The average American eats out about five times a week. But, food can get contaminated anywhere – so it’s important to always follow sound food safety practices – no matter who prepares the meal or where you eat it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 50% of all recent foodborne disease outbreaks were from food prepared in restaurants or delis, compared to only 21% in private homes.
Most of these incidents are not caused by bacteria like salmonella. They are caused by the poor food safety practices of restaurant workers. The most common causes of outbreaks in restaurants are sick workers spreading their germs onto the food and touching the food with their bare hands.
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The Danger Zone (40°F – 140°F)
Bacteria grows rapidly between the temperatures of 40°F and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is called the “Danger Zone.”
The Two-Hour Rule
Likewise, to prevent a foodborne illness, remember the two-hour rule. The absolute maximum time for leaving prepared foods at room temperature is 2 hours—including time for preparation, serving and eating. Discard any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. If you are eating outdoors at a picnic or cookout where temperatures are over 90°F, discard foods after 1 hour.
Food Safety Observations for Dining Out
Follow some basic food safety observations for dining out:
- Check Inspection Scores
Many state health departments make restaurant health inspection scores available on the web. Check the score before going to the restaurant or check when you get there.
- Make Sure the Restaurant Is Clean
Confirm that restaurant tables, floors, and utensils are clean. If not, you may want to take your business elsewhere.
- Check That Your Food Is Cooked Thoroughly
Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs should be cooked thoroughly to kill germs. If food is served undercooked or raw, send it back.
- Properly Handle Your Leftovers
Taking your food to go? Remember to refrigerate within 2 hours of eating out. If food is left in a hot car or temperatures above 90ºF, refrigerate it within 1 hour. Eat leftovers within 3 to 4 days.
CDC Infographic (Protect Yourself When Eating Out):
- Download: Protect Yourself When Eating Out [PDF]