Safety first when dining out

Tri-State health departments make it their business to keep your food safe by inspecting restaurants regularly.

However, experts say it's up to you to be alert and observe potential problems that may contaminate your food.

The first thing to look for is the general cleanliness of the restaurant. If floors and tables are dirty, chances are the kitchen is too.

That's the word from Isidro Herrera, an Environmental Health Sanitarian with the McDonough County Health Department.

Herrera encourages folks to look in the back of the restaurant in the kitchen area - if you can see it.

Herrera said, "Are there chemicals lying next to food? That's a big warning sign of possible contamination."

Cleanliness also extends to the employees. Watch what they're wearing and doing.

Herrera said, "Are they wearing hair restraints? Are they hand washing regularly? More and more restaurants are requiring employees to wear plastic gloves when in the kitchen, but even with gloves things can get contaminated. Be concerned if workers touch their faces or really anything other than food when wearing gloves. Gloves should be changed regularly."

So why does this stuff give you food poisoning? It all comes down the protein in foods you eat..which can promote bacteria growth. Some of the most at risk are obvious, cheese, milk and meats.

Herrera said, "Once it's contaminated, the high protein content can promote bacterial growth. Which if consumed can make us sick."

That brings us to the next warning sign - cold or room temperature food. Bacteria can't grow on hot foods ....but it flourishes at room temperature.

Herrera said, "Hot foods should be served hot and cold food should be served cold. If you get in that middle zone, like room temperature, those middle zones promote bacteria and can in tern make you sick."

So what do you do when you can a concern? Herrea says it's best for you and the future customers if you report it.

Herrera said, "Tell the manager on duty. Also contact the local health department to do a more in depth inspection."

Herrera says you should not feel bad about saying something. He says you've paid for the service, you didn't pay to get sick.

You can actually find inspections of local restaurants online. Click here for inspection reports from Macomb.