus there.” Tierno only tested the samples for bacteria.

Regal wasn’t alone. You may have thought dirty movies were a part of Times Square’s past. Not so at the AMC Theatres Empire 25 location on West 42nd Street. The theater received 15 Health Department violation points in an inspection just last month. One citation was for “evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.” This same theater had to shut down briefly in 2010 due to bed bugs.

We swabbed the “butter button,” which is pushed by customers to spray the topping on their popcorn. Our sample came back with “environmental organisms.” Tierno said that indicates the likely presence of other, potentially harmful bacteria.

A sample taken from arm rest in the AMC theater had Klebsiella , an intestinal bacteria.

The next theater rated “G” for germs was the City Cinemas 1, 2 & 3 theater on 3rd Avenue and East 60th Street in Manhattan. Its nine health violation points, recorded in August of 2010, included evidence of mice.

“Yeast was on the arm rest of the City Cinemas, which again could be found in feces and vaginally found,” Tierno said.

The theater’s “butter button” returned “fecal organisms and Enterococcus” bacteria. While the strain of Enterococcus discovered was not necessarily dangerous to humans, other strains are known to cause urinary tract infections and meningitis.

Tierno said that despite what we found, winter is the time of year when theaters and other public places have the least amount of bacteria, because “organisms tend to thrive in high humidity.”

We also checked out the Bay Plaza AMC Theatres Bay Plaza 13 location in the Bronx, which was slammed by health inspectors last November. They issued the multiplex 43 violation points, also finding evidence of mice. The swabs Fox 5 took from the theater’s arm rest and butter button, however, came back with what Tierno described as “insignificant” amounts of bacteria.

Prior to the broadcast and publication of this report, Fox 5 asked Regal, AMC, and City Cinemas to respond.

Jewel Gallagher, a Regal spokesperson, e-mailed this statement: “The cleanliness of our theatres is a high priority for Regal as we seek to provide a safe and enjoyable environment. On our most recent health department report, Regal Battery Park received an ‘A’ grade from the NYC Department of Health’s rigorous inspections and evaluations. We appreciate any information that Fox 5 can provide us regarding your evaluation, so that we can address any concerns. Rest assured that we take any comments from guests or health officials seriously.”

Justin Scott, an AMC spokesperson, offered this response: “AMC is passionate about guest satisfaction, cleanliness and delivering a high-quality movie going experience. Built into our company’s strategy is the notion that our facilities and amenities will be clean, safe and in good repair. We are always sorry to hear that a guest, in this case the media, was dissatisfied. We investigate and respond to comments from our guests and have well-trained managers who address issues as they arise in our theatres. Currently, we looking into your study’s findings and cleaning the areas mentioned in it.”

City Cinemas received an “A” grade in its last inspection by the New York City Health Department but did not return our calls requesting comment on this report.

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