The food service industry is tightly regulated to ensure that the risks of contaminated food are mitigated. Establishments that provide food to customers have a legal obligation to ensure that food is safe to eat, correctly labelled and suitable for consumption. This usually means that the individuals that work there receive adequate food safety and food handling training. In most cases, reputable restaurants will carry a food handling certificate.

Although the impetus is on the restaurant, cafe or eatery to provide you with safe food, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that what you get is safe to eat. In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the precautionary steps that you can take to practise food safety when eating out at restaurants.

Common foods that can make you sick

Every type of food has the potential to harbour harmful bacteria or pathogens that could cause illness. Any foodstuff that has been improperly stored or handled could make you sick – even if it doesn’t look, smell or taste off. With that said, there are a number of high-risk foods that you should be extra cautious about. Below are some of the most high-risk foods in terms of food poisoning:

• Raw and cooked meat including meals that contain meat, such as curries or stews.

• Dairy foodstuffs including milkshakes, custard and items that contain dairy products such as cheesecake.

• Eggs and egg products including hollandaise sauce.

• Seafood as well as meals that contain seafood items such as fish stock.

• Cooked rice or pasta.

• Prepared fruit and vegetable salads.

• Ready-made food including sandwiches and pizzas.

When you go out to eat at a restaurant, it’s important to be mindful of how these food items are stored, prepared and served.

How to find a suitable restaurant

When looking for a restaurant to dine at, there are a few things that you can do to help mitigate the risk of food poisoning. When you enter the restaurant, try to assess the following:

• Are staff using separate utensils and equipment to handle and prepare food?

• Are staff using clean sponges and cloths to wipe down surfaces?

• Are the toilet facilities clean?

• Is the restaurant as a whole kept clean and tidy?

If you notice anything that isn’t quite right, such as dirty facilities or improper handling of food, it’s best to avoid this restaurant.

What to look out for in buffets

Buffets display food items that are ready-to-eat and allow customers to create their own dishes from the dishes on offer. There are a few things to be mindful of when eating at a buffet to ensure you’re safe from food poisoning, such as:

• Food must be displayed in hot display cabinets or over active burners to keep food hot.

• Cold food should be refrigerated or displayed on ice.

• All food items should have their own utensils for food handling.

• Fresh food should be regularly refilled but not mixed with older food.

• All plates, cutlery and utensils should be clean and dry.

• Displayed food should have a covering of some sort.

If you notice the buffet isn’t adhering to these guidelines, they run the risk of serving contaminated food. So be aware of the dangers and if you’re not happy with what you see at the buffet, avoid it entirely.

What you should do with leftovers

If you’ve got leftovers that you would like to take home from the restaurant to eat later, then you should eat them within 4 hours of taking them home. Alternatively, you can refrigerate the leftovers as soon as you get home, which gives you a few days to eat them. If there are any high-risk food items in your leftovers, throw them away if they have reached temperatures between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius for over 4 hours.

Leftovers from restaurants, sometimes known as ‘doggy bags’, do carry a number of risks if you intend to consume them. If there are high-risk food items in the meal, there is an increased risk of food poisoning due to bacteria. Your incorrect handling of the food could also contaminate the food, as well as the danger of not reheating the food appropriately.

If you’re interested in learning more about food safety and food handling practices, contact us today at the Australian Institute of Accreditation.