Environmental health inspectors have been forced to close their own canteen over concerns that rats have infested a Belfast City Council building.
The inspectors, who are tasked with ensuring hygiene levels in public amenities and the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, discovered rat droppings in the canteen of the Cecil Ward Building in Linenhall Street on Tuesday.
It is believed the rodents came from a sewer which was exposed after a derelict property at the rear of the building in Adelaide Street was demolished.
According to the council, the canteen closure will affect around 370 staff who work across a range of departments.
One of Northern Ireland's most respected restaurants last month received a damning verdict from Belfast City Council safety officers operating the new hygiene scoring system.
Celebrity chef Paul Rankin's fine dining restaurant Cayenne was awarded a rating of just one under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which replaced previous rating systems, including the well-known 'Scores On The Doors'.
That score came after the business was checked by food safety officers.
As well as the health & environment department, the city council building houses human resources and the development department which covers the arts, tourism and economic development.
The 100-seater canteen on the first floor of the building was renovated just three years ago and all food is made on the premises.
One council source revealed that rat droppings were seen on a cash register.
"Environmental health inspectors who work on a different floor were called in and said the canteen needed to be closed immediately," the source said. "There is no evidence of rats on any other floor of the building. Staff were initially told it was closed for essential maintenance. It is very disturbing, people may be reluctant to use the canteen for a while."
The canteen was closed at lunchtime on Tuesday and is not expected to reopen until at least Thursday of next week.
A Belfast City Council spokesman said: "Following the demolition of a derelict property at the rear of the Cecil Ward Building, the council became aware of a pest problem in part of the building. As a precaution, the council closed the staff canteen to allow for pest proofing works to take place.
"Work on the neighbouring building will continue for a number of days and the council will keep the restaurant closed until the work is complete. During this time we will monitor the situation to ensure the effectiveness of our pest proofing measures."
He added: "Three hundred and seventy staff from a range of council departments work in the building.
"The building remains open and staff are continuing to work in the building as normal."