Gotcha: bacterial communities on food court tables and cleaning equipment in a shopping mall

I’m agnostically ambivalent about bacteria-are-in-the-strangest places stories (show me the bodies) but if I was a mallrat, I may care about this.

Dingsdag and Coleman report in Epidemiology and Infection that the food court at a shopping mall is a potential transfer point for pathogenic microbes, but to date, this environment has not been the subject of detailed molecular microbiological study. We used a combination of say-mallrats-brodie-stinkpalm-pretzel-demotivational-poster-1243368113culture-based and culture-independent approaches to investigate the types and numbers of bacteria present on food court tables, and on a food court cleaning cloth. Bacteria were found at 102–105 c.f.u./m2 on food court tables and 1010 c.f.u./m2 on the cleaning cloth. Tag-pyrosequencing of amplified 16S rRNA genes revealed that the dominant bacterial types on the cleaning cloth were genera known to include pathogenic species (Stenotrophomonas, Aeromonas), and that these genera were also evident at lower levels on table surfaces, suggesting possible cross-contamination. The evidence suggests a public health threat is posed by bacteria in the food court, and that this may be due to cross-contamination between cleaning equipment and table surfaces.

Roaches, mice, bacteria on menu at some mall food courts

An investigation by NBC’s Today show revealed that many food courts have a disturbing pattern of health violations.

The three-month investigation went inside some of the most popular malls in the United States and uncovered critical violations that can make people sick. In one Boston mall, Today captured footage of a cockroach climbing the wall right next to the grill at a popular food-court restaurant.

Most critical violations aren’t as obvious: bare hands on food, unsafe food temperatures, raw meat sitting out for too long — and filthy kitchens.

The investigation examined hundreds of inspection reports and included visits with food safety expert Cindy Rice to food courts at the Mall of America in Minnesota, Faneuil Hall in Boston and South Street Seaport in New York City.

Rice said food courts may be riskier than an average restaurant because of their tighter workspaces and higher volumes.

Reports show that since 2009 at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, 43 percent of vendors had critical violations that can make diners sick. At the Mall of America, 68 percent had critical violations, and at the Seaport mall — a tourist hot spot — 84 percent of vendors had critical violations.

Sometimes such cross-contamination can send unwitting customers to the hospital. Stan Pawlow, 14, ate Mexican food at a mall in Illinois. Days later, he was rushed to the emergency room with E. coli poisoning. His doctors said he could have died.

Pawlow wound up being one of five customers who were likely sickened after eating meals prepared by the same food-court vendor, where workers may have accidentally mixed salsa with raw meat.

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