How to enjoy restaurant meals without the risk of food poisoning

Girl eating burger
Representative image: Shutterstock/

Avoiding food poisoning while eating out involves being vigilant about the food you order, the cleanliness of the restaurant, and how the food is handled.

Here are some detailed tips to help you reduce the risk:

Research the restaurant

  • Read reviews, look for reviews on cleanliness and food safety.
  • Keep an eye out for news regarding Health Department inspections, check ups and list of eateries against which actions are taken.

2. While at the restaurant, observe cleanliness

  • The restaurant should look clean and well-maintained. Pay attention to the cleanliness of tables, floors, and bathrooms.
  • Servers and kitchen staff should appear clean and practice good hygiene (e.g., wearing gloves or hairnets).

3. Menu choices
Avoid high-risk foods: Steer clear of raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Be cautious with items like mayonnaise, Shawarma, food cooked outdoors, raw salads, and sushi.
Ask about ingredients: Don’t hesitate to ask how dishes are prepared, especially if you have dietary restrictions or concerns about food safety.

4. Food temperature
Hot foods: Should be served piping hot. If a hot dish arrives lukewarm, it might not have been stored or reheated properly.
Cold foods: Should be served cold. If a cold dish (like a salad or dessert) arrives warm, it may have been sitting out too long.

5. Check food appearance and smell
Inspect your food before eating. If anything smells off or looks strange, don't eat it and alert the staff.

Eating at a restaurant
Representative image: Shutterstock/

6. Handling leftovers
If you take leftovers home, refrigerate them within two hours. If the temperature outside is above 32°C (90°F), refrigerate within one hour.

7. Specific tips for different food types

Salads and raw vegetables
Ensure that salads and raw vegetables are fresh and properly washed.

Salads at buffets can be risky if not kept at the right temperature or if they have been sitting out too long.

Only order seafood from reputable restaurants known for their freshness.

Unless you are confident in the restaurant’s food safety practices, avoid raw fish and shellfish.

Ensure meats are cooked to the correct internal temperature. For instance, chicken should be cooked to 74°C (165°F).

8. Trust your instincts
If you notice anything concerning, such as unclean conditions or staff handling food improperly, report it to the manager.

If you feel uncomfortable with the cleanliness or safety of the restaurant, it’s better to leave and choose another place to eat.

9. General safety practices
Beverages: Opt for bottled or canned drinks in places where you are unsure about water safety.
Ice: In regions with questionable water quality, avoid ice in drinks as it can be a source of contamination.

10. Identifying stale food
Colour: Fresh meat should have a vibrant colour. Beef should be bright red, poultry should be pink, and fish should have a translucent sheen. If the meat appears dull, gray, or has dark spots, it may be spoiled.
Texture: Fresh meat should look firm and moist but not slimy. A slimy texture or excessive dryness can indicate spoilage.
Smell: Fresh meat should have a mild, clean smell. If the meat has a strong, sour, or ammonia-like odour, it is likely spoiled. Trust your nose; if something smells off, it probably is.
Taste: Spoiled meat will have an unusual or off taste. If you take a bite and it doesn't taste right, stop eating and notify the restaurant staff.

By paying attention to these signs, you can help protect yourself from consuming spoiled food and potentially getting food poisoning. If you encounter food that seems off, it's always best to err on the side of caution and avoid eating it.

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