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 sets you up for overeating and that awful feeling you get 20 minutes after you’re done,” says Dr Lauri Wright, 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 4 and 60 degrees Celsius is what we call the danger zone because at those temperatures, bacteria love to grow,” Feist says. To minimise your risk, here are some things to avoid next time you hit the buffet line.
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.
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You may think you’re doing everyone a favour 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 sanitiser after you get your food and before eating. Check out these 5 food safety tips for proper food handling.