5 Foods to Avoid at Restaurants

When we go for a dinner out we expect a fine meal. The truth is we should be getting exactly that. But, are we? Are the foods we eat at restaurants and dining facilities so ideal and perfect? Is organic food really organic? Is meat really nutritious? Are veggies really germ-free? Here is a list of the 5 foods-offenders to avoid at restaurants, to save yourself from food poisoning, outrageous markup, or germ minefields.

1. Top-Sellers

20100723-in-n-out-03-frozenThe majority of us believe that a fast-food restaurant’s best-selling items have high turnover. Having served the fast-food sector for many years, I know that fast-food restaurants pre-make their top-sellers to keep up with the demand. This means that employees wrap and bag foods way before they are ordered, which gives food-borne illnesses a good chance to develop. Of course, pre-making and packaging food is not only a fast-food restaurant’s characteristic. Anyway, according to CEO of Restaurant Expert Witness, Howard Cannon, it’s best to order food that are more likely to be prepared to order, such as the less popular options. The less an item sits in holding (usually covered with sauce or mayonnaise), the better.

2. Iceberg Lettuce

3.MLKIceberg-bluecheese-bacon3One of the biggest rip-offs in the industry is the iceberg wedge salad. We all know that iceberg lettuce consists mainly of water (98%) and is marked up 20 times, at least. That aside, it provides a welcoming environment for germs, with all these cracks, edges, and corners, where they can hide. Such salads are simply filthy. You may say that restaurants usually do wash their greens. You may be right, but the lettuce is often served soggy. If this is not an enormous red flag, then what is? Lukewarm mayonnaise-based dressing and standing water is a killer combination, whose effects could be very unpleasant for us.

3. Meat (with the Bone in)

img_22131Chicken breast, bone-in pork and other small cuts of meat are more difficult to cook thoroughly because their outside can easily scorch and char. What does this mean to you that order it? Crispy meat on the outside, and, most likely, raw on the inside. At this point, you may say that there are many people that like their food undercooked, so why not have meat with the bone in served that way as well? The answer is that undercooked beef, for example, such as a steak tartare or a rare burger, do not cause food-borne illnesses. On the contrary, chicken and pork do, which makes them highly dangerous when undercooked. And this is not just us talking from the top of our heads. This is a piece of information coming from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention itself. That aside, when you order bone-in meat, you end up eating significantly less portions of meat.

Note: Speaking of chicken, here is something to consider, next time you want to order one. If you are ordering outside the box, chicken is just a chicken. Nothing unique in terms of preparation that can be that worthy of your attention on the menu. Plus, it is a cheap meat that is substantially marked up. So why not be bolder than that?

4. Meatloaf

slowcooker-meatloaf-ftrTo begin with, meatloaf cannot be considered meat. It is more filler than anything else. However, restaurants have developed this concept that if they drown the dish on seasoning and sauce, they can pass it on to you as meat. How could you not notice? If for anything else, your belly will start complaining that you didn’t get enough food! And, to make things even worse (and sell meatloaf further) many menus use such insulting descriptive words, like “home-cooked”, “homemade”, “|Mom’s”, “Home-style”. Come on. It is an offense to our mom, after all! Give yourself more credit and just order a steak or burger, instead.

5. Gourmet Food

Nov_Truffle_Oil_700x400Don’t get me wrong here. Gourmet food is great. The objection is to the restaurants that cheat customers into believing that they are getting highbrow fare for a considerably low price, just because these restaurants are working in one expensive ingredient, like fois gras or truffle oil. They claim to work on that ingredient in small batches, which is the reason for the overpriced dishes. But, you should know this: Most commercial truffle oils are nothing more than a mix of lab-produced chemical with olive oil. An interesting survey held by Esquire magazine has shown that truffle oil is one of the 8 most overrated fine dining ingredients, according to chefs that shared their experiences regarding botched US dining.

Food for Thought

Truths about:

  • Tap Water

2c88b092b019264058258ec43da47d35If you are seated in a table that is already set with a carafe of water, you are probably risking health hazards. Water can be one of the most dangerous items in a restaurant. Any item sitting between 40-140 degrees for a while has increased potential to develop bacteria. So ask the waiter for nothing less than ice-cold water to be handed to you after you order.

  • Specials with Sauce

Albondigas_Mexican_Style_Meatball_Soup_600x600Restaurants tend to order more food than they really need, mainly to avoid running out of ingredients. This means that any surplus from one day (that has not expired) is easily turned into the next day’s special. How? With sauce. You should be wary of meat that has been cut and used in a soup, stew, or pasta dish, or any other item that is used in a way that is reducing its flavor.

  • Free Bar Snacks

NutsA whole lot has been said and written about consuming free bar snacks but turning your attention to them once more can only do good. You may not have thought about it, but munchies, pretzels, and nuts are free of charge, which means that the bars and restaurants offering them won’t throw the remaining ones away after a customer has finished their drink or meal. Instead, they use what is left to serve the new customer. And, at the end of the day, the just dump them back into a container, to serve them the following day. So, bottom line, you never get a fresh serving. If only you could imagine all those hands touching the nuts you are served for free and the germs they carry, you’d be blown away.

Taking into consideration all the above, be very picky when on a dinner date. And, if you want some amazing romantic restaurants to take your other half and enjoy excellent cuisine, check out the Top 10 most Romantic Restaurants in Toronto! Now, if you want a real taste of excellent gastronomy, the Mediterranean cuisine is unquestionably an excellent option. Here is a list of the most popular Greek dishes that will give you a mouthful of taste, healthy eating, and fresh, locally grown ingredients, to please your palate and tick all the boxes!

Is Organic Food Really Organic?

featuredIn the course of a healthier lifestyle, many of us prefer organic products. But, do we really know what we are getting when we buy products with a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) organic label? In 2008, the USDA announced that 15 out of 30 organic certifiers were put on probation and had 12 months to make the required corrections or end up losing their accreditation. At that time, Chinese imports had an atrocious year making headlines for pet food and certified ginger being contaminated with dangerous pesticide that caused headaches, nausea, and blurred vision, among others. The levels of the unacceptable pesticide, namely aldcard, were way beyond what is allowed even for conventional ginger. Yet, these imported foods with the dangerous ginger were sold at Whole Foods Market under the 365 label! Of course, Whole Foods instantly pulled the product from its shelves, but that raises a serious question: Is the organic food we eat, really organic?

According to the national director of the Organic Consumers Association, most organic farmers comply with organic standards and play by the rules. However, with the Congress’ insufficient funding for enforcement, it is easy for players to cheat.

Why Organic Food in NOT always organic?

Admittedly, the USDA NOP (National Organic Program) does not give personal inspections to farms that produce USDA-certified organic food. You see, NOP is just a small agency within the USDA, which is already underfunded, with a handful of employees. They rely on other agencies, the so-called ACAs (Accredited Certifying Agencies) to inspect, evaluate, and ensure that these farms that bear the organic labels meet are well-worth the certification. That aside, the Chinese government forbids all foreigners to inspect their farms, so it takes additional steps to oversight the organic foods imported from Chinese farms. But, the issue with fraudulent Chinese organics is just the tip of an enormous iceberg. The larger problem is that ethical and sustainable eating is about relationships and cannot fit into the global mold of the rest of our food system. Take Cornucopia, for example. The watchdog agency reports to Aurora (private label milk supplier to Costco, Safeway, and Wal-Mart) and Horizon that have organic factory farms and milk thousands of cows annually. In 2008, the USDA decided to penalize Aurora for violations in regards organic standards.

What is Organic Food? The General Rule

organic-infographicOrganic food must adhere to particular standards as specified and regulated by the USDA. Crops are generally grown without irradiation (a method to kill bacteria with a form of radiation), synthetic pesticides, biotechnology, or artificial fertilizers. As for the animals that eat organically grown foods, they are raised without synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics and aren’t confined 100% of the time, unlike many animals on conventional farms.

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The Problem with Defining Organic

In the United States, the term organic is not an official term. Instead, organics that comply with the USDA organic standards are certified organic, and you may hear them referred to as USDA certified organic. When dealing with organic products, there are some exceptions.

To begin with, the term organic is not always well-defined. You see, in the majority of dictionaries organic means “Relating to, or derived from living organisms”. In the USA though, organic means various things. Currently, the term describes different sustainable and agricultural foods, cosmetics, body care products, furniture, textiles, bath care, mattresses, toys, and many more. In addition, organic is also used as an action. For instance, we hear people say “I prefer organic farming to conventional” or “I want to live organically.”

There are many cases that the term is inappropriately used. A perfect example is organic body care products. You will see many shampoos, for example, called organic, while containing chemicals that are not only harmful but also forbidden in organic agriculture.

Also, there are farmers that use sustainable growing methods, but don’t want to get certified because they sell organic products whose annual worth is less than $5,000 per year. Just because these farmers exempt from certification does not mean they don’t sell products that are really organic. This is a tricky exception because you will have to be aware of sustainable growing methods to spot organic foods. That said, it doesn’t mean a farmer isn’t really growing organically. It simply means that us, as consumers will probably have a harder time understanding whether a product is actually organic or not. So, in such cases, the better we are informed of the organic growing methods and the more questions we ask the grower about the methods they use, will help us determine organic integrity.

p32_86541117Another exception is that there are products that are not certified correctly. This is even more tricky because the USDA along with other accredited certifying agents have come under fire for baptizing products that don’t always follow the USDA organic certification standards are organic.

For example, an Inspector General report in 2010, found that the federal laws that govern organic are enforced in an extremely shocking way. The rather poor standards for certification confuse because if we can’t trust the certifying agents, the integrity of organic producers and growers fails miserably. And, unquestionably, we do need to be able to have full faith in the one’s doing such an important job for us.

Generally speaking, an product is considered organic in the USA when it:

  • Has the USDA Organic Seal.
  • Has been certified organic.
  • Contains more than 95% organic ingredients (see image below for more detailed info)

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So, what do we Do?

The best way to ensure you get high-quality organics is to get them directly from the farmer. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), which are arrangements that allow consumers to buy a share in a farm and get their weekly grocery, as well as farmers markets, are superb ways to make sure you do get organic food. Even if making the trip all the way to the farm is somewhat challenging for you, a farmers market sets regulations as per what is allowed and what is not permitted in the market, and a market manager visits every farm to make sure farmers adhere to the policies.

organic-foo-dimportant-for-babies-350x281If you can afford it, buying local and organic is the best option. You will find reasonably priced locally grown organic products in the farmers’ markets. You can find the farmers’ market in your are here. Now, if you can’t afford to buy organic all the time (make sense), try to stay away from the fragile veggies and fruits, such as peaches, nectarines, spinach, pears, cherries, lettuce, strawberries, apples, celery, sweet peppers, potatoes, and imported grapes because they often require more pesticides to fight off bugs, as opposed to harder produce, such as broccoli. If you want to know more about the produce in relation to pesticide contamination, here is a list you can download.

Finally, always look for the USDA seal when shopping for organic foods and packaged food. This will ensure that the dairy and meat products you buy are hormone- and antibiotic-free. If you are buying produce or meat that is not packaged, either ask the store clerk or look for the relevant sign.