Food & Nutrition

10 Things You Shouldn’t Touch at All-You-Can-Eat Buffets

Here’s how you can enjoy the experience at tempting buffets while minimizing the risk to your health

Cuisine Culinary Buffet Dinner Catering Dining Food Celebration Party Concept. Group of people in all you can eat catering buffet food indoor in luxury restaurant with meat and vegetables.JGA/Shutterstock

For some people, an all-you-can-eat buffet isn’t a meal, it’s a challenge. But filling plate after plate to get the most for your dollar could compromise your health. “That competitive mentality and going in overly hungry set you up for overeating and that awful feeling you get 20 minutes after you’re done,” says Lauri Wright, PhD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and chairperson of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida.

Not only can all-you-can-eat buffets derail your diet, but they could also put you at higher risk for getting sick. Almost any food can put you at risk for food-borne illness if it hasn’t been handled correctly, notes Shelley Feist, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education. And it’s tough to tell from eyeballing a buffet if the cream of mushroom soup or the sushi is being kept hot or cold enough.

“The zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is what we call the danger zone because at those temperatures, bacteria love to grow,” Feist says. To minimize your risk, here are some things to avoid next time you hit the buffet line. Find out 13 things restaurant health inspectors wish you knew.

The sneeze guard


You should always wash your hands before approaching a buffet. And be sure not to touch the sneeze guard, which could be a breeding ground for germs from all the people coughing and sniffling around you. “Your greatest risk for contamination is more often going to be from other people taking that food—whether that’s with their hands or whether it’s airborne,” says Jennifer Quinlan, PhD, a microbiologist at Drexel University.

Buried utensils

food, catering, self-service and eating concept - close up of pasta and dishes with tongs on metallic traySyda Productions/Shutterstock

You may think you’re doing everyone a favor by rescuing the serving spoon that somehow dropped into the macaroni and cheese. But think about how many other people have already touched that utensil. “We’re often really careful about touching the handle on the door leaving the bathroom,” Quinlan says.“Well, it’s the same idea.” Utensil handles are considered contaminated, so don’t touch more of them than you have to. Plus, any food that a utensil has fallen into should be replaced (so you may also want to avoid that tray). Quinlan recommends using a hand sanitizer after you get your food and before eating. Be sure you never eat any of these 13 foods raw.

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