Why Buffet Restaurants Are the Germiest Places to Eat

You can never be too careful with the old reliable buffet

Buffets might not be the highbrow foodie’s first choice, but they have their time and place in everyone’s busy schedule. So it’s probably a good thing to know exactly what you’re signing up for when you do decide to indulge. Whether it’s a big chain restaurant or a grocery store, there is no denying the convenience of these commercial feedlots.

The problem is that the timing of your meal can mean the difference between a pain-free day and a trip to the emergency room. So if you are inclined to visit a buffet, it’s recommended that you get there within the first hour after the food is displayed, as this will help you avoid all of the nasty bacteria that can reproduce at an accelerated rate when food is exposed to room temperature conditions.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the maximum holding time for perishables left out at room temperature is two hours. Of course we’re assuming that you are frequenting establishments that are sticking to health code regulations — which would mean cold foods are held at an internal temperature of 40 degrees and hot dishes at 140. The trouble is that even with the best of intentions, warmers and coolers are often old and over used, and they tend to be less efficient at maintaining temperature for long periods of time.

Not only do you have to be concerned about the quality of the equipment being used in the facility — you should also be aware of the bacteria from people’s hands that can contaminate the already suspect room temperature food.


And while these foodborne illness dangers represent an immediate health concern, buffets also pose a wellness risk over the longer term when you consider portion control. (There is none.) So if you’re trying to curb your appetite as well as maintain your hygiene habits, it’s probably best to steer clear of the American church of food known as le buffet.