Most Americans trust strangers to prepare their food on a regular basis - and food safety isn't rarely at the top of their minds. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, you probably have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. If you have – none of the following secrets will surprise you.
In college, I worked as a waitress in a popular, full-service seafood restaurant – a national chain that you no doubt have heard of. On the same day that the health department gave us a score of 97, I recall seeing a fellow server pick up a piece of fried shrimp that had fallen on the floor and put it back on the plate to be eaten.
Although the health inspector was not a witness to the shrimp resurrection, this goes to show that even restaurants with A+ food safety ratings might not be following the rules all of the time--certainly not keeping with the safety ratings.
Through years of serving tables, I learned many secrets that restaurants don’t necessarily want you to know.
5 Food Safety Risks at Restaurants
- Skip the lemon wedge in your water or tea when eating out. Those lemon wedges were probably cut up early in the morning or even days before, and they are often stored at room temperature as they wait to be served. Even better, most servers are tossing the lemon slices into your drink or placing it on the rim with their bare hands. The use of tongs is indeed required. But when it gets busy, tongs are tossed aside, and servers use their grubby fingers to throw that lemon wedge into your drink.
- Your server’s hands are filthy. Servers rarely to never wash their hands between bussing dirty dishes and serving fresh food – especially not for 20-30 seconds in warm, soapy water. Servers at my restaurant would work an entire shift without properly washing their hands once. They would clean off half-eaten food from a used plate and then make a salad. None of this was allowed, of course - but it happened every night. Hands will be slightly cleaner at restaurants that employ dedicated bus staff to handle dirty dishes.
- Wash your hands after you order, not before. That menu you are holding hasn’t been disinfected since it was printed – for some restaurants, that means years. Give those petri dishes back to the waiter and then go you wash your hands. And keep in mind that your tabletop is not a sterile surface, either. If you drop food on it – let that bite go. Tables are wiped down after each group of guests with a rag that has been sitting in a bucket of water that was warm and sterilized at 10 am. It’s now 8 pm – that water has been cold, gross, and filled with bits of germy food for hours.
- The ketchup in the bottom of the bottle has been there for a while. At the restaurant where I worked, ketchup bottles were are filled up from the top whenever they needed it. The bottle only got tossed when it became too gross-looking to sit out on a table. Condiment containers on the table (included salt and pepper) were only ever cleaned if they visibly needed it.
- If you arrive two minutes before the restaurant closes, everyone will hate you. The servers, the chefs, the busboys – everyone. They will bitch about you in the back the entire time your meal is being prepared, which may not be made with the healthiest precision, either. The least you can do when eating out at the last minute is to order something that is quick and easy to prepare, apologize for your late arrival profusely, tip well, and then get the hell out of there. And most of all, be nice! It never failed to amaze me how rude people could be to strangers who are preparing their food. Horrible things might happen to the food served to people who act horribly. Don’t be horrible!
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