Who doesn't love an all-you-can-eat buffet? The self-service spread may look scrumptious, but what you are not seeing are the potential health risks. The food at buffets could be teeming with germs and bacteria that cause food-borne illness, but that is a gamble you take when eating from a spread that dozens of other people may have touched, coughed on, and sneezed over.
As Allison Agwu, professor of pediatric and adult infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said, buffets can be cesspools for bacteria and viruses, Vice reported.
This does not mean you should skip them completely. When done right, these hearty spreads are great. Things just need to be kept at the right temperature, staff needs to be washing hands frequently, and no one should be licking their fingers and going toward food and community utensils, Agwu continued. The problem is this doesn't always happen.
You can minimize the risks by avoiding certain foods, which are more likely to make you sick. Here we look at six of those dishes you should probably never eat at a buffet:
- Wilted lettuce. Be on the lookout for wilted lettuce, or any foods that look as if they have "expressed their liquids into the container in which they are stored," Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety educator at Penn State, told Insider. This is a sign that they have been standing out for a while and could be breeding bacteria.
- Salads with mayonnaise. They may taste great, but mayonnaise-based salads that sit out for too long can be more susceptible to contamination and food-borne illness, said Lauri Wright, PhD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, according to Mashed. The culprit is egg yolk. Although most mayonnaise brands are made with pasteurized egg yolk, when left to sit at a buffet it can still attract bacteria.
- Anything raw. This includes seafood and even sliced fruit and vegetables. Bacteria is killed through cooking but this crucial "kill step" does not apply to raw food, Shelley Feist, executive director at the Partnership for Food Safety Education, told Insider.
- Sprouts. Touted as a superfood, sprouts can actually be an extremely dangerous food to eat, Mashed reported. "They grow in damp environments, and it's hard to get them thoroughly cleaned," said Rene Ficek, an RN for Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating. Sprouts can be contaminated by E. coli, salmonella, and Listeria.
- Bread. There is nothing wrong with the bread itself, but many restaurants place the cheap and more filling items at the front of a buffet layout, Mashed noted. This includes bread and potatoes, which are more exposed.
- Tuna. This could be the top contaminant at a buffet, René Ficek, RD, lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, told SheKnows. "All fish needs to be kept very cold from the second it comes out of the water to when it hits the pan, and tuna in particular is especially susceptible to scombrotoxin, which can cause serious cramps and headaches if it's stored above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Tuna is one food that is likely to spoil on a food buffet if not stored and held at proper temperatures."
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