March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Dining out can be a fun change of pace, but a nice restaurant meal can be ruined by food poisoning. Restaurants in the United States must operate under strict public health regulations, but it is still important to be cautious when it comes to eating in a restaurant. Follow these tips to make sure you don't bring a case of food poisoning home with you:
- Check for cleanliness. You can tell a lot about a restaurant's cleanliness without even seeing into the kitchen. This includes clean tables, silverware and dishware; well-groomed servers; adequate screening over doors and windows to keep insects out; no flies or roaches; clean restrooms; clean exterior with no uncovered garbage; and a health inspection sanitation certificate displayed.
- Be cautious about raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood. These raw foods may carry bacteria and parasites. Steak tartare, carpaccio, sashimi and sushi are served raw and may pose a higher risk of food poisoning, and are not recommended for some individuals.
- If food is not cooked properly, don't be afraid to send it back. For example, check your burger. It should be cooked until the center is no longer pink and the juices run clear. If this is not the case, send it back. In addition, cold food should be served cold and hot food should be hot. Lukewarm foods lurk in the danger zone, where bacteria love to grow – between 40°F and 140°F.
- Don't be nonchalant with food allergies. Food allergies are a serious concern and it is better to be safe than sorry. If you or someone you are with has a food allergy, double-check the ingredients in menu items and alert your server to avoid cross-contamination. More information is available on food allergies, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and preparing food for those with allergies.
- Be careful with leftovers. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours, or one hour if the weather is over 90°F. Remember, the clock begins when the food arrives at your table, not when you leave the restaurant. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.