12 Things You Should Never Eat at a Buffet

Buffet Cover Image

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Beware of the Buffet

Chances are, if you're grabbing a bite to eat at a buffet, you know there's a layer of "ick" for some folks. From everyone putting their grubby hands on the serving spoons to how long some of the food sits under the heat lamp, buffets aren't always the place you go when you want the freshest, most delicious food. 

That being said: There are also plenty of high-quality buffets serving up some seriously delicious food. Even at the fanciest buffets with the best reputations, though, there are some things you're better off avoiding. Whether you should stay away because of possible contaminations or because you'll get too full to enjoy the value aspect, here are eight things to avoid putting on your plate at a buffet.

Related: 10 Foods You Should Never Order At A Diner

Chocolate fountain

1. Fondue

Think of that fondue fountain at the buffet as Willy Wonka's sacred chocolate waterfall and river. The chocolate must go untouched by human hands, or it will be ruined. Don't think for one second that the self-serve chocolate cascading in front of you at the dessert bar hasn't been sneezed on, touched by grubby fingers, or been otherwise tainted

fried chicken at a buffet
DepositPhotos / bitpics

2. Fried Foods

If cross-contamination skeeves you out, you might want to leave the fried foods in the buffet line alone. The oil used for those onion rings is likely the same that they're dumping the chicken tenders in. Do your french fries taste a tad shrimp-y? We warned you.

crawfish at the buffet
DepositPhotos / U.Omozo

3. Crawfish

If you aren't questioning the freshness of the freshness of the crawfish sitting out in that midwestern buffet, you probably should be (and you might want to question your judgment while you're at it). You're better off eating these little guys where they're fresh and safely handled and prepared.

Salad Bar

4. Mayo-Based Salads

As a general rule of thumb, you're better off avoiding certain cold foods at buffets. The reason? You can't bank on the fact that they're being held at a temperature that ensures they're safe to eat. For these reasons, mayo-based salads are at the top of the list of cold foods to avoid. Plus, you can't easily pinpoint each ingredient included in the tuna salad or chicken salad you'll find among the little pickles and other random options at the end of the salad bar — and we prefer to know what's in these particular types of salads before digging in. 

Japanese food buffet.

5. Raw Seafood

We hate to burst your sushi buffet-loving bubble, but eating raw seafood at a buffet isn't necessarily the most risk-free choice you can make. From oysters to sashimi, you're generally better off indulging in this sort of thing at a restaurant that specializes in raw seafood. There, you can feel a bit more confident that they are storing foods at the appropriate temperatures and diminishing foodborne illness risks and contaminations as much as possible. 

Plus, buffet sushi might be heavier on the rice and seaweed and lighter on the fish to get you fuller faster, so the quality probably won't be up to snuff either. 

breakfast in a luxury hotel in Thailand
Chirapriya Thanakonwirakit/istockphoto

6. Dinner Rolls

We know: Those shiny, butter-brushed, soft and fluffy rolls at buffets are tantalizing. Especially when they're warm and fresh to the point that they practically melt in your mouth. We are not saying to avoid them because they're gross. Rather, we're hearing the voice of our grandmothers in our heads warning us not to fill up on bread. If you want to get your money's worth at a buffet, skip the buns, hun. 

Salad Bar Vegetables from Above

7. Uncooked Greens

Oof, this one hurts. We love a good salad bar. But if we're talking about foods commonly contaminated with E.coli, romaine and friends are at the top of that list. Salad bars are also sometimes kept at improper temperatures which can further contribute to the risk of foodborne illnesses. 

Salad Bar Fruit

8. Cantaloupe

We don't know how many of you are hitting up the seemingly fresh fruits when you head to the buffet, but be cautious about cantaloupe. The melon is strangely more susceptible to salmonella contamination than the average fruit and we imagine sitting out in a buffet for hours doesn't do this fruit any favors.

Bowl of Lemons
Dennis Wong/istockphoto

9. Lemon Slices or Wedges

Remember when getting a lemon with your water was commonplace? Some restaurants never asked, they just put that cute little yellow slice on the rim of your glass and you tossed it in and swirled it together with your ice water. Nowadays, we're supposed to know better. Lemons in restaurants and buffets have been building a reputation as bacteria-breeders, and it's best to avoid them unless you're slicing your own at home.

Related: 35 Foods That Are Dangerous If Not Prepared Properly


10. Communal Condiments

Alright, not only are we questioning the build-up of sludge and goop that undoubtedly occurs in those metal condiment dispensers, but just think about how many unwashed hands are caressing these things at buffets. We shudder at the thought. Ask for your own bottle of ketchup for the table. Someone else has certainly touched it before, but probably nowhere near as many someone else's hammering down on the ketchup pump.

Related: 10 Innocent-Sounding Ingredients That Are Potentially Dangerous

man pours a fizzy drink.sparkling water.cool ice soft drink cola
Nutthaseth Vanchaichana/istockphoto

11. Soda

You're going to be eating plenty if you're having a meal at a buffet. That's plenty of calories, carbs, sugar ... all of it. Don't bring pop into the mix. Plus, it's not worth tacking on extra charges if you're trying to capitalize on the value concept of the buffet.

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A cropped image captures business people using service tongs to carefully select their food from the buffet line.
Thai Liang Lim/istockphoto

12. Foods at the Beginning of the Line

Buffets are not innocent, you guys. They have a business model to uphold. They can't just offer customers a smorgasbord of food at a reasonable price and lose money on every mouth they feed. There's thought that goes behind what food they offer and where they arrange it. 

Many buffets will put more filling items at the head of the buffet line. Before you know it, you don't have anymore room on your plate, so you go sit down and consume all of the most filling dishes first, setting the scene for the rest of the culinary experience. Spoiler alert: It's a scene that leaves you too full to get your money's worth.

Related: 22 All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Restaurants Reviewers Love