The One Thing About Restaurants That Keeps Me Up at Night

I love eating out. Who doesn’t? Not having to cook is GREAT. 

My kids don’t complain about the food, most of the restaurants with a kids’ menu have crayons, and best of all, I don’t have to do the dishes. It gives me so much time back after a long day. 

Besides the cost (and the fact that I don’t think my kids should eat burgers every night), though, there’s one thing that keeps me from ordering takeout or hauling the family to the nearest Red Robin at every possible excuse: food safety. After all, can you honestly say that you feel safe eating at Chipotle these days? 

What Keeps Me Up at Night: It’s Not the Standards, It’s the Enforcement 

Depending on where you live, the food safety standards might vary a little, but they’re mostly pretty good across the United States. Safety standards include food handling practices, storage, cooking temperatures, employee hygiene, cleaning and sanitation, and more. 

All good, in theory. But who is actually enforcing these standards? Everyone knows that restaurant workers scramble to clean when they think the health inspector will be swinging by. In most places, inspections only happen a couple of times a year. But what goes on behind closed doors most of the time? 

Gross vs. Dangerous

We’ve all found the occasional hair in a restaurant meal. Yeah, that’s pretty gross. But there IS a difference between gross and dangerous. And unfortunately, a restaurant can be one or both at the same time. 

There are a few places I won’t take my family anymore because they just gross me out. But what really keeps me up at night is how many people die preventable deaths from foodborne illnesses every year. 

48 MILLION people get sick every year from germs like Salmonella, norovirus, and E. coli. Most of them recover, but about 128,000 have to be hospitalized, and 3,000 of them die. 

Doing the Research 

Even if the health inspector isn’t able to keep tabs on restaurants all the time, at least you can usually see their reports and find out what violations they have. 

Let’s be real — most kitchens won’t get a perfect score. MY kitchen DEFINITELY wouldn’t get a perfect score. So why do I worry about it so much? 

Probably because I have ZERO control over what’s happening. I just have to trust that everyone in the back is washing their hands and cooking the chicken long enough. Some days, I just don’t have that trust in people I don’t know. 

Is it Worth the Risk? 

Most of the time, I try not to think about all the things that could be happening in restaurant kitchens. I just try to enjoy the food and the time I spend with my family. 

But whenever I hear about a big food poisoning case, it makes me take a pause and think about whether eating out is worth the risk. I don’t know about you, but I’d never forgive myself if I let my kids or older relatives with fragile health eat at a restaurant and then get sick from it. 

Millions of people eat out every day and don’t get sick. I’ve gotten a stomach bug a time or two after eating restaurant food, but nothing too serious. 

Let’s be realistic, I’m definitely not going to give up eating out even if this one thing keeps me up at night. It’s something I really enjoy. 

Still, I try to be a little more careful about the places I go, do my research, and if I ever find a hair in my food? I’m probably not going back.