We all enjoy going out to eat whether to celebrate an occasion or just because it’s Tuesday. Don’t let your evening be ruined because you brought home not just a “doggie bag” – but also a bout of E. Coli, Salmonella or Listeria. Whether it’s a fast food joint or a four-star, jacket required, top-of-the-mark restaurant, you still need to make sure your food is safe. So, how do you know? What should you look for?
When You Walk in the Door
The first thing to notice in a restaurant is overall cleanliness. If the reception area, dining area and restrooms are dirty, chances are the kitchen is the same. The same people that clean one area usually clean the others. Additionally, note the following:
- Do you see workers cleaning the tables, chairs and/or booths after other diners have left and before seating new customers?
- Did they use the same cloth to clean the seats as they did the table top?
- Do you notice periodic cleaning of the floors?
- Can you see any “prep” areas and are they kept clean?
- Did you see any employees leave the restroom without washing their hands?
If You Can See Into the Kitchen Area
Once inside and seated at your table, or ordering food at the counter of a fast food/take out place, look if you can into the food preparation area. Observe what the kitchen workers are doing.
- Do you see any of the cooks touch their faces or hair, or cough or sneeze in the food?
- Are the cooks wearing hats or other hair restraints?
- Are the cooks wearing gloves or are they bare handed? (they should be wearing gloves)
- Does the kitchen look clean?
Once You Receive Your Food
Don’t be shy about bringing to your waiter’s attention any food that doesn’t look or smell right, or sending it back for another dish. For example:
- Did you order chicken but it smells like last week’s fish?
- Is your medium-well steak swimming in a pool of red meat juices?
- Is your chicken pink with pink juices?
- Is there a foreign object in your food?
Before You Go
Restaurant health inspections are public and can usually be viewed on-line. State or county laws require all restaurants to be inspected periodically. Inspectors look at the following important factors in safe food storage and preparation:
- Are foods being cooked to the proper temperatures?
- Are there safety measures in place to prevent cross contamination between raw and ready to eat foods?
- Are the counters, food preparation areas and food storage areas kept clean and sanitized at all times?
- Is there a three-stage sanitizing/washing system for cooking equipment and utensils?
In conclusion, when it comes to restaurant safety, use your own common sense. If a restaurant looks dirty or the food smells or looks bad, err on the side of caution and make another choice. You don’t want to have to pay for your meal twice.
Check out the National Restaurant Association webpage at www.restaurant.org. Also check out your state, county or local department of public health for information on their inspections of your local restaurants.