If you’ve ever worked in fast-food, you probably have some wild stories, and you’re not alone. On platforms such as Reddit and Whisper, fast-food employees took to telling us their most horrific stories – and their best tips for getting a quality meal. Here are the Top 10 Fast-Food Secrets Revealed By Fast Food Employees.
10. Avoid Ice at All Cost
With summer in full blast, it may be tempting to double – no, triple – up on the ice. But there are some frankly rather gross things about that ice. Fast-food employees testify that restaurant ice is one of the filthiest things you can order, and there’s proof: the National Restaurant Association lists ice as a “potentially dangerous” beverage element. They say that ice can contribute to the spread of foodborne illnesses because of the neglect surrounding the cleaning of the ice machines. While ice itself isn’t the ideal breeding ground for any sort of bacteria (and, because the low temperature, actually slows growth), the ice machines that they hail from could be a cesspool of mold, bacteria and fungus. And don’t forget, the bacteria that grows in cold temperatures tend to be much heartier and harder to get rid of. So why don’t they just clean the ice machine? Well, since ice isn’t really considered a food, restaurants tend to be quite lax about the regulations. Another one of the reasons for ice being so filthy is because of the amount of handling it goes through: it sits in the ice machine, then is scooped up by some employee (who may or may not have clean hands), then it’s put in a bucket, then dumped in a bin for the servers to use, then it’s scooped again, and then it’s put in your glass. In that process alone, there are plenty of opportunities for something nefarious to swoop into your digestive system. Yeah, we’ll take our drinks at room temperature, thanks.
9. Run the Soda Machine for a Few Seconds
While many fast-food chains and restaurants have regulations on how often a soda fountain machine is cleaned, there’s no way to guarantee that they’re actually cleaning it. This is why we suggest running it for a few seconds before putting your cup underneath it. In short, it helps to ensure that you’re not getting an unhealthy serving of mold or bacteria in your drink, which actually comes from the pipes that your bubbly beverage runs through! And this isn’t your regular bacteria. According to research published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, when 90 beverages from soda machines in Virginia were tested, around half of them came back positive for coliform bacteria, aka fecal matter, aka poop. Oh, and they also tested positive for E.Coli, which can lead to diarrhea, stomach aches, vomiting, and a slew of other unfortunate things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. You’re probably thinking, why can’t they just wash their machines? Well, they do, and oftentimes, workers will dump bleach into the pipes in order to unclog all of the unpleasantness that resides there. In other words, you’re adding even more unsavory things to your digestive system. Aside from all of that, one employee says that running the machine a few seconds gets the air out of the line and washes away the built-up syrup from however long ago it was used last, and that it’ll otherwise clean out any leftover flavors from the last drinker (if it’s a freestyle machine.) We don’t know about you, but we think we’ll take a solid pass on this one.
8. Always Double-Check the Ingredients
According to sources from the popular platform Reddit, if you see something on the menu and can’t find one or two other items with the same ingredients on the menu, you shouldn’t order it. Why? Let’s say the restaurant sells a pulled-pork sandwich, and they don’t have any other pulled-pork items on the menu. Since the pulled-pork sandwich isn’t going to be ordered too frequently, that means that it’s definitely not going to be fresh. The product you’re eating could be days or even weeks old! And while it probably won’t get you sick, it’s definitely not as satisfying as some of the other fresher products. In the same vein, if you really like a certain ingredient, but you know that it’s not a popular choice, be aware that you’re probably not going to be eating the freshest food. This is because the unpopular ingredients are turned over less, so you’re most likely getting something that was sitting around, perhaps a bit bad and picked over. Something that was chucked into the corner of a walk-in freezer and forgotten about for so long that it may have acquired freezer-burn, only to be found and thawed out on your behalf. Just consider yourself warned.
7. Always Triple-Check Any ‘Vegetarian’ Options
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, nothing is more horrifying then unknowingly consuming something that goes against your dietary restrictions (especially if it’s for religious reasons.) In 2001, McDonald’s was famously hit with a lawsuit when it revealed that its fries, which were advertised as being cooked in vegetable oil, were actually flavored with beef tallow. The popular fast-food chain paid the 11 plaintiffs reparations, and issued an apology, saying that they regretted not providing their customers with complete information about their products. They also apologized for the hardships that their little miscommunication caused. The worst part is this isn’t the only time this has happened. There are plenty of people who have dietary restrictions due to their religious beliefs, and have had their hearts broken when it’s revealed something seemingly vegetarian actually contains meat. The good thing, though, is that this serves as a warning, and the source of an important lesson: always, always, check the vegetarian options. Even if an item appears to be vegan or vegetarian, make sure to triple-check the seemingly innocuous things, such as the sauces (like marinara sauce on pizza), the oil that the foods are fried in, and other products (such as beans) that are made sans-animals products.
6. Beware the Specials
There are a few reasons why you should be wary of a restaurant’s special menu. On one hand, they might be trying out a new experimental dish to see how well it’ll land with their customers. On the other hand, they might be trying to get rid of the left-over, almost expired products that they have. And, on the third, mostly hidden level, they’re trying to get you to spend more money on the same product, they’re just spicing it up a little bit. Let’s get into these a little bit more, starting with the first one. This one could really go either way. Depending on how much you like being the test subject of their new recipes, this could actually turn out extremely well for you! Who wouldn’t say no to something a little exciting to invigorate your day? And hey, if it’s something you really enjoy, you could even send your appreciation to the chef, and make their day as well. That’s if it goes well. If it tastes bad, well then, you’ll just leave disappointed. On to the second point, which is disproportionally worse than the first. Why is it worse? Well, this is basically the restaurant’s way of saying that their profits are more important than your meal, which we all know can be true, but man, it still hurts to hear. Trying to get rid of their old stock is one thing, but trying to trick their customers into spending more money on something that’s decidedly less quality? Something just doesn’t sit right there. And while we’re on the note of tricking customers: many chains will try to get you to spend more money on something that has the same ingredients as a much cheaper menu item. They’ll charge $3.45 for a California roll, then add some hot sauce, call it a Spicy California roll, and charge a dollar more. And the worst part? The customers will usually pay for it.
5. Don’t Order Fish on Mondays or Tuesdays
If you’re going to a fast-food restaurant, you can pretty much expect frozen fish every day of the week. But it’s not the same for some of the higher-level places. Here’s how it goes: in order to prepare for the weekends, restaurants will start stocking up on Thursday or Friday. This is because people tend to take it personally when the restaurant is out of something, so they usually buy more food than they need, just in case. The fish in question is stored on self-draining ice, which will last 2 to 3 days from the time that the restaurant gets it from their source. Which means that, by the time you order that salmon on Monday or Tuesday, it was probably brought in last Thursday, which means that what you’re eating is almost a week old. Even Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity American chef, wrote that he would never order fish on Mondays for this exactly reason! That being said, this was written in his 1999 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, and he later went on to say that most good-quality restaurants will usually have fresh food. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
4. Ask About the Free Bread
Many people believe that free bread is the best part of going to restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory and Olive Garden, and who wouldn’t want to pass up on a basket full of warm, moist, delicious bread? Nothing is better than being absolute famished, sitting down to order your food, and having something to munch on while you wait for your meal. Our mouths are watering just thinking of it. But do you really know where that bread has come from, or whose hands it’s gone through? Even if we weren’t going through a pandemic right now, we wouldn’t want to be eating something that’s been touched by other customers. Chefs, restaurant employees, and others have been warning us against eating the complimentary bread that’s being offered to restaurant-goers for ages now. One restaurant employee even went so far to claim that in the restaurant they worked in, they were instructed to take the bread from the table after the customers had left, cut off the used pieces, heat it up, and serve it to other patrons. If this is true, then that would open the door for many foodborne illnesses, including norovirus, the most common type of food poisoning. While it’s important to remember that not all restaurants do this, Anthony Bourdain was known to have said that this bread re-use is an industry-wide practice. And while other sources claim that it’s simply untrue, are you sure you want to take such a bold risk?
3. Stay Away from Lemons and Limes
Lemon and lime wedges can give you some much-needed refreshment after a long day, but they also hold a dirty little secret. These drink garnishes can easily be contaminated with bacteria, as several studies indicate. In research published in the Journal of Environmental Health, researches swabbed samples of the flesh on lemon and lime rinds, which they then checked for microbial content. Nearly 70 products from 21 different restaurants produced microbial growth of 25 different microbial species. What’s worse, a significant number of those bacteria can cause illness and disease, and they’re usually found on people who don’t wash their hands well enough. In other words, depending on whether or not they wear gloves or whether they wash their hands properly, restaurant employees can spread their bacteria to your drink when they prepare these wedged slices. So, you might be wondering how to protect yourself from this. The easiest solution is to just not order any lemon or lime slices, or any other garnishes, but there are other ways. If you’re at a restaurant or bar and see people handling slices with their bare hands, that’s probably a sign that you don’t want it anywhere near you. However, if they’re using gloves or using tongs to put them in the glass, the risk of contamination becomes much lower.
2. Soup Secrets
Soup, the warm, comforting addition to your meal. But restaurant employees warn against ordering this nostalgic meal for several reasons. Apparently, soup is one of those dishes that can be left for a very long time on a cooker or a stove, gathering bacteria and whatever other things that are airborne in the kitchen that day. According to Reddit users, soup tends to sit in a vat all night, never being cooled properly, or otherwise is left unattended, without proper heating. The good news is there are numerous ways to spot when something’s up with your delectable liquid. The bad news is they all involve you first consuming said soup. Restaurant employees say that there’s a lot of red flags when it comes to soup. If it’s really salty, then it’s been sitting on the stove all day. If it’s watery, then they’ve just added some extra cream or water to it to give it some volume. If it’s extremely thick, then it’s been sitting in the vat for too long. They then go on to suggest that if you’re ever going to order soup at a restaurant, do it at a soup place. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.
1. Always Be Nice to the People Serving Your Food
Last but definitely not least, always be nice to the people handling your food. This isn’t a suggestion, this is a rule. Other than being a decent human being, there are a few other reasons why you shouldn’t be rude to restaurant staff. Something to remember: a lot of waiters and waitresses are students or mothers who are just trying to pay the bills, so you snapping at them that your food isn’t warm enough definitely means that you’re the bad guy. Also, be aware that those serving your food aren’t usually the ones who are making your food, meaning that whatever is wrong with your meal, it most definitely isn’t their fault. And does being rude ever really solve anything? If you simply ask them nicely, you may even get a free meal out of it. And, if those things don’t make you want to be nice to your servers, remember that they have their hands on your food and drinks before you do. No one wants anything gross to potentially happen to their food? Treat them respectfully.