Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Spot Food Safety Warning Signs When Dining Out

Spot Food Safety Warning Signs When Dining Out

Convenience, enjoyment or freedom from the kitchen – whatever the reason you eat dinner out, it shouldn’t be an occasion for food poisoning.

We have our favorite places and even a particular food we typically order when we go out to eat.

Do you worry that your favorite place or the new place you visit for a meal might give you food poisoning?

Detective Foodsafe® has some tips to share to help us spot the warning signs of possible food safety concerns in our local restaurants.

Signs of Food Safety Violations

All food service establishments are inspected for violations in cleaning and food handling practices to keep all of us safe.

The regulations are designed to help keep the food we are served safe from pathogens that cause foodborne illness.

Here are things you should be on the lookout for when you dine out whether it is a fancy sit-down, buffet, or fast food meal:

  1. Look for an inspection report. Many health departments give a food grade that shows whether the restaurant is keeping up with the standards. In some areas they use a red, green, or yellow light icon to show how well they did on their inspection. Many inspection reports are now available online so consumers can see for themselves what inspectors found on their last visit.
  2. Are food handlers, managers, and servers certified? They often post certificates of their food safety training for customers to see. Staff should be properly trained to maintain safe food handling processes.
  3. Does the restaurant look clean? Is the menu sticky? Are the bathrooms clean? Are the staff showing signs of illness or not well-kept? Are there flies or bugs in view? Are the tables, utensils, and glasses clean? Does staff use clean cloths to wipe down surfaces? If what you can see isn’t kept clean, the likelihood of a clean kitchen is slim. 
  4. Is the food you are served cooked thoroughly or undercooked? Is the hot food hot and the cold food cold when you get it at your table? Send the food back if not at the proper temperature or poorly cooked so you can avoid becoming a victim.
  5. Before eating at a buffet, check to see if the food looks as though it has been held too long, is not at the proper temperature, whether adequate numbers of serving utensils are being used to prevent cross contamination, is a sneeze guard at the correct height to protect food on the buffet, and it is kept clean. Are raw and cooked foods kept separate?
  6. Ask the server about cooking techniques, whether any raw eggs are being used in certain recipes or if pasteurized eggs are used. Raw eggs can expose you to Salmonella.

You can protect yourself by handling your leftovers safely by promptly storing your doggy bag under refrigeration or discarding it if it takes longer than 2 hours to return home for chilling. Use your leftovers within a few days or freeze for a future use.

Foods That Could Put You at Risk

Some foods are naturally prone to carry pathogens that can cause food poisoning.

Food that carries microorganisms that could make you sick don’t smell, taste, or look like they are spoiled so it can be hard to know what is safe by looking.

Avoiding these foods when dining out will help you reduce your risk:

  • Rare steaks or burgers
  • Undercooked poultry or beef
  • Sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and poke bowls; seafood
  • Soft-boiled, over easy, or runny eggs
  • Unpasteurized soft cheese such as brie, camembert, feta, and queso fresco 
  • Dairy products and custard
  • Cooked rice
  • Wilted, brown, or unwashed produce; sprouts; baked potatoes cooked/held in aluminum foil 
  • Fresh squeezed, unpasteurized juice, or apple cider

Eating out should be enjoyable, not a reason to worry that you or your family could become a victim of food poisoning.

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