INSIDE EDITION Investigates Mall Food Courts

Mall food courts can get pretty busy. They serve thousands of hungry customers a day.  But can some of the sanitary conditions make you sick?  INSIDE EDITION investigates.

Two moms at the mall are about to have lunch with their kids. But before they eat, they clean the tables and trays with anti-bacterial wipes. They bring their own disposable place mats for the kids, and they even cover the high chairs with a protective cloth.

So what does one of the moms think about people who say they're going overboard?

"I would think they were crazy for not taking the precaution," she says.
So are those two moms obsessive germaphobes? Or do they know something the rest of us don't? INSIDE EDITION decided to find out.

Earlier this year, INSIDE EDITION's Investigative Unit took a close look at food courts in eleven malls and according to food safety expert Lisa Berger, some of what we found could literally make you sick.

INSIDE EDITION producers watched employees at the Big Easy Cajun restaurant in a mall on Long Island, New York. One food server who appeared to be sick repeatedly wiped her nose with her bare hands before serving customers. Another brushed and continuously touched her hair, then applied make up, wiped her hands on a dirty rag, and adjusted her clothing. Then, without ever washing her hands, she gave out free food samples to shoppers.

"Whatever's on her hands we are now ingesting, and that's what can make us sick," Berger explains.

We also wanted to see if food was being served at safe temperatures. Our expert tested sushi at a Japanese restaurant and found it was dangerously warm - 59 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be kept at 45 degrees or less.

Berger told INSIDE EDITION, "I would not eat this sushi. Nope."

At another mall during busy lunch and dinner times, we found garbage piling up. A worker at the food court tried to deal with the problem by using a food tray to push down the garbage. And we found trays on the dirty floor. After they were picked up, they were merely wiped off with a dirty rag and put back into service.

"The trays that we're putting our foods on should be clean and sanitized," Lisa says.

Why? Because food often gets spilled out onto the trays.

To see what germs might be lurking, we asked a shopper in a New Jersey mall if we could test her tray for bacteria. A few days later, the results came back from the lab.

"We found two bacteria often associated with human feces," INSIDE EDITION's Matt Meagher told her.

That's really gross," she said.

And those compulsively clean moms who wiped down everything before they ate?  We tested their trays also.

"You'll be happy to know they found very little bacteria and no significant bacteria," said Meagher.

It seems those precautions were worth it.