Food Safety When Eating Out

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Sometimes it’s just easier and more enjoyable to let someone else do the cooking. Whether you’re eating out at a restaurant or a fast food diner, it can be both a safe and enjoyable experience. All food service establishments are required to follow food safety guidelines set by the State and local health departments. However, even some of the best restaurants are capable of committing mistakes that can lead to food borne illness.

Food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply on some types of food more easily than others. These high risk foods include: meat, poultry such as chicken and turkey, dairy products, eggs, seafood, cooked rice and pasta, prepared salads such as coleslaw, pasta salads and rice salads and prepared fruit salads.

Visually check out the restaurant when you first go in to see if it meets your cleanliness standards. If the dining room doesn’t look clean, it’s likely the kitchen isn’t clean either. Look for a ServSafe Certificate in the restaurant indicating the staff has successfully completed National Restaurant Association endorsed food safety training.

Ask how your food is prepared. Tell the staff if you have any food allergies. Hot food should be served to you steaming hot. It’s okay to ask for it to be reheated. Luke warm foods lurk in the danger zone, where bacteria like to grow-40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold food should be displayed on ice or in a refrigerated cabinet and should feel cold when you eat it. At fast food restaurants, special order your food so that it’s made fresh. That way, you can avoid eating food that may have been sitting too long.

If you are in any doubt about the safety of food—just don’t eat it. You can voice serious concerns about the way food is handled, stored or prepared by a restaurant, self-service or fast food establishment by contacting the local health department.

If you want to know more about foodborne illness and food safety, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at

Eleanor Summers
Extension Agent
Family & Consumers Sciences