What health inspectors find when they check local hotels

- From upscale hotels in both downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis to more budget-friendly properties in the suburbs, a public health inspector’s hunt for surprises never ends.

Some of what’s left behind can’t be seen with the naked eye, but magically appears under the beam of a health inspector’s blue light.

Sometimes organic materials are on the floor, and more often, they’re stuck to the bed spread.

“There’s definitely an ick factor," said Amanda Buell, Supervising Environmentalist from Hennepin County’s Public Health Department. "There haven’t been outbreaks associated with bed spreads."

This story isn’t another one of those TV sting operations to catch housekeepers who aren’t changing the sheets between guests. Rather, what we discovered is straight from real inspection reports for hotels across the Twin Cities metro area.

Sometimes it's not just icky, but it could also cause serious injury.

IN HOT WATER

In addition to checking rooms for overall cleanliness, inspectors are looking at what’s coming out of the tap in the bathroom.

By code, the temperature of the hot water should range between 110 and 130 degrees, though more than 35 hotels got into hot water with inspectors--literally. 

High-end, mid-range and budget properties all flunked the temperature test by being too hot, according to a Fox 9 review of health reports found last year

Some rooms at the Normandy Inn in downtown Minneapolis even had water that measured a scalding 155 degrees.

“That’s way too high," said Dr. William Mohr from Regions Hospital Burn Unit. "155 degrees will give you a deep to full thickness burn within a second.”

There were similar results at the Best Western Plus in Brooklyn Center where water temps ranged from 154 to 156 degrees. That’s a serious risk to anyone, but especially children, because their skin is thinner.

Even at a 130 degrees, serious burns can happen in 30 seconds.

“Tap water scalds tend to be deeper, more likely to require an operation and actually have a higher incidence of severe injury and even mortality for both children and vulnerable adults,” Mohr said.

Managers from both hotels say the hot water problem has been corrected, and they’re unaware of any guests being harmed.

“It's virtually impossible to get a real strong idea at which the frequency of some of those things occur,” said Chris Johnston, an attorney who in a former life managed hotel properties for over 10 years.

Johnston says hot water-related injuries do happen but rarely get reported to any government agencies.

“That’s typically the kind of thing we try to solve at the property level,” he said. “We are always willing to give more than a guest is willing to ask for."

In his experience, most hot water injuries were minor, and the guests ended up getting at least a free stay after complaining to management.

Fox 9’s review of records finds code violations run both hot and cold.

ICE MACHINE SLIME

Ice machines are on the inspection list because if not cleaned properly, bacteria can grow and make a guest sick. Bugs such as listeria can also contaminate the ice and cause flu-like symptoms, including diarrhea.

Several outbreaks around the country have been linked to hotel ice makers. In fact, the Fox 9 Investigators found 19 metro hotels cited last year because of dirty ice machines.

At the Minneapolis Sheraton Midtown, inspectors observed “pink slime buildup in the interiors of all ice machines inspected on site.”

Management tells us they took care of the problem immediately and implemented a “strict cleaning schedule.” 

The hotel said it’s never had a guest complain about getting sick from an ice machine.

ICE BUCKET NOT ON LIST

At most hotels, there's no code requirement for ice buckets to be sanitized from one customer to the next, and inspectors advise using a plastic bag if one's provided. Minnesota’s health code also does not require the cleaning of bed spreads between guests.

Sheets, linens, towels and drinking glasses must be cleaned after each checkout, but not bed spreads, television remotes and ice buckets.  

"With norovirus season upon us, those are going to be some hot spots," Buell said.

Health inspectors who helped Fox 9 with this story have seen everything. When they go on vacation they carry a blue light and always pack some disinfectant wipes, no matter what class the hotel they stay at.

Johnston, the former hotel manager-turned-attorney has a piece of advice for hotel guests.

"I recommend that everyone take that bed spread, fold it back, throw it in the corner."

And before hopping in the tub or taking a shower, check the water temperature by turning on the cold first and gradually adding the hot.

Remember, dozens of hotels failed the hot water test, and some were over 150 degrees--which can cause a third-degree burn in just a second.

Health inspectors said there are certain challenges to keeping a constant water temperature in a large building. If a hotel has a restaurant on site, the water needs to be at a certain temperature for that, but also needs to be lower for hotel room bathrooms.

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