Valentine’s Day is tonight and I plan to take my date out to dinner. Got any food safety tips on dinning out? I don’t want the evening to end on a bad note.
With Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday this year, you’re likely to run into a crowd at almost any restaurant you choose to dine in. In fact, Valentine’s Day is the most popular reservation day of the year for most restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association. For example, consumers plan to spend $4.3 billion on an evening out this year for Valentine’s day, according to the National Retail Federation.
With that in mind, making sure that your food is cooked thoroughly is just one way to protect yourself when eating out at a restaurant, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a Feb. 5 posting from the CDC, consumers are advised to follow these suggestions to prevent developing a foodborne illness from a night out to dinner:
Check the restaurant’s inspection scores before you dine. You can find this information at your health department’s website, ask the health department for a copy of the report, or look for it when you get to the restaurant. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, consumers can easily check to see if a licensed restaurant or other food establishment has passed inspection by viewing dated, color-coded signs posted in the restaurant. The colors indicate the results of the establishments’ most recent health inspections.
Ask before ordering. Raw or undercooked eggs can be a hidden hazard in foods, such as Caesar salad, custards and some sauces, unless they are commercially pasteurized.
Order your food cooked to the recommended endpoint temperature. Certain foods, including eggs, meat, poultry and fish, need to be cooked to a temperature high enough to kill pathogens that may be present.
Avoid food served lukewarm. Cold food should be served cold, and hot food should be served hot. If you’re selecting food from a buffet or salad bar, make sure the hot food is steaming and the cold food is chilled. Germs that cause food poisoning grow quickly when food is in the danger zone, which is between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Look for certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training. Proper food safety training can help improve practices that reduce the chance of spreading foodborne germs and illnesses.
Look for safe food-handling practices. Sick food workers can spread their illness to customers. If you can see food being prepared, check to make sure workers are using gloves or utensils to handle foods that will not be cooked further, such as deli meats and salad greens.
If you end up with leftovers, remember to refrigerate them within two hours of being served, or one hour if the temperature outside is warmer than 90 F. If this isn’t possible, consider leaving the leftovers behind, no matter how delicious the meal was.
While Valentine’s Day is held as a romantic time for couples, it’s important to remember basic food safety tips to avoid developing a foodborne illness, which impacts thousands of consumers each year.
Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in food safety for Ohio State University Extension.