Do you like eating out? Who doesn’t? You aren’t alone either! One report found that 65 percent of Americans eat out at least once per week. Eating out is fun, social, and gives you a break from kitchen duty, so what’s not to like?
Well, the fact that many restaurants aren’t exactly the most sanitary places for one. Even if they haven’t gone down the Chipotle road of salmonella, there are plenty of other places where germs are living the high life.
Want to know the germiest places in a restaurant? The places you should never touch or that you should at least wash your hands after you handle it? Keep reading! We are going to fill you in on all the dirt … so to speak.
1. The Bathroom
Well, this might seem like a no-brainer, but the bathroom is often a reflection of just how clean the restaurant actually is. If you have to answer Mother Nature’s call or if you plan to wash your hands, see if there is a cleaning schedule posted on the back of the door. You can also use the sniff test — if the bathroom smells dirty, it is. Wash your hands using lots of soap and hot water. Dry your hands with a paper towel, then use the paper towel to open the door. When you return to your table, use some hand sanitizer. Keep in mind, people who are not feeling very well often go into the bathroom to vomit, and not everyone washes their hands. Yuck.
2. The Table
OK, so it’s hard to eat and not touch the table, but one professor of microbiology from the University of Arizona found that there were enough germs (such as E. coli and coliform) on the average restaurant table to make people sick, especially the elderly, young children and those who suffer from a compromised immune system. Oh, and don’t ask your waitress to wipe down the table either; this study also found that those tables were even dirtier since the rag was probably never washed. You can put a napkin down where you rest your arms and avoid touching the tabletop with your fingertips.
3. The Buffet
If you have ever looked at a buffet or salad bar and wondered if it was clean, the answer is a simple NO. There are very few assurances that the food there is being kept as hot or as cold as it should be. Also, any remaining food from one container is simply scooped into a new one, contaminating it as well. Then you need to consider the utensils which are touched by untold numbers of people and are never replaced or washed until the end of the day. So if you think that “all you can eat” buffet sound like a good deal….think twice.
4. The Menus
OK, we admit that it is next to impossible to go to a restaurant and not touch a menu- but that explains why these tend to be the dirtiest things in any restaurant. When you consider how many hands touch every single day, and how often they are washed (never) or replaced (almost never) it’s easy to see why these are so disgustingly dirty. Oh yes, perhaps you have seen the waitress wipe them down with a rag. You remember what that rag did to your table, right? One study found that E. coli can survive on a plastic, laminated menu for 24 hours and salmonella can live for 72 hours! Pay attention to that menu; if you see food on it or if it feels sticky, it is probably loaded with the germs from everyone who has touched that menu in the past 3 days. Wash your hands after ordering and use hand sanitizer when you return to the table.
All those tableside condiment containers such as mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, pancake syrup, and even the salt and pepper shakers, often get refilled but are never, ever washed. Sometimes they don’t even get wiped off, but perhaps that is a good thing. You can either use one of your antibacterial wipes on the outside of them, or pick them up with a napkin.
6. The Tray
If you are eating at a restaurant that serves your food on a tray, don’t touch that either. Like menus, they are either wiped down with that rag or they don’t clean them at all. Many fast food places simply put those paper place mats down on them. Those are thrown out, then the tray is either returned to its place to be used again or it is wiped down, then returned to be used. Use hand sanitizer once you sit down and don’t touch the tray again until you are ready to leave. Also, don’t ever put your food or French fries directly on the tray.
7. The Ice in Your Drink
If you are drinking a cold drink, you should know that those restaurant ice makers are almost never cleaned out. Many restaurants only clean them out when they break down! This means that every employee who uses it can add to the contamination. Ask for your drink without ice. They are usually cold anyway. Your stomach will thank you!
8. The Lemon or Lime Slices in Your Drink
Even if you don’t ask for it, many restaurants add lemon slices to their water and lemon or lime slices to mixed drinks. You might want to start asking them to skip this practice when you realize that one 2007 study found that almost 70 percent off lemon slices tested had some type of microbial growth. Some were on the rind, and others were on the flesh of the fruit. How does this happen? Because lemons are cut and then handled by numerous people in the restaurant, which increases the chance that your lemon slice will be contaminated with some pretty nasty germs. If you can remember, ask your waitress or waiter to serve you your drink without fruit slices.