The Restaurant Buffet Mistake A Professional Chef Would Never Make

All-you-can-eat buffets are a hallmark of American dining culture; they're perfect for large families who share different food preferences or diners who like to try a little bit of everything. While buffets realize how easy it is for diners to go straight for the fried chicken, spaghetti, or chocolate pudding dessert, they still stock the traditional start to a multi-course meal: the salad bar. There's no right or wrong way to navigate your next buffet, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind, especially when it comes to the safety of that salad section. While this really should be the purview of the chefs assembling the bar, it is something diners should also be on the lookout for. 

Steve Chiappetti, the executive chef at Chicago's the Albert, expressed his wariness of buffet salads to Allrecipes, saying temperature and timing are common culprits of a risky salad spread. Chiappetti notes, "Be mindful of eating salad at restaurants when the ingredients have been sitting out at room temperature." Given this state and temperature of buffet-style salad, diners are left with two options. They can either avoid the greens altogether or ask for clarification. 

At a buffet salad bar, you never know how fresh it is until you ask

If a buffet's greens and fresh toppings aren't on ice, you never know how long they have been sitting out, so the only way to ensure it's safe is to inquire. That's right — to cover your bases at your next buffet, simply ask restaurant staff about the state of the salad. You may feel a little strange inquiring about a bowl of lettuce, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. The FDA recommends a two-hour rule for buffet safety, meaning you should toss any perishables when left at room temperature for more than two hours; otherwise, you run the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria. Keep this timeline in mind, and you can easily decipher whether a buffet salad is up to your standards. 

It's important to note that this rule doesn't pertain to hot foods kept hot and cold foods kept cold. While every buffet situation is a little different, it's important to make sure you're taking appropriate measures for safe eating, so don't be shy about asking.