Customers lined up at York Galleria food court restaurants at lunchtime Thursday, while other shoppers strolled by with caution, after the area reopened following a two-day closing caused by a cockroach infestation.
"This is the perfect time to go here. Everything is sanitary now," said Frank Long, a Dallastown resident who takes noon walks around the mall.
Long was enjoying a drink and eating a McDonald's sandwich after the nine restaurants in the food court were reopened Thursday morning.
Matt Lyons, a West Manchester resident, was also unfazed by the recent closure.
"It seems like everything has been taken care of, so I feel like it's safe to eat here now," Lyons said, biting into an Italian sub.
State officials at 8 a.m. Thursday morning inspected the food court's nine eateries and declared them in compliance with Pennsylvania food safety laws.
"There has been a significant improvement," said Lydia Johnson, director of the state Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratories. "My staff will be eating here today. That should speak very loudly at the confidence level we have."
But others aren't so confident.
Chloe Meyer said she'd still rather eat lunch at her Dover home.
"It gives me the creeps. I'm sure if the state made sure it's clean, it's OK. It just makes me wonder how long cockroaches were living here, and what other restaurants they might be living in without us knowing," she said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture on Tuesday afternoon closed the Galleria food court at 2899 Whiteford Road in Springettsbury Township after they said it was infested with cockroaches.
Johnson said she couldn't quantify the roach infestation.
"It was too numerous to count. We were concerned enough to call it an imminent health hazard," she said.
Information released on the state Department of Health's website explains cockroaches can pick up disease-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella, on their legs and carry it onto foods, causing food poisoning.
Inspectors were made aware of the problem by a consumer, who spotted a cockroach in the seating area, and they investigated within 24 hours, officials said.
Eight restaurants inside the York Galleria were closed as a result of the state health inspectors' review, she said. They are Bamboo Express, McDonald's, PhillyBoyz Cheesesteaks, SaladWorks, Sbarro's, Subway, Taco Bell and Tokyo Nichi.
Auntie Anne's Pretzels, which was not affected, closed voluntarily to make it easier for the area to be cleaned, she said. The areas of concentration where roaches were discovered included trash storage areas and hallways behind the restaurants, not the restaurants themselves, Johnson said.
How the roaches arrived there is unclear - they can travel in on boxes, she said. But once they made it to the mall, they established a population, she said.
Johnson said she wouldn't address if mall management or restaurant owners are to be blamed for the infestation, as answering that question is not part of the state's investigation.
To resolve the problem and prevent it in the future, state officials recommended to mall management and its tenant restaurants that they launch a top-to-bottom cleanup, set a new extermination protocol, seal any areas where pests can enter, and conduct regular deep cleanings and sanitation efforts.
Each restaurant already conducts individual exterminations, but the state recommends they now plan those in unison. By doing it that way, pests wouldn't have a chance to seek refuge in an area that wasn't being exterminated, Johnson said.
The restaurants have done "an excellent job complying" with the state's requests, she said.
Each year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture conducts about 30, 000 inspections, with each restaurant receiving one, annual examination.
"We close restaurants every day," she said.
Closing mall food courts is "not a regular occurrence," but it has happened, she said.
The York Galleria food court will face more unscheduled inspections in the coming months, Johnson said.
"We will follow up and follow through to make sure things continue at this level," she said.
Lucinda Hartshorne, general manager of the York Galleria, said she and her staff will also be keeping "a closer eye."
"The safety and well being of our customers, tenants and employees is of the utmost importance," she said.
Hartshorne has served as the mall's general manager for four years, and nothing like this week's closure has happened during her tenure, she said.
"We're very glad to be back open," she said. "No one wants to see their businesses close."
Ken Patel, who owns SaladWorks, Subway and Taco Bell in the Galleria food court and pays the mall $30,000 a month to have his locations there, said he lost about $8,000 in sales while being closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
About 20 of his employees also lost hours as a result of the closure, but Patel said he will pay them for the time they missed.
"It's not their fault. They're like family, and I will treat them like family," he said.
Some of Taco Bell's sales started to bounce back Thursday morning when state inspectors ordered two, black bean burritos and three soft tacos.
"They feel comfortable to eat here, and I hope our other customers will too," he said.
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