Business

Fayette Mall closes food court to clean, sanitize after more than 150 illness reports

Herald - Leader

After more than 150 illnesses were reported, the Fayette Mall said Monday it’s closing the food court to clean and sanitize and requiring tenants in the area to do the same.

In a statement released Monday, the mall said it’s working with the Fayette County Health Department. The department said it received more than 150 reports of illnesses.

Commissioner of Health, Dr. Keith Humbaugh, said the department has not pinpointed a specific disease, but said they do believe the illness to be a viral “stomach bug” that is transmitted person-to-person, and is not a food contaminant.

Following the reports, Humbaugh said the health department recommended that the mall close and sanitize the food court and nearby restrooms. The food court and its restaurants will open as quickly as they can complete the cleaning and comply with the department’s recommendations.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision has been made to close the food court,” so the mall can clean and sanitize all areas in the food court, including tables, chairs, corridors, floors, and public and employee restrooms, the mall’s statement said. The play area also will be cleaned and sanitized.

“Individual tenants in the food court will follow the same protocol and be required to clean and sanitize their locations.”

“Tenants will remain closed until all areas have been cleaned and sanitized” according to health department standards, the mall said.

Humbaugh said most of the people who reported the illness became sick 24 to 48 hours after eating at the food court, and then experienced fever, vomiting and diarrhea for one to two days after feeling their first symptoms.

The health department began receiving illness reports last Thursday, and they increased over the weekend. Power outages from the weekend’s storms made it hard for the department to field all the calls, Humbaugh said.

The department concluded that the sickness is not due to any food contamination, and is most likely transmitted from person-to-person contact, or contact with surfaces that were recently touched by a person carrying the bug.

A specific restaurant or source has not been identified.

“In a common area like that, there are a lot of different source points,” Humbaugh said. “Pinpointing or identifying which (restaurant) is difficult, and that’s why we recommended that that whole area of the mall undergo a cleaning.”

When multiple employees reported illnesses, Chick-fil-A in the Fayette Mall food court voluntarily closed Thursday, and it delayed reopening Monday as initially planned, according to Tyler Bruce, franchise owner and operator.

Humbaugh said the department isn’t aware of any other restaurants reporting similar concerns last week, but commended Chick-fil-A for closing quickly, and notifying the department.

“We made this precautionary decision as we are continuing to understand the scope of the situation and potential related illness from other food establishments in the mall,” Bruce said. “The safety of our employees and guests is our highest priority and we look forward to reopening soon.”

The health department will do follow-up inspections if asked, but since the food court and its restaurants self-closed, they do not need a subsequent inspection to reopen, Humbaugh said.

“We will take their word that they have done what we’ve asked them to do when they’ve reopened,” Humbaugh said.

The Health Department is still investigating the reported employee and customer illnesses to find a cause, said spokesperson, Kevin Hall. Hepatitis A, which has a longer incubation period, is not to blame.

If you’re feeling any of the stomach bug symptoms after eating at the food court recently you should report the illness to the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department at 859-231-9791 or you can email the department at Report@lfchd.org.

Very long lines formed quickly at Fayette and other malls across the country for the special promotion that allowed customers to pay as little as $1 for Build-A-Bear's fuzzy make-your-own friends. The company closed the lines to further patrons.

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