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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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Chef is making an appetizer at professional kitchenKondor83/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.

You might be surprised to learn what the dirtiest thing on a restaurant table is.

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Cheese, pepper, and salt shaker on table at restaurant.Peter Kim/Shutterstock

Salt and Pepper Shakers

When studying the dirtiest items on a restaurant table, an 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! Next up: Find out if you’re guilty of any of these mistakes diners make when trying to be polite.

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Menu on a table set in a restaurantredzen2/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. It’s just one of the things that your waiter secretly dislikes.

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table set restaurantarturasker/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.

Suddenly wanting to stay in? Try these restaurant copycat recipes you can make at home.

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cube ice in ice making machineMr.1/Shutterstock

Ice Machine

According to a study of 10 fast food franchises by the Daily Mail in the UK, 60% 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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Mixed salad, salad open buffet.united photo studio/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.

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Waitress wiping table at counter in caféwavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

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.

Are you making any of these common cleaning mistakes?

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Wooden chairs in cafeteria.kudla/Shutterstock


In a 20/20 investigation, 70% 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.

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Overhead flat lay view of traditional casual Mexican snack foods tortilla chips and salsa in plastic basket lined with paper on rustic wooden tableML Harris/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.

Here are more foods you shouldn’t skip at the restaurant.

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Washing handsJacob 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!

See the things restaurant owners wish you knew.

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.