Ever eaten somewhere and eventually, whether due to a foodborne illness or just bad food, regretted it? If only you had spoken with an honest employee who could have warned you about what not to eat before you stepped foot inside. Luckily, these generous workers volunteered information about what dish to avoid the next time you eat out.
(Content has been edited for clarity)
Taco Bell Employees Warn Not To Order One Meat In Particular
“Every Taco Bell employee I’ve ever hung out with has always said, ‘Don’t get the steak. NEVER get the steak.’ It probably has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t cook anything there. It’s are pre-cooked and frozen then thawed and heated. All the meat came in bags, and they would just stick it in hot water to warm it up.”
It’s Shocking How Much Food Is Just Scraped Together Leftovers
“I worked at a local upscale Italian restaurant. The ‘special’ was nothing more than a concoction of any leftovers we could use.
DO NOT ever get a lemon in your drink at a restaurant. Servers clean off food, touch the food screen, handle many used pens, and do a lot of other things with their hands. There isn’t always time to wash your hands between taking a drink order and grabbing those lemons. It’s a big source of cross-contamination.
The complimentary bread? If another table doesn’t finish theirs, the ‘untouched’ bread goes into whatever new breadbaskets are being served.
That ‘freshly grated Parmesan’ sitting in a bowl at your table? Probably sifted through by an unruly 6-year old. It comes from (and any leftovers go back to) a communal giant tub of grated cheese in the back.”
Skip The Tuna Altogether
“I worked at a Blimpie when I was younger, and we had an old woman working there who would prepare the tuna. She mixed it with her hands and never wore gloves. One day, she lost a band-aid in the tuna and didn’t notice. One of the customers ended up pulling it out of his mouth. Bonus: She had to get a blood test, and it turns out she had some form of hepatitis. Moral of the story, never eat the tuna anywhere ever under any circumstances.”
This Fancy, French Restaurant Has A Way To Deal With Leftover Drinks
“I worked at a fancy French restaurant in Texas. I’m talking high-end. A lot of our customers were first-timers because it was the type of place you go for a special occasion. The waiters wore tuxedo shirts/vests/bow ties; ladies were always served first. The waiter told me that when checking on a table, you don’t ask how the food is, because ‘we know it’s good.’
Anyway, this place had two little plastic buckets in the kitchen by the dishwashing area – one for red, one for white. Servers/bussers were told to dump out the rest of the drinks from the glasses into the buckets because they used them to make the sauces.
On a less offensive note, they served Jack Daniel’s ice cream with one dessert, except it was just Tennessee John’s or whatever off brand.”
Why You Should Stop Ordering Appetizers
“As a line cook for over 10 years, I will tell you if eating anywhere that is not high-end: Don’t order appetizers. About 99 percent of corporate and local restaurants’ appetizers are frozen and made by big corporations or some off-brand company.
Nearly every place you eat that has ‘spinach artichoke dip’ got it frozen in a bag and made by Nestle. Those ‘battered onion rings’ you love so much, they’re more than likely the cheapest pre-breaded, pre-fried, brand the restaurant can get. Love the soup at ‘insert corporate place here,’ it was just frozen in a bag and heated via a steam table.
Apps are insanely overpriced, and most often they are the worst thing on the menu for you, health-wise. However, restaurants love for you to order them because of the high-profit margin.
The only real appetizers I would suggest ordering that is made on site are normally nachos. The chips are fried when you order, and the meat is cooked right away if it’s grilled or fried meat. If it’s ground beef or a braised meat, then it came frozen in a bag. Whole blooming onions at a place like Outback, those are cut and made to order from what I understand.
Also, stay away from things that are out of place. If you got to a steakhouse and they have a chicken fettuccine alfredo dish, more than likely it’s going to be frozen and out of a bag. It may taste alright, but you can buy frozen in bag fettuccine Alfredo on your own for $4 at a grocery store.
My point to all of this is that frozen in bag foods are not much different than what you can find at your local grocer and make yourself at home. Those products are not of bad quality, but they’re more than likely microwaved and just a huge waste of your money. If you enjoy them, then more power to you. Keep on enjoying them, nothing wrong with that.
Sadly, if you’re at a corporate place, even the spring rolls are frozen and fried to order. If you’re at a good place, then they are freshly made, but it’s rare to find freshly made spring rolls just because of the time it takes to make them, (namely cutting the veggies).
I worked one place that has ‘seafood stuffed spring rolls with a spicy dipping sauce.’ But the box said ‘Sante Fe southwest spring rolls.’ I got a second job at a chicken wing joint. Sure enough, on the menu, they had ‘Southwestern spicy spring rolls.’ Same box, same company. The spring rolls have crab meat and chicken inside of them. I’ve also seen them on the menu at a local Mexican restaurant. This happens more often than you think in the restaurant world.”
It’s The Condiments You Should Keep An Eye Out For
“I’ve worked at some pretty low-end places over the years. A word of advice: ketchup bottles, don’t use em. They’re seldom cleaned and just re-filled. Pretty gross. Really, don’t use anything that’s individually packaged: coffee creamers, crackers, sugar packets and so on. Ice machines are rarely cleaned and always terribly gross by the time it gets done. Most tea is sketchy as well. If you’ve ever seen the speed at which a few lemons will start to grow mold, you should probably try to avoid those as well. I worked for Perkins for a while, and you want to try to avoid ALL of their seafood. Also their shakes; if it’s busy, there’s no telling what the server might do to it, especially if you’ve been a particular jerk customer. One last thing, if you’ve sent an item back for whatever reason at a low-end chain more than once, it’s best to cut your losses. There’s pretty much a 50/50 chance your food is going to be intentionally ‘soiled’ in some way, and this is especially true later at night.”
The Tuna At Subway: Not So Fresh
“When I was 16, I worked at Subway.
NEVER order the Tuna. I once found multiple flies in the tuna, and my boss told me just to scoop them out. Granted each restaurant is individually owned this may not happen everywhere, but I never order tuna when going into that place anymore.
The fact that it sits in the open for at least eight hours of the day then covered, put in a fridge and brought out the next morning to sit another eight hours should be reason enough not to order it. Look closely at it. If the edges look at all darkened or crusty, walk right out. If the tuna looks that bad, who knows what else is wrong in the store.
Similarly, don’t order the chicken salad most places. It’s often made up of the chicken that didn’t sell the previous day, which isn’t so bad, but also all the undesirable/unpresentable pieces and bits that couldn’t go out to customers.”
McDonald’s Has A Lot Of No-No Items
“When I was a teenager, I used to work at McDonald’s, mostly on the night shift. Because of that experience, I’m wary of what I order when I go to fast food restaurants at night. Low paid workers, little supervision, and they have to put up with a lot of crap from customers who mistreat the employees. One thing I don’t order late at night: any drinks that sit out, such as sweet tea. Usually, it’s supposed to be refilled every so often, but it doesn’t always happen. It gets old, sour, and nasty. Another thing: salads. Salads might be okay, but we had several incidents where the salad dressing went bad and was included with the salad anyway because it was late, we were busy, and a ‘who orders a salad at McDonald’s anyway,’ sort of attitude.
If you’re going to order a less popular item like a Quarter Pounder or Filet O’Fish, ask them to make it fresh because they usually sit a little too long. Cheeseburger, Big Mac or McChicken are probably fresh. They will also make any/all of your food fresh if you ask.
If it’s past noon, DO NOT order coffee. It will be bunt and stale. Also, DO NOT order an Angus burger or Quarter Pounder after dinner time. It will be old.
About the McRib…McDonald’s buys leftover pig parts from pork slaughterhouses, and that’s what’s in the McRib. The reason they only have it sometimes is that it only makes economic sense to buy the leftovers when they are very cheap, so whenever pork prices rise, even the leftovers become too expensive to have a $2.69 sandwich made from them.”
The Making Of Cole Slaw at KFC
“Both at the place I worked at, and another one that a friend of mine worked at, about 80 percent of the time, cole slaw was ‘mixed’ with someone’s bare hands. The plastic gloves often got too sticky and kinked up to use reliably in the giant tub that we used to mix the slaw.
My boss had shown me how to mix the slaw with no gloves. When I pointed it out, he said, ‘It goes in the freezer, that’ll kill any germs.’ I could go on and on about the horrors of KFC.
I love their cole slaw, but I would only eat what I made.”
Beware The Salsa
“I used to be head chef at a Mexican restaurant for a few years. It wasn’t a super fancy place, but not your usual taco-shack either.
A friend of mine, who also worked at a Mexican restaurant, told me that the salsa that comes with the chips is reused if a table doesn’t finish it. So pretty much, you are eating other peoples’ salsa. I fired a waitress before because I found out that she did that! So gross! Oh, you ‘saved’ 30ml of salsa? Good for you! Did you check it for sneezes? How about child paw prints?
Just throw it out!”
Happy Hour Ice Cream Isn’t Really Worth It
“I used to work at a Sonic Drive-In as a skating carhop. The location I worked at had no air conditioning, and it was the middle of summer in Florida, so everyone would come to get ice cream, especially during ‘happy hour,’ when everything was half off. I had never seen such a disgusting machine in my life, there were so many times where workers would knock over the milk mix bucket and spill everything over the floor, and my manager would just prop it back up and continue making shakes and ice cream with it. So yeah, never get any of the ice cream/milkshake products, at least if you stop by where I worked.”
Wendy’s Chili Has No Chill
“Here’s how it worked when I worked at Wendy’s (long time ago, so forgive me if some of the details are wrong):
Whenever there’s some cooked hamburger on the grill that doesn’t get served for whatever reason, the meat gets swept into a bucket, and that gets put in the walk-in freezer. The next morning during prep, all that meat gets dumped into the pre-made chili mixture.
So, unless you have a problem with day-old, cooked meat, it’s not a problem.”
The Dining Expert Tells All
“I have worked in every kind of restaurant in every position from the dishwasher to the manager. Here are a few good tips.
First: When you sit down, how clean is the place? Look at the floors, look at your table, look at your dishes, your glasses, take a trip to the bathroom. Is it clean? And the staff, are their uniforms clean and sharp? No? Then imagine how dirty other parts of the place you CAN’T see are. If a manager doesn’t uphold cleanliness of the general areas, they probably don’t worry about it too much in the kitchen, pantry, or refrigerated walk in.
Second: Don’t be afraid to ask the server questions. Ask them about some of their sauces and dressings. Do they make them in-house? If they don’t, you’re getting lower quality food. This is fine if you are expecting a low tab. This includes dressings, pizza sauces, etc. As a good example, Dominoes pizza sauce comes dehydrated out of a bag as a paste. You have to mix it with water to the right consistency. They say they make their sauce, but I don’t count rehydrating tomato paste as making it in-house.
Third: If you are eating at a steakhouse, ask your server about the cuts of meat. Do they know where the sirloin comes from? What cut has the best marbling? What’s the difference between an NY strip and a ribeye? Do they refer to the warm red center of a medium rare steak as still bloody? If they can’t give you an answer, it’s probably because they haven’t be trained. And if they don’t know, the ‘chef’ might not know either. When it comes to steak, it’s important the person at the grill knows the basics of steak. Also, never eat an Applebee’s steak. You are getting nothing but a low-quality sirloin with no marbling. The line cook probably knows very little about cooking them to temp, and I’ve seen the steaks at several Applebee’s get partially grilled in the morning, then sit in a vat until ordered at unsafe temps.
As far as seafood is concerned, if there is one seafood item on the menu, you may want to avoid it. Seafood is not good if it isn’t fresh. How often do you think that restaurant sells that one dish? Not often enough, I’d be willing to bet. If the restaurant is a seafood restaurant, does the place just reek of fish when you walk in? A salty seafood smell is fine, but if you smell a super fishy and sweet smell, chances are they are NOT handling their seafood at safe temps at all times.
If you are someone who is at high risk for foodborne illness (think elderly, chemo patients, small children, pregnant). Make sure to check their food safety rating by the department of health. Not all states have these, but some do. And if you want to be extra particular, you can bring your digital thermometer with you (10 bucks) and temp your food. Anything hot should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter. Cold food should be under 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, salads are the most common food to make people sick in a restaurant. Chefs and servers often use dirty hands contaminated with other foods when building your salad. To combat this, many restaurants who sell a lot of specialty salads will have their salad station with a dedicated line cook. If they have a huge list of salads, but no dedicated salad station, I’d stay away.
Fourth: Many restaurants are starting to have what’s called an open kitchen. That means you can see your cooks cooking your food from the dining area. It takes away the restaurant’s ability to hide anything. So feel free to walk by the kitchen and have a look. Are the chefs wearing gloves? Hats or hairnets? Is there a ton of food sitting out in bins? Do you see chefs handling raw foods before touching cooked foods without changing gloves? Is the kitchen area dirty? I always like to see an open kitchen. It shows the restaurant has nothing to hide.
As far as food allergies are concerned, I’d recommend staying away from larger chains. Those kinds of restaurants often sneak ingredients like gluten into many of their foods. If you ask a manager if certain items contain gluten, they should know right away. If they don’t or are confused as to what gluten or celiac is, don’t eat there. If you have a soy allergy and the manager doesn’t know what kind of oil they fry their foods in or use to sauté, you probably don’t want to eat there. A lack of knowledge about food allergies can show how little the staff has invested in their jobs, and how little training they receive about food allergies. If you have an allergy concern, you have every right to ask. And if your server has a problem with it, that is their problem, not yours. Of course, if you’re like my sister and allergic to half the world and have a million questions, you should tip better for the trouble. But if you eat at a steakhouse, your server should know about steak. If you are eating at a high-end restaurant where you pay a huge tab, your server should know about everything on the menu or have a way to obtain that information. If you are a server and think answering questions about the food people put in their bodies is a waste of time, you need to find a better job. Yes, I know some customers are difficult. But I also know the two minutes it takes you to find an answer to your question won’t suck as much as the hours and days your guest will spend in the bathroom or even the hospital because they felt you would be too annoyed to answer questions about the food.
Finally: If you are at a restaurant where you can get your soda, all you have to do is take a look at the ice machine to tell if it’s safe. Does the ice machine have a lid? If not, stay away. If you can open the lid, have a look. Is it clean? Does the soda machine have all its parts and nozzles? Is it cracked or dented? Is it clean and the metal polished? If the machine is in good condition and clean, chances are the vendor comes out and does a thorough cleaning on a regular basis, and the servers clean it often. But if the machines are not up to standards, stay away. Also, many newer ice machines will let the ice melt at the end of the night and completely drain, which helps combat mold. So if the machine looks ancient, maybe avoid it. Also if you drink the iced tea, open the lid of the container and look inside. If you see dark-colored bits hanging off the sides or around the nozzles, they don’t clean them out well enough. If you can’t access the machine because you go to a full-service restaurant just look around you. If the rest of the restaurant is not in good repair, chances are they are unwilling to spend the extra money to keep their soda and ice machines clean. And if you can see the server prepare your beverages, watch to see if they use your glass to scoop the ice out of the bin. It’s a big no-no.”
Be Careful What You Order At Your Fave Chinese Food Place
“Chinese food advice!
If it’s listed on the menu as spicy and you know that there is some level of spiciness which is unacceptable to you, ask if they can make the dish not spicy. If the answer is no, order something else. Exception: Sesame Chicken is never too spicy. No, not even then.
Do not ask for chopsticks if you don’t know how to use them. Your server cannot teach you. No, she/he really can’t.
Do not order squid. It’s safe to eat, but there is no Chinese recipe which will make it taste good unless you like Sriracha and ginger.
Napa. Never order napa. Napa only comes two ways: soggy as crap, and spicy as heck. The former is terrible and what they will serve to Americans. The second is awesome, but you have to know the secret handshake to get it.
Never ask for them to leave off the MSG unless what you mean is that you want your dish not salted. Seriously, the normal level of MSG in a Chinese meal is about the same amount you’ll find in a packet of Hamburger Helper, and nobody freaks out about that crap. If you ask for no MSG, you’re telling your server and the cooks that you don’t know a thing about what you’re ordering and that they don’t need to bother making it the way they’re supposed to. MSG isn’t even harmful anyway, no, not even in large doses. No, it’s not addictive. No, it won’t make you feel like crap unless you’re allergic to it, which is extremely rare. No, it won’t make you sluggish – that’s because you’re a pig and you ate an entree, a side of rice, three egg rolls, and an order of crab angels.”
Tailor Your Order To The Location
“If you’re in an upscale restaurant or a big chain restaurant, order anything you want. Standards are high!
If you’re ordering food in a bar/lounge environment, be aware that the person making your food is not, by and large, a chef. I can’t tell you how many places I’ve worked where customers have sent compliments to the chef that fell on the ears of a single 22-year-old student running the entire kitchen himself who had never held a cooking job before. It’s an assembly line in most places.
If you’re in a mid-level bar/lounge/grill, stay away from menu items that seem out of place. If everything on the menu is burgers, pizzas, wings, and general pub grub, stay away from the one item on the menu that’s like a Lemon Pesto Lobster Fettuccine. Chances are it rarely gets ordered, is overpriced, is poorly made, and the guy making it doesn’t know or care about what he’s doing. It also probably has a ton of ingredients in it that aren’t used in anything else and that no one ever checks the levels or quality or day dots of until it’s brown and smells, at which point they just say ‘oh well’ and make it anyway.
This isn’t everywhere, but it happens more than people realize.”