When it comes to cooking at home, everyone knows the importance of food safety to keep your family and dinner guests safe against harmful bacteria. But did you also know that the very same sense of caution should apply when you're out to eat? As Food News Safety reported, a number of restaurants nationwide were the source of foodborne illnesses during 2015.
From chain Mexican diners to seminational barbecue joints, these restaurants posed serious health threats due to, among other factors, improperly stored food and diminished quality assurance. According to 2011 estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 Americans contract a foodborne illness each year, and restaurants are the source for many of these cases.
"1 in 6 Americans contract a foodborne illness each year."
To ensure your family has the most entertaining dining experience possible, here are three safety tips for every time you head out to your favorite cafe, taco stand, pizzeria, etc.:
1. Speak out
Far too often, people feel afraid to ask pertinent questions of a restaurant's wait staff. Though you might feel as if you're being a bother or adding onto the pile of an already over-worked waiter, your health depends on what you know about the food you're about to eat. For example, you may want to check if a specific salad dressing contains raw eggs or how chefs prepare the fish of the day. If you're ever not sure about the answer, it's then your personal job to ask for replacements or for the kitchen to make certain accommodations. You're a paying customer, and restaurants have a responsibility to provide you with food you're comfortable consuming. As an extension of this, you may want to do research into any new restaurants before making your reservations.
2. Check your surroundings
Many people walk into a restaurant based on things like personal recommendations, special deals or even the overall design or music being played. Those factors are great for drawing you in, but once you're seated, it's time to pay close attention to the state of the restaurant. Were the tabletops and other surfaces been wiped down properly? Is the wait staff well-groomed? Can you spot any roaches or flies around the restaurant? What are the bathroom conditions? It's important to be as observant as possible and to make note of anything that might potentially lead to illness. Depending on your state, restaurants are required to post ratings from the state food board. If these restaurants don't provide these grades, they're in serious violation and can face hefty fines.
"Most dairy products are high on the list of risky food items."
3. Know what to eat
There is more than a matter of taste to consider when choosing between the chicken parmesan or cioppino stew at your favorite Italian eatery. There are certain foods that can increase your risk of food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses. One of the biggest perpetrators is raw or uncooked meat, including beef and poultry. Eggs, custard and various dairy products also top this list. Other high-risk foods include seafood, certain kinds of rice and pasta, and prepared fruit salads. Though not always the case, buffets can also be breeding grounds for certain bacterial strains, according to Food Safety News. That's because the food stations are exposed to more germs and typically aren't as regularly monitored by kitchen staff.
No matter how careful you are, foodborne illness may still occur during a night out. If you're seeking relief or just a diagnosis, you can always visit your local CareWell Urgent Care Center. With facilities across the East Coast, CareWell's team of physicians can address all of your symptoms without the need for long waits or added paperwork.