March 26: Restaurant Report

Richmond, VA (NBC 12) - Kids love them, but have you ever wondered how clean the playgrounds at restaurants are?  Ashley Swann investigates in tonight's special Restaurant Report.

A viewer actually contacted us about this story. She was worried about the bacteria her granddaughter might be picking up as she alternated between playing & eating at these kid-friendly spots.  Needless to say, what we found was shocking.

They're a magnet for kids, so it's no wonder most parents assume restaurant playgrounds, where little ones bounce, crawl & slide between bites, must be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Mom Jennifer Harris says, "I would think with all the children here that there would be a lot of germs."

"I almost don't want to know," said Hillary Pyland.

But we did want to know what might be lurking on these surfaces. So, we headed to a number of popular play spots in Central Virginia to take some samples.

We visited a Chick-Fil-A playground in the city.  A Chuck-E-Cheese in Chesterfield.  A crowded kids area at Chesterfield Towne Center.  And the bouncy world kids can't get enough of in the west end, Kangaroo Jac's.

We sent our samples off to EMSL, an analytical lab in New Jersey, for extensive testing and our results were shocking. All six of our surface tests were clean as a whistle. Almost no traces of bacteria were found.

"That's fantastic and i wouldn't have thought that but i'm really surprised to hear it," said Harris.

In fact, the findings came as a surprise to everyone but the folks in charge. Owner of Kangaroo Jac's, Ryan Pierce, says keeping his kid kingdom clean is a top priority.

"Not only do other kids come in here to play, but my kids come in here to play. I have three young children and it's obviously important that they all go home the same way we found them, which is healthy and not carrying anything extra," says Pierce.

Unlike other states, there is no law in Virginia to regulate the cleaning of restaurant playgrounds. Still, many - including Kangaroo Jac's - are sanitized on a daily basis.

Pierce says, "All contact surfaces within the inflatables are cleaned with a sanitizer that kills just about anything.  Everything's mopped in that same process, all the tables are cleaned, all the contact surfaces, the handles on the doors, the bathrooms."

Precautions that should allow parents to let their kids continue to play away without fear.

"That's very encouraging," says Pyland.  "Maybe we'll come a little more often then," adds Harris.

And now for tonight's critical list. In Henrico, Bellacino's Pizza & Grinders (8026 West Broad Street) with 5 critical violations. BBQ, meatballs, steak & wings weren't properly dated for disposal.

Also in Henrico, Sapphire Grill at the Crowne Plaza (6531 West Broad Street) with 4 critical. An inspector found black grit in an ice bin.

And, in Hopewell, Pearl River Restaurant (264 E. Broadway) with 4 critical violations. Food employees had soiled hands & arms, & were not using soap or washing.

Finally, this week's Hall of Fame Award goes to Patrick's (5100 Jefferson Davis Highway) in Chesterfield for a perfect inspection February 12th!