Everyone loves a good all-you-can-eat buffet. What’s not to love about unlimited food and no judgement? Anyone at a buffet is in the same boat as you, so if you go back for five or six plates, they’re in no position to judge you on it. It’s basically a dream scenario.
But if you stop to think about it, buffets are actually a bit gross. That food sits out all day and nothing is stopping anyone from reaching in their with their hands to grab whatever they want. Ew. Obviously you assume the risk when you get there, but there are some things you probably don’t consider when you’re at a buffet.
These are the things you should avoid when you’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet, food or otherwise.
Sprouts have become an ever-popular addition to meals, particularly sandwiches and wraps, in the last few years. They’re pretty safe when you’re the one preparing them in a small quantity, but according to Rene Ficek, a registered nurse, sprouts from a buffet might not be as good a choice as you originally thought.
“They grow in damp environments, and it’s hard to get them thoroughly cleaned,” says Ficek. “That’s why people get sick from sprouts so often.”
My general rule is to avoid seafood at all costs, anyway, but when you’re at a buffet you need to pay extra attention. For example, tuna can be a particularly iffy choice when it comes to loading your plate up.
“Tuna has to be kept at a colder temperature than other types of fish because it’s especially susceptible to certain types of bacteria,” Ficek says.
This doesn’t mean all buffet tuna will make you ill, but it’s worth paying attention to how often the tray of tuna is being swapped out by staff while you’re there. Maybe leave it until your second or third plate until you’ve seen a new batch get laid out.
3. Sneeze Guard
This seems obvious, but some people will use the sneeze guard to lean and look over the food. You really shouldn’t do that. It’s called a sneeze guard, not a clean guard. The whole point is to block the grossness from getting into the food.
“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.
4. Mayo-Based Salads
If someone told you that a potato or macaroni salad had been sitting out for two hours in a warm environment surrounded by hundreds of people, would you still eat it? Probably not. Everyone knows that mayonnaise-based salads need to be kept cool or else they go bad.
“Mayonnaise-filled salads that sit out too long can be more susceptible to contamination and food-borne illness,” says Lauri Wright, PhD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “And from a nutritional standpoint, they really pack the calories.”
5. Salad Dressings
This is the same principle as the mayo-based salads. Creamy dressings sitting out for all that time aren’t going to do well over time. You’d be better off getting a vinaigrette or oil-based dressing, or just avoiding dressing altogether.
Sushi is risky on the best of days, but letting it sit out at a buffet is a recipe for disaster.
“If you go to a high-dollar sushi restaurant, there’s still a risk you take by enjoying seafood,” Ficek says. “You put that on a buffet and try and keep it the right temperature, you’re basically asking to get sick.”
7. Cream-Based Dishes
Once again, they’ve been sitting out. but cream-based dishes like soups and pastas also pose a risk to your heart. If you’re at a buffet, odds are you’re not paying attention to just how much of these dishes you’re eating, which in the long run could lead to some health issues.
“All of those are packed with saturated fat, which increases your cholesterol and can damage your heart muscle,” Ficek says.
8. Sweetened Beverages
This one is strictly based on your health. If you’re getting a new glass of soda, juice, or sweet tea every time you get a new plate of food, your calorie intake is basically doubling. Stick with water to help counteract the amount of sodium you’re taking in, and save all those extra calories for the dessert table!
9. Fried Foods
Obviously being at a buffet means you’re going to eat unhealthy foods…that’s basically the point. But, there are ways to be smart about it. When food is deep fried in large batches like at a buffet, it can soak up more oil than it would have if you had ordered it specifically.
“Every time you put something in a deep fryer, it acts like a sponge and soaks up as much grease and saturated and trans fat as possible,” Ficek says.
If you really want something fried, ask them to make it fresh so you know it’s specially made for you, and that way you can limit your portions.
10. Utensils Buried In Food
Some foods are just more naturally slippery, so the utensils provided can slip into the tray making it harder for you to access. Your immediate reaction is to reach in and grab the serving utensil, but next time you should stop to thing about how many other people have done the same thing. Think about how many people have not only touched that utensil that’s now sitting in the mac and cheese, but also how many hands have reached into that mac and cheese to get it out.
Buffets are great, and we usually throw caution to the wind when we eat there, but there are some things (like basic hygiene) that should never be overlooked.
[H/T: Reader’s Digest]