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sea salt on tables

I recently ate at T-Rex in North Berkeley and noticed they put sea salt in little dishes on the table. I've noticed the trend over the last couple of years at a variety of restaurants but on this one occasion I felt weird using it. I'm not a germophobe but for some reason it grossed me out to use the same salt that other patrons may have stuck their sticky, licked fingers in. This trip also happened this winter when everyone and their mother was sick. Do the restaurants replace the salt with each table seating? I would think that the top chefs of the area have thought of this, have they??

I'm curious to know what other's think of this practice. If you've had a similar experience please share. Unless someone steers me otherwise, I have a feeling I won't be using the salt if it's not in a shaker.

Thanks for everyone's insight.


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  1. I agree. Fortunately, I have no desire to add salt to anything at T-Rex.

    1. Since the surface of a salt cube presents an especially harsh environment for microbial growth, I've never worried about taking a pinch from a communal trough.

      1 Reply
      1. re: grishnackh

        Agreed...if you saw was going on in the kitchen before hand, I'm not sure fingers in something as anti-microbe as salt is going to make much difference.

      2. aren't there little (demitasse size or smaller) spoons in the dishes? there are around here-- although i wouldn't worry about germs on salt either, the spoons are a serving nicety.

        otoh i hate iodized salt in shakers, and if i have to use it, i use the shaker to sprinkle salt into the palm of my hand, and then add that measured amount to my food.

        2 Replies
        1. re: soupkitten

          I agree the salt is not the issue. BUT the cute little spoon is. A person with a cold sneezes, or rubs their nose, then they touch the little spoon and leave fomites that pass on germs to the next person when they touch the item. The spoon is the culprit.

          But the spoon is no different than the salt or pepper shaker. They also do not get changed or cleaned between tables. Ditto ketchup dispensers, olive oil bottles, table and chairs you are sitting on (thought granted, they should clean the tabletop between tables), the pen the waiter gives you.

          So don't fear the salt! It is "otay".

          If you are really worried, avoid restaurants or any public places with doorknobs. That's what they tell the immunosuppressed patients.

          1. re: moh

            Oh yes the spoon and the dish could be germy for sure! I worked in restaurants during college and saw some disgusting practices. This may sound a bit anal retentive but I take a little hand sanitizer bottle with me in my bag where ever I go and often wipe down my condiments before dining. I know the table has been wiped down but probably with dirty bleach bucket water. :(

        2. I recently gave a small ding to a local restaurant (not T-Rex) for providing the salt without a tiny spoon, which I have seen in a lot of places....I guess it is a good point that the salt cube is a harsh environment for germs, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable to use it. For that matter, I've seen the same thing with pepper once or twice: is the germ environment equally harsh with pepper?

          1 Reply
          1. re: susancinsf

            actually, after thinking about it, I realize that it isn't really the germ issue that makes me uncomfortable. Indeed, I think I have less germ phobia than the average person....but still, I've been taught that it is impolite to use one's hands to serve oneself in public, and it is hard for me to get past that: part of my discomfort is worrying how it will 'look' when I (literally) reach for the salt: I don't want to be rude. How different is it really to reach for salt with one's fingers than to grab a handful of lettuce from the salad bar without using the tongs? Why is one acceptable and not the other? Does etiquette really provide that using the fingers is ok as long as one knows that the food in question is not a germ friendly environment?

          2. I'd be less worried about germs in an open salt cellar in a restaurant than the random bits of whatever falling in there and being sprinkled on my food along with the salt. One of my favorite restaurants has started putting small pepper and sea salt mills on the tables in lieu of the regular shakers. I love that!

            1. Why don't they use sea salt grinders? I've seen kids lick tops of salt shakers and all so, overall, I guess it doesn't matter where the salt is out in the open or not. But, open there is more likelihood of a foreign object ending up in it.

              1. A few words on the salt issue..those cute little spoons that everyone is so fond of disappear faster than anything else in the restaurant. People steal anything that isn't nailed down and not just in fast food restaurants. I've worked at really nice places in SF where the salt and pepper grinders,salt spoons, silverware, and pictures from the wall in the bathroom have been stolen. Also, more than likely, the salt that is seasoning your food in the kitchen is being taken out of a bowl on the line by the person cooking with their fingers. I've never seen a salt grinder or salt spoon in the kitchen. The salt isn't really a place to worry about germs. Be more concerned with the bathroom door handle because of the people who choose not to wash their hands after using the toilet.

                1 Reply
                1. re: srr

                  Except the same people handling the germy door handle are also handling the salt. And, few people really do wash when leaving the bathroom.

                2. I just shake a bit of salt from the dish into the palm of my hand & then sprinkle it with my fingers.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rfneid

                    I appreciate everyone's insight. I didn't know that salt was an anti-microbe environment, but I think in the future I will follow rfneid's practice by pouring into my hand then sprinkling.