Are Bar Snacks and Cocktail Condiments Safe to Eat?

Before you dig in to that bowl of free peanuts at the bar, think about who else has had their hands on them . . . and where their hands have been.
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Ever seen the movie Along Came Polly? There’s a scene where Ben Stiller explains why a bowl of nuts at a bar are so disgusting. Patrons drink, go to the restroom, don’t wash their hands and dig right back into that bowl. If you think you don’t want to hit a bar with bad-news-bearing Ben Stiller, I’m pretty much the same . . . maybe worse. Here’s why:

Bar Snacks

Potato chips, pretzels or snack mix -- they’re all the same. An open bowl of any salty snack has the same issue. The salty food is great for business -- it makes you thirsty so you order more drinks. But more drinks means more trips to the restroom. When you return to the bar, those unsanitary hands grab the PEEnuts again.

What’s more- you’ll often see these bowls refilled when they are almost finished. This means that new food is mixed with the older, contaminated food. If you do eat out of the communal bowls, look for establishments that serve a new batch in a clean bowl.

Mindless munching at the bar will also set you back hundreds of empty calories. Nuts are typically 7 calories each— munching on 50 or so (about 2 ounces) adds up to 350 calories. That’s not counting the hundreds of calories of alcohol you’re guzzling.

If you choose to munch at the bar, your cleanest bet is to order your own munchies. Check out the menu and select options like bruschetta, thin-crust pizza (go light on the cheese) or grilled chicken skewers. And remember, there’s no need to share, unless you’re sure the other person has washed their hands.

Cocktail Condiments

Do you like your cocktail on ice? Or with a slice of lemon? Not me. I always imagine whose fingers have been on them before they touched my drink. You'll often see the bartender using his or her hands to grab the condiments. The same hands that have bussed finished cocktails and handled money. That’s just too many hands touching my food.

My suggestion is to order drinks without the olives or Maraschino cherries unless you’re sure that they’ve been handled properly. Look for bartenders who use tongs or don’t directly touch ice or those cocktail condiments.

TELL US: Do you dig into those bar snacks?

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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