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10 Things Restaurants Aren’t Cleaning Like They Should

Going out to eat should be a treat. But the fact is, you're twice as likely to get food poisoning at a restaurant than in your own kitchen. Here are some of the dirtiest things you'll find at a restaurant.

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A business sign that says 'Come in We're Open' on Cafe / Restaurant window.Castleski/Shutterstock

Clean up that mess

Even though you typically can’t see what goes on behind the scenes at a restaurant, you can only hope that your food is being prepared on a germ-free surface and that the rest of the kitchen is cleaned regularly. Before going out to eat again, learn about the things that restaurants aren’t cleaning as they should. Also, make sure to stop these rude restaurant habits ASAP.

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Female hands with disposable latex gloves wearing gesture, selective focus.SIRIKWAN DOKUTA/Shutterstock

Plastic gloves

A cook wearing plastic gloves while preparing food may make you feel confident in cleanliness. But some experts think the opposite is true. “Plastic gloves are more dangerous than bare hands,” says Howard Cannon, CEO of Restaurant Expert Witness and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Restaurant.

The gloves can give cooks a false sense of security, and they may not change them as regularly as they should. If a cook wore gloves while handling raw meat, and then touched your salad, bacteria can easily contaminate your greens. Same with tasks like making change from the cash register, or taking out the garbage. These are the secrets hidden in your restaurant menu.

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salt and saltcellar on black stone table background top view mock-up279photo Studio/Shutterstock

Salt and pepper shakers

When studying the dirtiest items on a restaurant table, a Good Morning America investigation worked with researchers at the University of Arizona to test items on restaurant tables in Arizona, New York, and Ohio. The results? An average bacteria count of 11,600 on the salt and pepper shakers, making them one of the dirtiest items on the table. The study found E. coli on top of pepper shakers. We suggest skipping the seasoning!

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Young waitress showing man a menu in restaurantAquarius Studio/Shutterstock


The same study counted a staggering 185,000 bacteria on restaurant menus, by far the dirtiest thing on the table. Dr. Chuck Gerba of the University of Arizona told ABC, “You probably have about 100 times more bacteria on that menu than you do a typical toilet seat in the restroom.”

When you think about how many people handle the menu, plus how infrequently menus are cleaned, this may not be so surprising. To stay safe, wash your hands after you place your order, and don’t let kids chew on the menu. Find out more secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you.

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Empty glasses dish spoon fork on table at restaurantMr.Teerapong Kunkaeo/Shutterstock

Glassware and silverware

Busboys handle glasses and silverware out of the dishwasher, and they may touch the prongs of your fork or the inside of your glass…in the midst of rinsing dirty dishes. Think how often your waitress lifts your water glass by the rim. She just transferred bacteria from her hands, which regularly touch cash, credit cards, chairs, coats, and doorknobs. Restaurant owners wish they could tell you these 24 things.

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Scoop of IceSK Image/Shutterstock

Ice machine

According to a study of ten fast food franchises by the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, 60 percent of ice tested contained more bacteria than toilet water. The inside of the ice machine is rarely cleaned and can harbor black mold and other nasty things.

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tongs isolated background.P. Kamput/Shutterstock

Salad tongs and buffet servers

Heading to the buffet or salad bar? Watch how you handle the servers. These are rarely changed out during a dinner service, which means they’re touched by many, many hands. Definitely wash your hands after handling them, and you may want to steer entirely during cold and flu season. Here are some of the red flags you’re about to eat at a bad restaurant.

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Rags and sponges

Have you ever watched a worker swipe off your table with a filthy rag? That may clear away food debris, but it’s not removing bacteria. In fact, rags often contain harmful bacteria. Workers may use the same rag to wipe tables throughout a shift or use the same rag to wipe serving stations and tables.

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available metal chair and wooden table in restaurant, canteen or cafeketteimages/Shutterstock


In a 20/20 investigation, 70 percent of restaurant chairs were found to have E. coli bacteria. Given how many people sit in them, how often a busboy or host may pull them out for you and how infrequently they’re cleaned, chairs are definitely dirty. These are the dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won’t tell you.

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tortilla chips in olive wood bowl on wooden table, selective focusGCapture/Shutterstock

Snack bowls

It’s hard to resist a basket of tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant or a bowl of nuts at the bar. Unfortunately, they’re far from sanitary. Restaurants may pour the snacks from large bags at the start of the night, and return uneaten food to the same bin at the end of the day. The baskets may also move from table to table between customers, so you’re basically sharing snacks with everyone else at the restaurant.

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Close up of chef washing his hands in commercial kitchen. Man washing hands in a sink with tap water.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock


“Personal sanitation” is in the top five restaurant health code violations. When cooks are in the thick of a dinner rush, it’s tempting to give hands a quick rinse and move on. But the recommended hand-washing protocol is quite rigorous: scrub with anti-bacterial soap for 20 seconds, scrubbing up to the elbows. This is long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice! Now, learn about what food to avoid. These are the 7 foods that chefs never order in restaurants.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home