We’d all love to think that eating at a restaurant is always a safe option. Sometimes it is, but other times it isn’t. Luckily there’s enough information available to compile a list of items that you’d be better off avoiding unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous that day.
With the following information, you’ll be armed with the knowledge on how you can safely navigate the mean restaurant streets, and save yourself an unfortunate night of food poisoning.
Raw Oysters Carry Unchecked Diseases
Oysters eat by constantly drawing in water over their gills in search for plankton and other particles in the water, making them filter feeders. This makes them perfect carriers for certain harmful bacteria.
“Eating raw oysters is dangerous for certain groups of people because some raw oysters contain bacteria or viruses that can cause disease. A bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus that is in some oysters can cause severe illness and death in people with certain underlying medical conditions,” says Dr. Duc Vugia, Chief of the Infectious Diseases Branch at the California Department of Public Health.
Hollandaise Sauce Can Be Left Out For Hours
For those of us that are unaware, Hollandaise is often made by using raw or lightly cooked eggs, and whisked together using butter, lemon, and various seasonings depending on your chef. The problem here being that raw eggs may carry bacteria such as salmonella, and the only way to effectively kill this bacteria is by bringing the internal temperature to at least 160°F.
Anthony Bourdain once said “How about hollandaise sauce? Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order.”
Bottled Ketchup On The Table Is Often Combined With Other Bottles
Businesses don’t like being wasteful and sometimes go to certain lengths to assure efficiency. With that being said, it’s relatively common practice to combine ketchup bottles at the end of the night. I know what you’re thinking, isn’t that against health codes?
The short answer: not really but it varies depending on the state you live in and of course, the practices of the restaurant. Refilling ketchup bottles after they’ve been properly sanitized and cleaned is one thing, but marrying two bottles is a disaster waiting to happen.
Chicken Parmesan Is Always Overcooked
Chicken Parmesan may be a surprising addition to the list, but valid nevertheless. Evidently, a lot of chefs won’t order Chicken Parmesan due to the very nature of the dish which makes it easy to conceal overcooked chicken. The dish is made by baking a breaded chicken cutlet, then covering it with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.
Chef Phil Pretty, of Long Beach’s Restauration says “I would never, ever order Chicken Parmesan, It’s always frozen before cooked and tastes like a gross version of chicken nuggets.”
Tap Water Is Safe To Drink…Technically
While tap water is under federal regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it can still be loaded with trace amounts of contaminants that can be harmful over time. While the presence of these contaminants doesn’t exactly indicate the water poses an immediate health risk, sustained intake of tap water can lead to gastrointestinal illness.
A good option would be choosing bottled water next time you dine out, but a better one is buying a water purifier at home and bringing your own clean water. Why take any chances, right?
The Soup Special Is Yesterday’s Special
The soup specials could be a seemingly innocent way to disguise the leftovers from a previous day. A discussion took place on Reddit with various anonymous users chiming in with there unique – and sometimes scary – accounts of working in restaurants. One tip from an anonymous user reading: “Soup of the day. It’s just yesterday’s leftovers.”
Further in the thread another user states: “[I avoid] Soup if it’s late. That soup has been sitting on the warmer all day.”
Raw Sprouts Breed Bacteria
Who doesn’t love a little extra crunch in their dish? Evidently, people who would like to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Sprouts can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli. This is because these harmful bacteria thrive in a warm, humid environment associated with growing sprouts.
With as many health benefits as they have, sprouts are probably best saved for consumption at home unless they’ve been cooked. Raw sprouts at restaurants should be avoided.
Buffet Food Is A Room-Temperature Disaster
Who doesn’t love a good all-you-can-eat-buffet? You get a little this, a little that, everyone’s happy, and everyone’s full. While recent regulations have improved the safety and quality of the food in buffets, it can still be very dangerous. Hot foods need to be kept hot, cold food needs to be kept cold, and room temperatures are often the enemy of a bacteria-free diner.
When eating out, make sure you’re checking for cleaned and sanitized serving utensils that are aren’t being used to cross-contaminate your food.
The House Salad Is Marked Up
This suggestion is the least scary of the list because it has nothing to do with health. Rather, ordering a house salad merely limits the diner in what they are ordering. When paying top dollar to eat out, you want it to be worth the expense. Sometimes house salads are one of the most marked-up items on the menu.
Chef Kayson Chong tells Reader’s Digest, “I prefer to have something special that a chef created with seasonal products and interesting combinations.”
Wedge Salads Aren’t Much Better
House salads may be ordinary, but they don’t always have the exact same ingredients. Wedge salads are not only pretty much universally the same, but they are also made with some of the cheapest ingredients in the restaurant.
A few small bits of bacon that equates about one bacon strips top a giant chunk of iceberg lettuce and is drizzled with blue cheese dressing. If you’re lucky you’ll get a few onions and tomatoes. All in all, you could make that at home for the cost of a piece of gum.
Never Order Fish On A Monday
Fish markets aren’t usually open on the weekends, so chances are, if you’re ordering fish on a Monday, it’s been sitting there for a minute. Anthony Bourdain’s New York Times bestselling book Kitchen Confidential addressed this very topic. I’ll let him explain:
“I never order fish on Monday, unless I’m eating at a four-star restaurant where I know they are buying their fish directly from the source. I know how old most seafood is on Monday – about four to five days old!”
Fresh-Squeezed Juices? More Like Fresh-Squeezed Bacteria
Unlike pasteurized juices, freshly squeezed juices are dangerous for the same reason as drink garnishments. When squeezed, any bacteria on the surface of your fruit can contaminate your juice. A good option for enjoying freshly squeezed juice is do it at home.
You’ll need to wash your hands, remove any fruit that’s bruised or damaged, and thoroughly wash the surface before slicing and squeezing. Or you can simply purchase fruit juice that’s been pasteurized and treated for bacteria and harmful pathogens.
The Bread Basket Is A Home For Dirty Hands
This goes for all shared baskets of cheap foods – Like peanuts, popcorn, and various breads. These bar style snacks are teeming with bacteria due to the many hands typically passing over them.
If that weren’t bad enough, bread baskets generally contain white bread which isn’t great for your waistline. While a slice of white bread isn’t really considered a high-calorie food at roughly 100 calories, if offers almost no nutritional benefit. There are enough calories in your appetizer and entree to justify skipping the bread baskets.
The CDC Warns Against Unpasteurized Cheeses
Pasteurization is the process of applying heat to destroy pathogens in food. However, certain soft cheeses skip this process, like brie, queso fresco, and camembert. These cheeses are therefore more susceptible to carrying certain harmful bacteria like Listeria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend steering clear of these cheeses unless labeled as made with pasteurized milk.
The CDC estimates cheeses made with raw milk are 50 to 160 times more likely to cause a Listeria infection.
A To-Go Box Leaves Your Food Out For Too Long
The FDA has a two-hour rule regarding food that is sitting at room temperature. Most people dining out don’t get home for at least an hour after their food has left the boiling water, fire grill, or hot oven that it was cooked in, and that’s just the people who are headed straight home.
As an alternative, share meals that you anticipate will be too large to finish completely. Better yet, order multiple plates and share them family style. Sides can always be added on to ensure everyone get enough to eat while nothing goes to waste.
Cheap Kobe Beef Isn’t Really Kobe Beef
Kobe beef is often praised as being some of best and highest quality beef around. But here’s the problem. Not all Kobe beef is created equally and due to some shady mislabeling. You may not be eating Kobe beef at all, which would explain the low price of these items.
There’s a reason it’s so expensive. For one, it’s incredibly tender and has a buttery flavor. This is due to its extremely high fat marbling and excellent quality. Another reason for the price is how far it has to travel. Certified Kobe beef comes all the way from Japan.
Too Much Sweet Tea Won’t Help Your Heart
The amount of sugar that’s added to this beverage is often more than the amount found in soda. This much sugar, whether real or artificial, can greatly increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. This amount of sugar content can lead to higher levels of triglycerides, which can lead to a stroke.
The idea is that if you’re ordering this item at a restaurant, you can’t actually see how much sugar is being added. Which is what makes this item so dangerous for most people.
The Daily Special Is Just A Sneaky Way To Get Rid Of Old Food
Specials are typically avoided for the same reason as the “Soup of the day” – They’re often made with leftovers! Many chefs won’t even order the “chef’s special” at restaurants due to popularity of using leftover meats, and old vegetables and sauces. Some restaurants tend to stretch these ingredients to avoid waste.
The truth is that you’re more susceptible to foodborne illness when you’re eating these past-their-prime foods as they aren’t usually monitored as closely. That’s not to say ALL restaurants are guilty of this entry, but it’s a lot more common than you might think.
Medium-Rare Burgers Are Too Risky
This has to do with the nature of minced or ground meat. When meat is ground or minced, more of the surface area is exposed to the air, which increases the likelihood of coming into contact with harmful bacteria.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking ground beef to a minimum internal temperature of 160 °F (71.1 °C) to effectively kill harmful bacteria that may cause illness. The safest bet is to ask for at least a medium cook next time you order a burger.
Vegetarian Dishes Might Not Be Vegetarian
A survey conducted by Food Network found that 15% of chefs admit to some animal products existing in a vegetarian dish. While not all restaurants are so careless, sometimes the chef preparing the food is unaware that a recipe has an animal product ingredient.
It is best to stick to places that specialize in vegetarian or vegan food, preferably one that omits animal products altogether to avoid cross-contamination. Otherwise, be sure to ask about each ingredient in the dish rather than asking about the menu item as a whole.
Don’t Order At All If The Bathrooms Are Filthy
This one just makes sense, a lot of people correlate a dirty restroom to a dirty kitchen. While this may not always be the case, it’s definitely something to consider when choosing the establishment you’ll be patronizing.
“I won’t eat in a restaurant with filthy bathrooms. This isn’t a hard call. They let you see the bathrooms. If the restaurant can’t be bothered to replace the puck in the urinal or keep the toilets and floors clean, then just imagine what their refrigeration and work spaces look like” says Anthony Bourdain.
Raw Flour Products Carry E.-Coli
Caution should be exercised when handling raw flour products since it can contain harmful germs like E.coli. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, E.coli infections linked to raw flour made 63 people sick.
These germs and other harmful bacteria are typically killed when brought to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) or hotter so cooked pizza is usually safe, however, handling the raw dough should be treated carefully. Be sure to wash your hands to avoid cross-contamination.
Unless You’re Allergic, Don’t Do Substitutions
Chef Christopher Faulkner told Delish, “Unless you are allergic to something, never sub-out one ingredient for another on a composed dish. In a trusted restaurant, the chef knows what he is doing, and a great marriage has been pre-arranged.”
On top of the risk that you’ll concoct something less tasty than the chef’s original, even the slightest change can cause confusion in a kitchen with tons of other orders. With each change you make, the likelihood something will come back wrong increases.
Anything You Could Make Yourself
This may sound a little obvious but it’s interesting advice to live by and encourages adventuring and exploration of new foods. Tanner Agar, CEO of Rye Mckinney, suggests you should order foods you can’t simply make on your own. He encourages his guests to explore dishes that require higher-level techniques or equipment.
“By ordering something you can make, you make it impossible to have that thrill of a surprise that a great, unexpected dish can create.”
Luxury Food Items Are A Scam
Caviar and white truffles are just a couple of the items restaurants will markup far higher than their worth, usually because they are items less sought after at the store and, generally, less known how to prepare.
However, you may be surprised how inexpensive and simple these gourmet meals can be to prepare at home. Plus, will many luxury dishes a little goes a long way, and can last longer when you’re the one buying and preparing it, rather than paying top dollar for a tiny serving.
Anything On Valentine’s Day Is Overpriced
Like most other holidays, Valentine’s Day leaves restaurants overcrowded, which often leads to issues resulting from overly congested kitchen orders. Plus, most of the tables are taken up by couples, which means there are less empty large tables to snag.
Notorious chef Gordon Ramsey became sentimental when he told Town & Country, “Busy kitchens with tons of diners means you don’t get the true feeling of the restaurant. You should be cooking on Valentine’s. What’s more romantic than a meal cooked for your partner with good bottle of wine?”
Steak Well Done Is A Waste Of Money
Most chefs agree that ordering steak well-done depletes the flavor out of the meat. A chef on Reddit wrote, “The care and dedication to a craft has been thrown out the window.” This care and prepartation is exactly why you may so much for a steak at a reputable restaurant.
When steak is prepared closer to Medium, the tasty juice has not evaporated and the texture can cut and be chewed. Some are afraid of the safety, but that’s why you go to a quality place. When the steak is cooked through, you may as well get a cheap one from a run of the mill spot.
Diet Cocktails Make You Drink More
A 2015 study by Northern Kentucky University found that those who consumed an adult beverage that had been made with diet soda had a 25% higher BAC when compared to those who drank a non-diet mixer.
While this may seem like a more costly way to dine, you’re actually more likely to order additional food when your inhibitions are lowered. Plus, when it comes to driving home, the 0.08% limit can easily be crossed when a small detail like mixture increases the effects.
Value Meals Add Unnecessary Calories
Some restaurants, primarily fast food places, offer a lowered price when you order a drink and a side with the main dish as compared to paying for all three items individually. However, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition states that people who are faced with a stressor have higher blood pressure after eating a high-fat meal.
In other words, keep the calories and unhealthy fats to a minimum by staving off those cheap add-ons.
Water With Lemon
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health found that 70% of the lemons tested contained bacteria. This is due to waiters not taking the necessary precautions (using tongs and gloves) to grab your lemon wedges.
Like most garnishes, lemons often are handled with bare hands, sometimes even while they are sliced. While a bartender who is being watched amy be more likely to wash their hands, a waiter who is rushing through the kitchen may not feel the same way.
Drink Garnishes Are Covered In Bacteria
This one is a little tricky since bartenders technically aren’t serving or preparing food, so they aren’t held to the same sanitary standards of the kitchen. The problem is that when you order your favorite cocktail, it’s garnished with fruit that hasn’t been held to that standard either.
A study conducted by The Journal of Environmental Health found that 69.7% of lemons tested from 21 different restaurants were contaminated by some kind microbial growth. So, it’s best to skip the lemon slices next time you hit the bar.
All You Can Eat Pasta
Pasta is cheap to make and very filling, making it a perfect way for restaurants to turn a profit with all you can eat deals. The USDA suggests six to eight ounces of grains in an entire day. This means that if pasta was the only grain you ate that day, you should not exceed about one cup’s worth.
Since restaurants often serve larger portions, you could easily blow an entire days worth of grains on one order of pasta, let alone countless refills. And given how cheap it is to make, you’re better off ditching the bargain.
Drinks With Free Refills
The American Heart Association recommends not exceeding 37.5 grams of added sugar per day. However, in just one soda there can be an entire days worth of added sugars. It can be tempting to quench your thirst with a sugary drink, especially when the refills are free.
Instead, order a soda water. If you would like to trade in desert at the end for a soda, then order a water with it and allow you’re waiter to clear the empty glass rather than bringing back another one.
Chips And Salsa
In many restaurants, a bottomless basket of chips and salsa are used as a means to tide over hungry diners. However, chips and salsa can do more than ruin your appetite. According to Livestrong just ten tortilla chips have about 150 calories. While salsa only has about 10 calories per every two tablespoons, it can cause you to continue eating in excess the chips.
In addition to increasing your calorie intake and ruining your appetite, these chips aren’t as nutrient dense as the meal you’ve ordered. That means that calorie for calorie, the chips are less likely to keep you satisfied. So hold off and let a well-balanced meal feed your hunger.
More Than One Piña Colada
The NIH does not recommend consuming more than two drinks per day for women. According to their cocktail content calculator, one piña colada actually counts as two drinks, meaning that the content in two of these dense drinks is the equivalent of four recommended drinks.
On top of that, the sugar content in one, 4.5 ounce serving is about the same as a soda and nearly double the calories. Think of this drink as a spiked desert worth waiting until the end for.
Sharks Are Toxic-Ridden
A study published in Science Daily found high levels of mercury, arsenic and lead in the blood of Great white sharks in South Africa. But these sharks aren’t the only toxin-riddled ones. Researcher Neil Hammerschlag says, “As top predators, sharks bio-accumulate toxins in their tissues via the food web from the prey they eat.”
This means that sharks accumulate these substances through the food they eat. Eating sharks continues this pattern by passing along these compounds to those that eat the shark.
Cheese Fries Are Hiding A Danger: Salt
As though french fries weren’t delicious enough, some genius decided to throw cheese on them. Many restaurants now include the popular dish on their appetizer list or as a side. While many would probably recognize this item to be high in calories and fat (four day’s worth according to CSPI), the overlooked danger is the salt.
The CSPI reports that this delicious invention can contain 5,000 miligrams of salt, more than three times the recommended daily amount, when served with ranch dressing.
Many restaurants will ask if you’d like to start off with a soup or salad, sometimes at a discounted price. While brothy soups can be an effective way to curb your appetite without blowing the calories, creamy soups can be very high in the things you’re trying to cut back on (salt, fat, calories, etc.) and low in the nutrients you’re really after.
If you want to go for the cream soup, eat it as a meal with something to balance it out like a salad or a side of vegetables. But if your heart is sold on a different entree, skip the soup altogether.
Breakfast specials are usually some variation of the following items: toast, pancakes, hash browns, sausage, bacon, and eggs. Then there’s add-ons like cheese, syrup, butter, and jelly that cause the sugar and fat content to further skyrocket.
The primary issue is not just about the portions, but about how colorless the foods all are. Color is a simple way to evaluate your meal because foods that are naturally pigmented are often high in vitamins and minerals. Instead, order something that has more fruits and veggies and less sugar and starch.
Buffalo Chicken Salad
This bad boy breaks all the rules while appearing to be the healthy option. Fried meat and oily sauce contribute to this salad’s 74 grams of fat and over 3,000 grams of sodium, according to WebMD.
While the lettuce does offer some vitamin and mineral benefits, it isn’t enough to outweigh the rest of the salad’s cons. Unlike many other salads which have a variety of fruits and vegetables, these salads often only offer a handfull of lettuce, which barely counts as a serving of vegetables.