Taking your kids to the mall at the holidays can be exhausting, so having a little snack break in the food court is really tempting. You probably knew it wasn't the most nutritious option, but a new study by the TODAY show reveals eating there could also be dangerous due to rampant food safety violations.
For three months, producers examined hundreds of inspections reports and took their crews undercover to Minnesota's Mall of America, Faneuil Hall in Boston, and South Street Seaport in New York City for an up-close look. Respectively, 68%, 43%, and 48% of the food court vendors had critical violations, and TODAY crew members found bare hands on food, raw meat sitting out, and filthy kitchens.
According to food safety expert Cindy Rice, food courts fall short on health inspections because the restaurants deal with tighter workspaces and higher volumes, so they start cutting corners. Hot foods are kept too cold and cold foods are kept too hot, providing the perfect environment for bacteria that can make you sick. Health inspections are conducted to prevent that from happening, but for budgetary reasons, they usually only make annual or bi-annual visits, and food vendors often do not fix their violations.
TODAY also saw cockroaches on the walls of several chains, and in report after report, read about mice excretions in prep areas. One worker was caught on camera putting in eye drops and then going straight to hand out samples on toothpicks with her bare, unwashed hands.
To stay healthy and safe during the inevitable mall-meals this holiday season, Rice advises touching the outside of deli cases to see if foods (like salads) are being refrigerated. And when choosing hot foods at a deli case, she says you should ask for the one on the bottom layer, closer to the heat source. If you must choose a food court meal, look for clean work spaces and hygienic vendors wearing hairnets and gloves.
Or you could stay home to eat your own food and shop in your jammies. We have the coolest gift guides with perfect picks for everyone on your list. Check them out and click to buy!