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September 15, 1999

Keeping an Eye on Food Safety - How to Size Up a Restaurant

Local health departments can't be everywhere all the time. Restaurants can't be perfect all the time. So what can you do to protect yourself when dining out? Here are some simple tips that can help you judge the cleanliness and safety of the restaurants you visit.

Hot foods should be hot! If the food on the buffet isn't hot enough to steam, you may want to pass it up. Hot foods should be at 140 degrees Fahrenheit on the buffet or when served to your table. Most foods require cooking to higher temperatures before they are put on the buffet.

Cold foods should be cold! Foods that are required to be cold to prevent growth of microorganisms should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Foods left at room temperatures can often grow harmful bacteria in as little as 2 hours. If foods aren't the right temperature, don't eat them.

Take a look at your servers. Are they clean looking? Most important, do their hands and fingernails look clean. Do they keep their hands away from their face and hair. Foodborne illness can be passed person to person or from the bathroom by unwashed hands. Burns and cuts that may be infected are also a good source of harmful bacteria.

If you can, try to get a glimpse of the person that is fixing your food. You decide from there.

Plates, glasses, and utensils should be clean and spot free. If they have dried on food, finger prints or lipstick on glasses, then the dishwasher is likely on the blink. Ask for clean replacements or move on down the road.

Fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables should look and smell fresh. Wilted salads my be an indication that the product is old or has not been properly handled.

See any bugs? If you have to share your table with roaches, it's time to leave.

What is the general condition of the restaurant environment? Sure, you don't eat off the floor, but how the manager keeps the place up may be an indication of the amount of pride they take in preparing your food.


If you have a problem, tell the management. Usually they want to know. If they don't care, don't go back. If you want to make a formal complaint, call your local health department.  You don't have to leave your name unless you want to.

Source: Kansas Department of Health and Environment

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