Dining Out Safely

Have you ever walked into a restaurant or café and wondered whether it was safe to eat there?

While most restaurants are inspected regularly by the local health department and many have a certified food manager on staff, even some of the best restaurants are capable of committing mistakes that can lead to foodborne illness. If you find yourself at an unfamiliar restaurant or just want to be extra careful, the following tips may help you stay healthy when eating out.

General Safety Tips

When first entering a restaurant, look around before you sit down. If the dining area or restroom is not up to your cleanliness standards, chances are the kitchen will not be either. In addition:

  • Only eat foods that are served very hot. If the food is lukewarm, it could have been standing at room temperature for some time, which could have led to the growth of foodborne bacteria.
  • Watch to make sure neither the cook nor the wait staff touches cooked food with their bare hands.
  • Make sure the wait staff does not touch the tips of your silverware with their bare hands.
  • Ask for drinks directly out of the can or bottle and open them yourself.
  • Don't eat meat, eggs or other raw foods that are undercooked (avoid runny egg yolks).

Finally, don't forget to wash your hands properly before sitting down to eat.

Handling Leftovers Safely

Since leftovers should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours (or one hour on days over 90º F), it’s best to leave them at the restaurant if you won't be heading home immediately. If you know you aren't going home right away after dinner, consider eating defensively. For example, divide larger entrees or appetizers with other diners at your table.

If you do take leftovers home, be sure to place them in the refrigerator immediately. If you won't be eating them within one to two days, wrap them in freezer-safe packaging and place them in the freezer. Frozen leftovers can be thawed either in the refrigerator, as part of the cooking process or in the microwave. If thawed in the microwave, finish cooking the food right away.