HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The rodent-infested cafeteria in Pennsylvania's Capitol where Gov. Ed Rendell, lawmakers, and many statehouse visitors and employees regularly dine was not inspected for four years, despite a law requiring annual such checks.

That revelation behooves the need for a new food safety law to greatly improve the restaurant inspection process, state Auditor General Jack Wagner said Thursday.

One such bill passed the House in June and has remained in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee since then.

A 2005 audit by Wagner's office found that thousands of Pennsylvania restaurants were being licensed without the required annual inspections for sanitation and health, and that penalties for failing the checks had been rare and insignificant.

As part of the audit, Wagner raised the concern that jurisdictional wrangling between the state and the city of Harrisburg was leaving the Capitol cafeteria uninspected.

As a result, the Agriculture Department inspected the cafeteria in November 2005 and, according to Wagner, told his auditors in 2007 that it was continuing regular inspections.

Agriculture Department spokesman Justin Fleming called the four-year lapse an "unfortunate oversight" while the agency worked to correct problems cited in Wagner's audit.

As to whether the agency misled auditors in 2007, Fleming said the Agriculture Department was working to locate any records of written communication on the matter.

Last week, Agriculture Department inspectors finally arrived at the ground-floor cafeteria, a popular coffee and lunch spot.

They found a "severe" rodent infestation, including an "excessive" amount of rodent droppings on food preparation equipment and in cabinets, utensil bins and elsewhere.

The droppings indicate the presence of live mice and are considered an imminent health risk.

The now-closed cafeteria is not expected to reopen until January. Aramark Corp., the Philadelphia-based food service company that runs the cafeteria, is working with state workers to clean it up.

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