Many salad bar choices are riddled with sodium and fat, not to mention full of temptation to over-consume calories. But that doesn’t necessarily make a salad bar unsafe. There are far greater risks to your personal safety involved with eating at salad bars. Read on to learn about these risks.
Food Exposure Risk
Salad bars provide everything from raw and cooked fruits and vegetables, to hot and cold entrées, soups, and assorted desserts. Food that is open to air for hours at a time, invites flies or other disease-carrying pets. Whether indoors or outdoors, flies manage to come and go all on their own, and they manage to find the food. Where those flies have been previously is something you need to consider.
Think about the number of people who have passed by that salad bar and coughed or sneezed near it. And think about patrons who may have dipped fingers into a salad bar items, rather than use provided utensils. There’s no saying where many hands have been that touch the food you plan to eat.
Food Sensitivity Risk
Celiacs and people with severe food allergies or sensitivities are at great risk at salad bars and cafeterias. Food for selection may be made with allergens like peanuts, wheat, nuts, fish or eggs. These ingredients are often hidden and undetectable, but they can cause great distress or even death. Without a label to read on the food item, salad bar eaters are at the mercy of the cook and other patrons who may have contaminated a food item.
Food Poisoning Risk
Prepared foods held at room temperature for more than a few hours, pose a health risk. Every year, many people suffer food poisoning traced to open salad bars. Most of these bouts of food poisoning last a day or two. But when food poisoning affects a young child, an elderly person, or a person with a compromised immune system, food poisoning can have critical consequences or even result in death.
What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk
Before you grab your salad bar plate, look the salad bar over and be certain no flies are compromising the food. See if food handlers are wearing gloves and have hair tied back. Check the fresh greens to see if they are wilted or if salad bar food spills have been routinely cleaned up. If the greens are dried out and the salad bar is messy, it might be an indication that the salad bar has been up for a while and has not been attended or freshened. If you plan to eat pasta salad, be sure it looks creamy and not dried out because it’s been out for hours. You want to see steam under hot entrées and ice under cold ones. Check that each item has its own utensil, and consider the placement of food items on the salad bar, especially if you have a food allergy. Utensils may become contaminated if used to serve a variety of items.
When in doubt about a salad bar, your best bet is to avoid it. Pick food choices that come sealed in containers, order an individually prepared meal, or go elsewhere to eat. Salad bars do pose a health risk. If you’re not a risk-taker or you can’t afford to take the risk, you might want to consider eating at home or ordering food from a restaurant or chef you know and trust.