9 Healthy pointers to eat safely at salad bars

Salad bars are a healthy alternative when you eat out, but the communal design could lead to the passing on of germs and getting sick. Reduce your odds of suffering tummy troubles at the hand of a salad bar, by doing some detective work before filling your plate.

9 Healthy pointers to eat safely at salad bars

1. The sneeze guard inspection

Look for a sneeze guard that's difficult for an average-size person to duck under. If there isn't one or it's dirty, get far away from there.

2. Eyeball the lettuce

Is some of it brown and slimy? If so, the staff lets the food stay out too long or keeps it too warm.

3. Cleanliness is next to healthiness

Are there spills on the salad bar? Are tongs and other utensils in the wrong bins or sitting inside food containers? These are signs of a breeding ground for food-borne bacteria.

4. Check the plates

Look for a supply of clean plates next to the salad bar. If there are none, and diners refill their own plates, that means salad bar utensils touch dirty plates.

5. Quiz the manager

Ask at what temperatures he keeps the food in the salad bar. By law, hot food should be kept at 60°C (140°F) or higher and cold food at 5°C (41°F) or lower. If the manager can't recite these specific temps to you instantly, take a walk. And don't accept vague non-answers such as "We keep everything on ice" or "It's electronically controlled."

6. Prewashed vs washed in store

Ask the staff "Do the salad bar vegetables come prewashed, or do you wash them before putting them out?" It's a trick question. "They're prewashed" means "We just rip open the bags and fill the bins," in which case you should leave and find a restaurant with a staff that at least tells you they wash the food.

7. Do the staff care?

Watch how meticulously the staff cares for the salad bar. Do they change foods frequently and whisk away empty bins quickly? Do they wear gloves when touching the food?

8. Pick the right dressing

Choose plain oil-and-vinegar dressing. Vinegar isn't a friendly host for bacteria.

9. Don't take the risk with raw

Forgo the raw sprouts unless you really trust the restaurant. They're prone to bacteria. Just rinsing them is not okay. They need to be cleaned properly [and need] safer handling and storage.

Identifying potential problems before tucking into a salad bar will save you the risk of contracting illness afterward.

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