5 Tips for Dining Out Safely

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RD, CD
eating dinner at restaurant

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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. Compile a mental checklist for yourself when you walk in: Are tables, silverware and dishware clean? Are there screens covering doors and windows to keep bugs out? Are the restrooms clean? Are garbage cans covered and not overflowing? Is there a health inspection certificate on display?
  • 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 pose a higher risk of food poisoning, especially for individuals with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women, children, older adults and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and HIV/AIDS.
  • If food is not cooked properly, don't be afraid to send it back. If you’ve ordered a burger, check your food before starting to eat. 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 (between 40°F and 140°F), where bacteria love to grow.
  • 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.
  • Be careful with leftovers. The food safety countdown begins when your food arrives at the table, not when you leave it. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours or one hour if the weather is over 90°F. Remember to reheat leftovers to 165°F.

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