Who doesn’t love a buffet? All you can eat — and then some — for one affordable price. But whether it’s Chinese food you’re after or an All-American meat-and-potatoes gorge fest, you might want to think twice before you head up for a second helping. Here are some gross-but-true facts about the food quality standards at buffet lines that are definitely not for the faint of stomach.
Anything Goes For Serving Utensils
Ready to grab a ladle of soup? Stop to consider for a moment how many people might have gone down the buffet line before you. Then think about how many of them recently sneezed or coughed into their hands, wiped away a runny nose, or used the bathroom without washing their hands. Unlike the food itself, there are no restaurant regulations saying how often a set of serving utensils needs to be cleaned or changed out in a buffet setting.
Temperature Regulation Is Iffy
Hot prime rib and cold macaroni salad all in one buffet — great, right? Not so fast. In order to prevent the growth of bacteria that could make you sick, hot foods need to be kept hot (above 140F degrees), and cold foods need to be kept cold (below 40F). That’s tough to do when hot and cold items are sitting out all day, side by side, with just a warmer or an ice bath to regulate them.
High Risk Of Cross-Contamination
This should go without saying, but consuming raw seafood or meat from a buffet is risky business — if you don’t want food poisoning, that is. Along with the subpar temperature controls, the possibilities for cross-contamination between foods is high. Someone might use the same tongs for two different dishes, or they might change their mind after taking an item and put it back after it’s already touched something on their plate (or hands). So even if you avoid the oysters, there’s a chance those germs might end up in your meatballs anyway.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up buffeting forever, but pay attention to the restaurant’s hygiene standards. If the building isn’t clean, chances are your food isn’t either.