Don't Fear the Food Court


Few things in life are better than drowning compulsive spending sorrows and buyers’ remorse in a pile of sodium loaded chow. You’re sitting there, near the outdated carousel, listening to the mall soundtrack T-Pain Does Christmas album, which must exists somewhere, disgusted with yourself for falling victim to another year’s retail marketing traps. The last thing to cross your mind is the handling and care of the produce and meats that you are eating.


Googling ‘food court’ delivers some entertaining results.  Six Arrested in a Food Court Brawl -- alright really?  A Food Court Cleaner Punches Supervisor -- oh, c’mon now.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover some stories that are far more concerning for yourself, your family or, if you happen to be one of the owners of these establishments, your consumers.  A headline, like the one of a USA Today article Roaches, mice, bacteria on some food court menus, is simply terrifying for consumers and business owners alike.  


As USA Today reports, tighter work spaces and higher customer volumes in food courts create a perfect storm for the horrifying break down in cleanliness measures and health standards.  From raw meat being left out of refrigeration in New York malls, to live, crawling cockroaches in Boston, this is a real issue that can be avoided. Shopping malls aren’t the only crowded areas that have major food concerns over the holidays. As travel ramps up for the holiday season, airport food courts see an increase in traffic and with that, potential issues.


To the credit of the vendors in Boston and New York, these violations were corrected. The respective health departments would have shut them down if otherwise. While commendable that the restaurants are able bounce back from a failed inspection, it would be ideal for the focus to keeping the food court clean and safe from the get go.  


Fortunately food courts are looking better, especially over the last few years, due to more diligent awareness and third party accountability. In April 2015, The Philadelphia International Airport was applauded for turning around the grotesque standards in their airport food court. The court credits its improvement to the help of Environmental Health Consultants L.L.C., a private health inspection consulting firm, who check in monthly to make sure each restaurant is up to par.  In the four years they have been advisors, the airport's food-borne illness violations logged by the city Department of Public Health have fallen from an average 4.6 violations for eat-in restaurants in 2010 to 1.56 violations in 2014.

While the holidays may make for less deliberate, more shopping/travel driven meal choices, you should never have to worry about the quality of your food.  Not every restaurant is perfect (not yet, at least), but food courts are becoming less terrifying thanks to advances in technology and increased food safety awareness.