Germs are invisible to the naked eye, which means that, as consumers, we’re usually left to our senses and intuition to figure out if the food we eat is safe or not. And, unsurprisingly, we’re often wrong.
For instance, you couldn’t be faulted for thinking that the 24-hour fast food joint where you put the final nail in your hangover coffin at 2 AM might not be quite as clean as the fancy white tablecloth restaurant where your evening began. But, if a new report by restaurant supply manufacturer Restaurantware is to be believed, it turns out that fast food joints are actually way less bacteria-infested than fine dining establishments. What’s even more disconcerting is that your home kitchen may be way dirtier.
Restaurantware’s sample is admittedly very small, with the more lowbrow category consisting of “a chicken restaurant, a taco place, and a burger joint,” and the fancy end of the spectrum being represented by “a sushi restaurant, steakhouse, and an Italian eatery.” Then, for good measure, they threw three homes into the mix, just to remind us what filthy animals we are when festering in our own dwellings.
They found 300 bacteria colonies in the fast food chicken restaurant, while the high-end Italian had 3,700,000, and one of the home kitchens had a staggering 9,040,000 different colonies of bacteria. To put those numbers into context, the most colonies found in the fast food category was 59,380 at the burger spot, and those germs were found mostly in the bathroom, as opposed to bacteria being spread equally among the condiments, bathroom, and water sources at the higher-end eateries.
“It’s easy to assume that a fast food restaurant would have the worst hygiene of the bunch, but their strict daily cleanup schedule, rigorous corporate standards, and regular inspections ensure that their equipment is kept clean and their restaurants are germ-free,” Restaurantware says. “More expensive restaurants have to abide by the same exacting regulations, but also have to contend with washing dishes and removing those germs; a step fast food restaurants avoid by utilizing disposable utensils.”
But the numbers that really hit home (pun intended, sorry) are the private residences, where the only food safety inspector around is, well, you. Given how much we eat at home, another way to look at these numbers would be with a germ-to-dollar ratio, which doesn't make these numbers any less unsettling. “The money we spend on food at home ends up paying for far more of the germs that we end up consuming every day,” Restaurantware wrote, “with a whopping number of 207,143 bacterial colonies per dollar spent at home compared to the measly 948 per dollar located at fast food restaurants.”
At the end of the day, we’re all rolling the dice when we eat food made by strangers, but the stakes are actually a lot higher when we’re cooking for ourselves.