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How Do I Avoid Food Poisoning from a Restaurant?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 17, 2024
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In order to help prevent food poisoning from a restaurant, diners should be observant of their surroundings, avoid certain items, and be assertive when it comes to how the food is prepared. One of the primary ways diners get food poisoning from a restaurant is by consuming undercooked meats and dairy products or vegetables that have not been properly washed or stored. Certain menu items, such as salad bars, buffets, and salsa or guacamole, tend to cause more food poisoning cases, while the hygiene of employees in the kitchen is also crucial. Diners can further protect themselves by paying attention to how restaurants scored on their most recent inspections by the local health department.

While it is difficult for a diner to see what is going on in a restaurant’s kitchen, the food served should be examined prior to being eaten. Anything that seems undercooked or lukewarm should be returned to the kitchen, recooked, and replated. Meat, poultry, and eggs should be cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria. Eggs should have firm yolks, and poultry and pork should not be pink when cut. Hamburgers should not be pink in the middle either.

Diners can avoid food poisoning from a restaurant by being assertive when ordering. Something made with eggs that are mixed together, like omelets or scrambled eggs, should be made with pasteurized eggs. If the waiter cannot confirm the use of pasteurized eggs, the diner can order something else. Additionally, diners can request that meat like that served in a hamburger be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). Asking how food is prepared can help diners make choices to prevent food poisoning.

Some diners may prefer to order certain meat rare or their eggs undercooked. As a result, many restaurant menus now include statements that warn customers of the dangers of consuming certain undercooked or raw foods. Some restaurants will prepare meat and dairy products only in ways that help prevent cases of food poisoning. Diners should pay attention to any such statements on the menu before ordering.

There are certain menu items or dining choices that can increase the risk of food poisoning from a restaurant. Salad bars and buffets are not always kept at the correct temperature. Additionally, a multitude of other diners and employees will touch the serving utensils and possibly the food itself. Salsa and guacamole are often made in a large batch with ingredients that were not properly refrigerated. These dining options are more likely to be the source of food poisoning or other food-borne illnesses.

Diners can further protect themselves by paying attention to where they eat. The employees should demonstrate hygienic practices and have clean hands and hair restraints. The restaurant itself should not be dirty, and many establishments will train their staff in food safety. In many places, the restaurant will post its latest health inspection score, but this information is also usually available through the local health department.

Certain persons are at a higher risk for food-borne illness and should be particularly cautious in restaurants. Pregnant women, individuals with weakened immune systems, and the elderly are all at higher risk for severe infections. These groups of people should not eat undercooked animal products, soft French-style cheeses, and pates.

A variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites can lead to food poisoning. Food can be contaminated by improper handling, contaminated cooking utensils, or by not being stored at the proper temperature. Signs of poisoning include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Other symptoms are fever and chills, headache, and weakness that can lead to respiratory arrest. A doctor may perform blood, vomit, or stool tests, but it is not always possible to prove a case of food poisoning.

Most common cases of food poisoning from a restaurant are not life threatening and will abate in a few days. The key is often drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and to refrain from eating solid foods until the diarrhea has stopped. A restaurant that is concerned about its reputation and continued patronage will be respectful of any diner concerned about food poisoning and proper food preparation.

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Discussion Comments

By Ruggercat68 — On Feb 11, 2014

@Reminiscence, I worked in a few restaurants myself over the years, and I'd have to say they were ten times cleaner than an average home kitchen. We had strict rules on how to store and test food, and if we had any questions we threw it out. I don't buy your theory about a restaurant's popularity and the incidence of food poisoning. Buffet restaurants can have a few more problems maintaining proper food temperatures, but I would say we did everything possible to make the food safe to eat. Customers just got tired of all-you-can-eat buffets and started finding healthier places to eat.

By Reminiscence — On Feb 10, 2014

I worked in the restaurant industry for many years, and I would say the first thing to consider is the health inspection score. Not every violation is directly related to food safety, but the score can tell a customer about the restaurant's overall commitment to safe service. When a critical violation involving food temperature or storage is mentioned, then food poisoning becomes a consideration. A meat item reading under 140 degrees Fahrenheit on a buffet table, for example, is very susceptible to bacterial contamination. If you eat that piece of meat, you're possibly taking in a colony of bacteria as well.

The other thing I would consider is the popularity of the restaurant. If someone gets food poisoning at a particular restaurant, he or she is unlikely to make a return visit or recommend it to others. If a restaurant starts becoming unpopular, there may be a unspoken reason for it.

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