Beware of Salad Bars

by Tiffany Kail on October 25, 2013

While undercooked meat and eggs tend to raise red flags among restaurant-goers, salad bars may actually pose just as much if not more risk of food-borne illness. This is not necessarily the result of the owners and employees of the salad bar (although sometimes it is); often, lettuce becomes contaminated during processing, before it ever reaches the salad bar. And customers’ unsanitary behavior also contributes to making the salad bar unsafe.

Salad Bar Recycling

Recycling is a good thing, but not necessarily with regard to produce. Many salad bar operators remove the trays of food at the end of the day and, rather than throwing out the old food and beginning with fresh food in the morning, the trays and containers are stacked in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, the same food is pulled out and placed back on the salad bar. Generally, the salad bar is not completely re-stocked with fresh food more than once a week.

salad bar concerns

This “recycling” is a bit of a concern when you consider the unsanitary practices of salad bar customers: ducking their heads under the “sneeze guard,” handling food items with their hands rather than using tongs, and returning to the salad bar for seconds without getting a clean plate or bowl.

While cold temperatures certainly inhibit the growth of dangerous bacteria, they do not stop the proliferation of microbes. And cold temperatures must be consistently maintained to be effective.

What Kind of Bacteria Is Found on Salad?

It’s not just the customers who contaminate salad bar produce. There have been multiple recalls of raw lettuce and spinach in recent years. Even as recently as May 2010, large amounts of lettuce were recalled due to the fear of E. coli contamination.
The dangerous E. coli bacteria could be found on the leaves even before it was put out in the salad bar, and in some cases the lettuce was recalled due to the threat of E. coli. The problem is, no one knows whether the bacteria is present or not until someone gets sick.

Tips on Preventing Illness at the Salad Bar

If you like the convenience of salad bars and find them to be a ready source of fruits and vegetables, there are some things you can do to keep your visit to the salad bar safe.

* Follow the rules of sanitation and encourage others to do so as well. If you do see someone engaged in unsanitary behavior, tell the manager or an employee right away.

* Eat at salad bars that are vigilantly maintained. There should be employees present who are checking on the temperature of the food, re-stocking clean plates and flatware, and noting customer behavior.

* Choose a salad dressing that contains vinegar, or use apple cider vinegar and oil only on your salad. Vinegar kills germs.

* Don’t eat at salad bars that look unclean. Pooled water on the floor, spilled food, a dirty sneeze guard, and other signs of poor sanitation are sure indications that you should eat elsewhere.

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About the author...

 is a personal trainer, certified yoga instructor, and certified health coach, and most importantly, a mom. She's a proponent of the clean eating approach because it's a complete lifestyle solution and she's seen her clients thrive on it more than any other healthy eating plan.

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