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Hidden Cameras Investigate Food Court Cleanliness


Is your table clean at the mall foot court?  Hidden cameras can help find out.

During a long day of shopping you pull into the mall food court to grab a bite to eat, never stopping to question how clean those tables really are.

In a hidden camera investigation Contact 13's Tricia Kean explains what's lurking on tables in food courts in the Valley. The results might make your stomach churn. Contact 13 teamed up with Doctor Tony Francis of Silver State Analytical labs to test just how clean tables at several food courts really are.

"Do you think the general public will be surprised by these results," asked Tricia.

"I think so. In general people think if it looks clean it's clean, and if you wipe something down it's clean. Or if you sit at a table and they come and wipe it down for you, you go oh, now it's clean. Probably not," said Tony.

We took a hidden camera inside three malls on different sides of the Valley. Using a kit prepared by the lab, swabbed everything from tables to chairs, even the trays you eat off. We started our tests inside the Galleria at Sunset. The table and tray that we swabbed both came back positive.

"There's some furry fungus growing," said Tony.

The tray also tested positive for coliform bacteria, the same family of bacteria that includes e-coli. Certain strains can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and in extreme cases, death.

But it's the result from the trash bin that really caught us off guard.

"The swab that was taken, the trash was cleaner than the table at that moment," said Tony.

Our next stop was the Las Vegas Outlet Center off Warm Springs. Again we tested a table and a trash can and for good measure the arm of one of the chairs.

"Another chair full of some sort of fungus," said Tony.

The food court had a surprise in store for us as well.

"This is from a tray that was cleaned off by somebody. It came up clean," said Tony.

The company that owns the outlet center, told us their cleaning staff uses a concentrated bleach mixture. Doctor Francis says that's the best way to go. Next up was the Premium Outlet Center near Alta and I-15. We started inside swabbing the back of a chair. So what did we find?

"A lot of bacteria everywhere," said Tony.

The indoor table also had some creepy crawlies hanging around.

"You can see the swabs, colony growth going on," said Tony.

So what about outside? As we swabbed a table top, a flock of uninvited guests gathered for an afternoon snack. Susan Labay of the Southern Nevada Health District says the mess they left behind was nothing you'd want to eat near.

"It is never a good idea to be around the feces," said Susan.

While the Health District has not tied a communicable disease to local pigeons, the risk is certainly there.

"As far as what can we get from them. Of course birds also carry e-coli and those kinds of things that some other animals carry," said Susan.

With that knowledge, we headed back to the malls and showed the results to some diners who were pretty grossed out. We asked the malls just how many people are dedicated to cleaning the dining areas. Chelsea Premium Outlets, the company that owns both the outlet centers, told Contact 13 they have at least three staff members cleaning from open to close.

In a statement sent to us said, "Their responsibilities include ensuring trays are sanitized, and cleaning tables, chairs, and the eating area in general."

The Galleria at Sunset said its, "Committed to making the safety and health of its patrons, vendors and employees a top priority."

"The responsibility is really on the mall itself to keep those areas clean," said Susan.

The Health District told us they do not regularly inspect the dining areas in mall food courts.

"The real concern for us and the real concern really for the citizens should be the food itself and whether it's being handled appropriately," said Susan.

The Health District also says to date no illnesses have been tied back to unsanitary mall food courts. But that can always change.

"Is it safe to say that you could get sick just by eating at these food courts just by what you're seeing here," asked Tricia.

"Sure especially for those compromised, little children, elderly. It's out there and if it gets in your body you might be more able to get sick," said Tony.

Here is the Contact 13 bottom line. The best advice here is probably something your mother told you a thousand times always wash your hands before and after eating especially in a public place. Don't rely on hand sanitizer. The Health District says it's no substitute for good old fashioned soap and water.

It may seem like common sense but don't allow your food to touch the table. Cross contamination makes it that much easier for micro-organisms to get into your body.

In reponse to our story, the Chelsea Premium Outlets also issued the following statement:

"With regards to staff:  A person is present in the food court area 9AM-9PM (Center Business Hours) seven days a week.  Additional personnel help when needed.  With regards to protocols:  The tables, chairs, floors and rails are deep cleaned twice a day and are maintained during business hours.   Typically the deep cleaning occurs once before and after normal business hours.  During deep cleaning bleach is mixed at a ratio of ¼ cup of bleach per quart or one cup per gallon or 5 cups per five gallons.  The solution is then spread on the fixture.  It stays on the fixture for five minutes and then is rinsed off.  The same bleach derivative is used during business hours.  Once a week the floors are scrubbed with an auto scrubber.  Either an approved disinfectant or the bleach derivative is used to scrub the floor.

Our protocols are based on the suggestions of the Health Dept.  Separate towels are used to disinfect surfaces food court surfaces and disinfect cleaners are used according to the Manufactures suggested use.  These are the same procedures used today.  We have perpetual custodial help, dedicated to the food court at all centers.   Their responsibilities include ensuring trays are sanitized, and cleaning tables, chairs, and the eating area in general.  They would also respond to any spills as noted.

Here is the schedule for the food court for Las Vegas Premium Outlets:
Monday-Thursday  3 porters from open to close
Friday-Saturday  4 porters open to close
Friday-Sunday  1 extra person  11:00am - 5:00pm plus the 4 reg porters.
 
The chemical that we use is called Tracker ll general purpose disinfectant cleaner. This chemical will be used everyday to wash all tables and chairs. The rags that we use are a pink microfiber cloth that is used for the tables and chairs and trash cans only."

In response to our story, Scott Muelrath, the General Manager at the Galleria at Sunset issued the following statement:
"Over the past 13 years, the Galleria at Sunset has been successful because of its commitment to making the safety and health of its patrons, vendors and employees a top priority. We stand by that, and we will continue to offer one of the safest and cleanest shopping environments in Nevada."

Original story here.

Hidden cameras are often used by reporters or secret shoppers to investigate retail establishments.  Our more common items sold to these types of organizations are button cameras with body worn dvr or the DVR pen.


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