Want To Avoid Food Poisoning? An Expert Tells You What Not To Eat At Restaurants

The recent E. coli outbreak in contaminated lettuce drives home the point that restaurant salads are an iffy proposition.

a food poisoning expert tells you which foods to avoid at restaurants
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The recent E. coli outbreak in contaminated lettuce drives home the point that restaurant salads are an iffy proposition.

As you are no doubt aware by now, a recent E. coli outbreak has sickened nearly 100 people in the United States, thanks to contaminated romaine lettuce from Arizona. And while the subject of food poisoning is on Americans’ minds, a food-poisoning expert has offered his advice on what to avoid at restaurants if you want to stay healthy, via Business Insider.

We’ll begin with the most obvious things.

Salads

Considering it was tainted lettuce that has left dozens of people sick in the U.S., as BBC News reports, then it should come as no surprise that restaurant salads are high-risk items. For starters, they’re mostly produce – like lettuce and tomatoes – and such produce is easily contaminated, says food-poisoning expert Bill Marler. That’s because between growing, harvesting, shipping, and chopping, so many hands and machines have touched it that it’s all but guaranteed to have picked up some microbes.

“Not every lettuce leaf in the field is contaminated E. coli, but some of them are. And when you mix and match it at a processing facility and chop it up, you get what you get.”

Another problem: salad is raw. Almost all of the pathogenic microbes that wind up in and on your food can be killed off by the cooking process; not so for salads.

And speaking of cooking…

Rare Meat

If you’re like this writer and you enjoy your burgers so rare that they bite back, Marler has some bad news for you: the only way to be guaranteed your beef is safe is to cook its center to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

raw burgers risk giving you food poisoning
If you like rare burgers, you’re playing with fire when it comes to food poisoning. mjsomerville / Shutterstock

One thing you may not be aware of, if you don’t pay much attention to the food & dining scene, is that one fan of well-done meat is none other than the president of the United States. According to Marler, Donald Trump likes his steaks well-done – and with ketchup! And while the jury is still out on whether or not Trump will be impeached for any Russia-related crimes, he certainly won’t be impeached for this crime against cuisine.

Foreign Food

No, nobody is saying that you should give up tacos and beef vindaloo and hamantaschen in favor of a strict diet of American food (what even is American food, anyway?). But you should definitely be wary of imported food, particularly seafood. That’s because a lot of imported seafood, such as scallops from the Philippines, originate in countries with, shall we say, less strict food-handling laws.

What’s more, shipping food items across the oceans gives them even more time to spoil. That’s true for not just meat and seafood, but fruits and vegetables as well.

-Side Note- Sushi Is, Surprisingly, Okay

We will take a break from the narrative about foods to avoid and let you know about one foodstuff that Marler says is generally okay to eat at restaurants: sushi! Sure, eating sushi violates the rules against eating raw food and “foreign” food, but Marler says that as long as you’re getting it from a decent restaurant and not, say, the 7-11.

Now back to the gross stuff.

Buffets

It’s a dirty secret in the restaurant industry: as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain explained in his best-selling book, Kitchen Confidential (excerpted via The Guardian), buffets are how restaurants get rid of food that’s about to expire (or has already expired).

Marler doesn’t mention that unsavory aspect of the restaurant industry – and indeed, obviously high-dollar buffets such as that at the Wynn in Las Vegas, take greater care than, say, the Sizzler. But Marler does point out that buffet food has had plenty of time to be in contact with other customers’ hands – and even their sneezes!

“I never eat a buffet. I’ll order off the menu.”

Soft Serve Ice Cream

Last but not least on the list of things to avoid are those machines that dispense soft-serve ice cream. As any teenager who has worked at McDonald’s can tell you, the machinery inside those things is a breeding ground for all kinds of disgusting things this writer would rather not write about. Suffice to say, if you’re hankering for ice cream, make sure it’s served to you scooped.