While dining out can be a fun and enjoyable experience, foodborne illnesses can occur if the staff at your favorite restaurant doesn't observe proper food safety practices. Below are some tips to help keep you safer when dining out or ordering ready-to-eat meals.
- Dining Out Safely
- Keeping Ready-to-eat Foods Safe
- Safer Eating and Drinking While Traveling
Dining Out Safely
Have you ever walked into a restaurant and wondered whether it was safe to eat at or not? While most restaurants are inspected regularly by the local health department and many have a certified food manager on staff, even some of the best restaurants are capable of committing mistakes that can lead to food borne illness. If you find yourself at an unfamiliar restaurant or just want to be extra careful, the following tips may help you stay healthy when eating out.
General Safety Tips
- When first entering a restaurant, look around before you sit down. If the dining area or restroom is not up to your cleanliness standards, chances are the kitchen will not be either.
- Only eat foods that are served to you very hot. If the food is lukewarm, it could have been standing at room temperature for some time, which could have lead to the growth of food borne bacteria.
- Watch to make sure neither the cook nor the waitstaff touches cooked food with their bare hands.
- Make sure the waitstaff does not touch the tips of your silverware with their bare hands.
- Ask for drinks directly out of the can or bottle and open them yourself.
- Don't eat meat, eggs or other raw foods that are undercooked (avoid runny egg yolks).
- Don't forget to wash your own hands properly before and after eating.
Handling Leftovers Safely
- Leave leftovers at the restaurant if you won't be able to refrigerate or freeze them within two hours from the time they were first served. If you know you aren't going home right away after dinner, consider eating defensively and divide larger entrees or appetizers with other diners at your table.
- If you do take leftovers home, place them in the refrigerator immediately. If you won't be eating them within one to two days, put them in the freezer. Frozen leftovers can be thawed in the refrigerator, as part of the cooking process, or in the microwave. If thawed in the microwave, finish cooking the food right away. Always reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F.
Keeping Mail Order and Ready-to-Eat Foods Safe
Food is an important part of any celebration, and that is especially true when holidays arrive. Because the holidays can be hectic, convenience is key. When it comes to food, that includes ordering from catalogs, gourmet Web sites and television shopping channels as well as picking up prepared meals from the supermarket and taking advantage of home grocery delivery. If not properly handled, stored, and prepared, food products can harbor many different organisms that can cause food borne illnesses.
Mail Order/Online Food Deliveries
The most important safety precaution is to make sure you are ordering from a reputable company. If you are ordering perishable food, either make sure someone will be home to accept the delivery, or have the food sent to your workplace so you can immediately get it into the refrigerator. If you are sending food as a gift, let the recipient know that it is coming so someone will be there to receive it.
When ordering frozen foods, make sure they are properly packed with a cold source such as an ice pack or dry ice to maintain safe temperature. Perishable foods should be shipped via overnight delivery to make sure they stay cold. Frozen food should be stored at -18°C and thawed carefully either in a refrigerator or as part of the cooking process, not at room temperature. If perishable food arrives warm -- above 4°C as measured with a food thermometer, notify the company, and do not consume the food.
Ordering groceries online and having them delivered right to your door is a great time-saver. The most important detail here is to make sure you can retrieve the food in time to get it into proper storage while it is still at a safe temperature. Do not arrange food delivery on a day when you know you will be home later than usual, as perishable foods need to be kept at or below 4°C.
Four Golden Rules to Remember
If you are ordering a holiday dinner from your local market or specialty store, the most important thing to check for is proper cooling and storage. Food should be rapidly cooled from 60°C to 32°C within the first two hours and from 32°C to 4°C or less within an additional four hours. One sign that food has not been properly cooled is excessive condensation on the lid.
Once you get your meal home, keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use it (and do not run errands all over town with the prepared dinner in the back seat). When reheating, food should rapidly be heated from refrigeration temperatures to 74°C within two hours.
Tips for Safer Eating and Drinking While Traveling
Whether you are at home or on the road, it is important to take care of your health. Since traveling can bring you into contact with many things that your body isn't used to, it is easier to get sick. In fact, more than 10 million overseas travelers fall ill with diarrhea and other sicknesses each year from drinking water and food according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What kinds of foods are safe to eat when traveling? First, avoid foods that require a lot of handling before serving. In most cases, foods that are boiled should be safe to consume. Avoid dishes that contain raw or undercooked meat or seafood.
If the dish you ordered is supposed to be served hot, make sure it is hot when it is served to you. The same is true for any foods that are intended to be served cold. Otherwise, it may not be safe to eat. If you buy fresh fruits or vegetables from a local market while traveling, make sure to thoroughly wash and peel them as necessary before eating, just as you would at home.
Dehydration can be a problem when traveling. Many times we wait to drink until we feel thirsty, which usually means we may already be slightly dehydrated. But when traveling, how do you know if the local water supply is safe to drink?
If you need to use tap water from an unknown source, be sure to boil it for several minutes first at a good rolling boil. Avoid consuming beverages that may be mixed with the local tap water supply, such as juices or sodas from sources such as fountain machines. Also avoid consuming beverages containing ice, since freezing does not kill most microorganisms.
While bottled water is an option many travelers reach for, not all bottled water products sold abroad may meet American standards. Bottled water products in other countries can be impure or even counterfeit (i.e., refilled from a local tap source), so always check the seal to ensure it is intact.
While watching what you eat and drink can help avoid illness, the best action you can take to maintain your health all year long is to wash your hands frequently. If fresh water is scarce, use antibacterial hand gels or wipes to help keep your hands clean, especially after using a restroom and before eating.