10 Food Safety Red Flags at Restaurants

You can spot the signs a restaurant might have risky food safety practices. Here's what to avoid the next time you're dining out.

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Restaurant Red Flags

When you walk into a restaurant you expect to eat delicious — and safe — food. However, this isn’t always the case. Poor food safety habits by restaurants, especially during the hustle and bustle of feeding hungry customers, can potentially lead to illness. Here are 10 signs you may be dining in a restaurant with less-than-stellar food safety practices.

A Bad First Impression

If upon walking into a restaurant, you notice food particles on the floor, dirty tables, and an all-around mess, it’s probably best to find somewhere else to dine. Go with your gut. If the front-of-the-house is in disarray, imagine what’s going on in the kitchen!

The Food Isn't the Right Temperature

When you’re ordering hot food, it should arrive piping hot. Food that comes to the table lukewarm may have been sitting around for a while giving bacteria an opportunity to grow. Before you take another bite, ask your server to warm your meal to the correct temperature.

Your Server Is Sick

One of the easiest ways to spread illness is to have your food served or prepared by someone who is sick. If your server is continuously blowing their nose or just looks like they should be home in bed, be wary. Not only can you catch what they have, but they have a higher chance of spreading bacteria called Staphylococcus Aureus, which is found in your nose and throat.

The Water Tastes Off

Ever take a sip of water that tastes like chemicals? That could mean that the restaurant isn’t using the right amount of chemical sanitizer to soften their water. They might be using too much sanitizer, which can potentially be toxic.

The Sliced Produce Looks Old

Fresh produce should be cut up as close to service as possible. If your melon appears glassy or is tasteless, it's probably been sitting around for a while. If this is the case, those fruits and vegetables will be lower in vitamins, since vitamins are destroyed when produce is exposed to oxygen especially for a long period of time.

The Bathroom Is Dirty

When the restroom has no paper towels, wet and messy sinks, and the stalls are just plain gross, it’s a sign that the restaurant isn’t keeping up with their cleaning schedule — and routine cleaning is part of running a clean and safe restaurant.

The Staff Is Unkempt

The chef and the kitchen staff should have clean uniforms, hairnets or hats, and no visible jewelry. If you sneak a peek and see unkempt hair and dirty outfits, then you may want to find an establishment where personal hygiene is priority.

You Notice Flies and Mouse Droppings

Pest control is an important part of running a clean restaurant. Insects and rodents carry disease-causing microorganisms including bacteria and viruses. If you spy numerous flies or mouse droppings on the floor (they’re typically black in color), the joint may have an infestation and shouldn’t be operating.

The Utensils Are Dirty

Bacteria are transferred onto forks, spoons and knives every time they touch your lips. Part of the restaurant's job is to ensure the utensils are cleaned and sanitized properly to avoid the spread of germs. If you find numerous utensils that are filthy, that’s a telltale sign that someone isn’t paying attention at the dishwashing station.

They Don't Take Your Food Allergy Seriously

When you alert your server or a manager that you have a food allergy and they don't seem to care or understand your dietary needs, it's a bad sign. They may not be educated on which ingredients and dishes contain the allergen, and they may not have guidelines in place to protect you. If you have a food allergy and aren't sure if the restaurant "gets" it, go find another place to dine.

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