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Recycled chips at Mexican restaurant

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Eating at my favorite Mexican restaurant today, I got a seat where I could see behind the bar and I noticed that they were dumping the half eaten baskets of chips into the same place that they loaded up the new baskets. I always wondered if that happened and I saw it plain as day, it freaked me out a little but I love the place, I mean love it, it's authentic Mexican and they always have like three different hot salsas on rotation there.

In the end I just shrugged and ate the chips anyway, should I be more freaked out? Any other experiences like this?

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  1. Not an appealing practice to me and, I suspect, illegal in some locations.

    1. I hope they at least look at the basket to make sure there isn't a bunch of salsa in there or something. I don't think you should be too freaked out, this probably happens at a fair amount of Mexican places.

      1. I suspect it's not legal as well. I think a lot of places recycle bread and/or chips. I take a sort of don't ask don't tell policy about these sorts of things. If I don't see it, I don't care. I'm the opposite of a germ phobe, but, if I saw the recycling take place, I think that might be one of the rare occasions when I send the chip basket back and ask for a fresh batch.

        1. that's technically illegal according to most health codes--if something unwrapped is served to a customer, it has to be disposed of. Ditto with bread.

          A bit wasteful, of course, and the liklihood of getting sick is meager, but that is what it's based on.

          A health inspector would have a field day with this, but I doubt you would actually get sick from it.

          18 Replies
          1. re: Caralien

            Does this law also apply to bowls of nuts laid out on bars? Those seem extremely unsanitary. They're not connected with specific customers and don't seem to be removed after one customer leaves.

            1. re: taos

              No clue there. I think nuts are like popcorn--they shouldn't be remixed, but if left at the bar...

              I've read that in certain townships food has to be sold/given away in order to maintain a liquor license, and so it's set on the bar.

              1. re: Caralien

                I don't frequent bars much anymore, but I can't remember the last time I saw nuts or popcorn on a bar for free. I am thinking that the more "dive" type bars(where I would go) could not afford it, and the upper scale types would prefer that you buy their $$$ appetizers.

                1. re: Sam at Novas

                  In NYC, bars have to have food available, either for free or for purchase. So you'll see a dish of cheddar goldfish on the bar, or little bags of chips hanging on the wall, even in the diviest of places.

                  1. re: small h

                    I'm pretty certain that no food needs to be served in NYC bars.

                      1. re: small h

                        Looks like you're right but this must be the least enforced law in the city. I have 3 friends that own bars in Manhattan and no food is served in any of their bars, unless you count olives, and there has never been an issue.

                        1. re: KTinNYC

                          I do count olives. Also limes & maraschino cherries.

                          I have no info on how strictly the law is enforced, but are you sure your friends' bars don't even have a couple of dusty old bags of pretzels stuck up somewhere? I bet they do. They would be in compliance, that way.

                          1. re: small h

                            Absolutely, I am 100% sure there is no food in these bars. I've worked in one of them and the only food to be found at the bar is the bartenders dinner.

                            I'll be seeing one of these bar owners next week and I'll ask him about this law. I'm curious what he'll have to say.

                            1. re: KTinNYC

                              Oh! I have a workaround. Maybe the bar lets patrons order in? If memory serves, that's been the case in a couple of places I've hung out in, which indeed did not have a scrap of sustenance available. I'm looking at you, bar on Clinton Street which shall not be named.

                              Anyway, I'm also interested in what your bar owner friend thinks of all this.

                        2. re: small h

                          but couldnt they be under the "club liquor" classification? that does not appear to have a food requirement.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            No food requirement, but a club license is for non-profit enterprises (see "club beer").

                            1. re: small h

                              I saw my friend on Weds. but forgot to ask but I still intend to ask this week when we get together.

                      2. re: small h

                        That explains it...I am in the south where, in some states, you can go out and drink at a restaurant, but you can't get a six-pack to-go home home and drink there!
                        But back to the OP, is having a community bowl of cheddar goldfish on the bar sanitary? How many fingers have touched that last goldfish in the bowl?

                      3. re: Sam at Novas

                        At some of the more upper end places in Toronto, I have recieved really nice, big cashew nuts and bowls of fancy cracker-like snacks.

                        1. re: Sam at Novas

                          I travel a lot and end up visiting the hotel bar in many cities across the country. Nuts in bowls tend to be pretty common. I usually stay in one of the Marriott brand of hotels (Marriott, Renaissance or Courtyand) if available where I'm going. Would these be considered "dive type bars?"

                          1. re: taos

                            Absolutely not! But it kind of proves my point that at an upper scale place, when you sit down at the bar, the bartender brings you a fresh bowl of nuts. Or, are they on the bar when you arrive? It does make a difference.
                            Gosh, I think that the last time I got free munchies at the bar was at a nice hotel.

                            1. re: Sam at Novas

                              Usually on the bar when I arrive and on the bar when I leave.

                              I just encountered this again a few weeks ago at a Courtyard by Marriott bar. It's kind of disgusting. it reminds me of the chestnuts or other nuts some people put out in bowls on their coffee table that are for decoration and not really meant to be eaten.

                  2. I would sooner use a three-seater outhouse. Gag me with a spoon.

                    1 Reply
                    1. seriously. gross.

                      think about it this way, with the constant recylcing of an item you eat with your hands, you are basicly licking everyones hands that ate chips that day at that restaurant!!! how sure are you they all washed their hands immediately prior to chip eating!?!?!?!?!

                      I would have stood up, walked out and never returned. Maybe thats not the worst violation that could or does take place, but if they are so brazen with their actions on this issue.........what is happening where you CANT SEE????

                      1. Completely disgusting! Having once had small children...you have no idea what can happen to a basket of chips while the kids wait for their food. Also, it makes you wonder what other corners they cut. I would never eat there again.

                        1. The practice is definitely a health hazard. I'd walk out and never return. My SO acquired hepatitis from eating tainted raw clams or oysters, and his doctor told him one of the most common ways hepatitis is spread (besides contaminated raw seafood) is those communal dishes of unwrapped candy often found at the desks in restaurants, so I'd look at recycled chips the same as those communal candy dishes.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: janniecooks

                            presuming you are talking about viral hepatitis, my answer would be, maybe in this country and in restaurants your doctor was talking about......third world countries and prisons don't have too many candy dishes hanging around, nor do locations where dirty needles are shared and risky sexual practices take place.

                            doc sounds like he has a rather narrow view of the world. unless he's only talking about Hep A, and even still i'd wage a guess that contaminated water in some countries would cause this more so than dirty candy dishes.

                            1. re: im_nomad

                              I assumed the OP was referring to a restaurant in the US, I didn't realize we were talking about third world countries.

                              Yes, it was hep A.

                              1. re: janniecooks

                                that wasn't directed at you jannie...more of a response to what the doctor said about how dishes of unwrapped candy is one of the most common ways hep A is spread.

                                1. re: janniecooks

                                  Hep A is typically transmitted by fecal-oral contamination (and can also be transmitted sexually), but is rarely contracted in the United States. Most cases in the US are actually contracted or originate abroad, often by visitors from the US who bring it back. (Hep A does not typically show symptoms in children and creates lifetime immunity once you have it, so therefore while the incidence of Hep A is very high in certain Third World countries, it hits many people in childhood and thus doesn't have a significant impact on the local population, but can infect someone without the immunity coming from elsewhere).

                                  There is a readily available vaccine. It certainly should be taken before travelling abroad. For that matter, those who worry about chips and candy could get the vaccine as well.

                                  That said, while I don't recall ever having seen unwrapped candy at a restaurant desk (wrapped candy, sure), and doubt if I'd eat it, I'd worry more about getting other germs from eating it, then Hep A, assuming said candy was in the US.

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    I see bowls of unwrapped mints, typically accompanied by a little silver serving spoon still sometimes at the hostess stand of restaurants. I can't remember now if it's more common at certain types of restaurants (cuisine, ownership, price point). I never take them.

                            2. If that freaks anyone out they should undoubtedly stay out of Mexico proper.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Servorg

                                Mexico has made giant strides with accessibility of purified water and ice, and refrigeration of perishables, in almost all parts of the country over the last 20 years.

                              2. did you see what they did to the left over salsa?
                                I've seen some Mex restaurants here in SD do that and I call them out on it right away and then I call the health dept...that's just so wrong!

                                1. I'm usually on the "don't be so damn picky about everything" side of the fence, but eating what others have touched with unwashed hands is an easy way to spread e-coli. There's a reason the "all employees must wash their hands after using the restroom" signs are up everywhere. Unfortunately there are a lot of customers who don't do that, either in the restaurant or more likely before they even get there. Eww. They oughta throw them out.

                                  1. they ought to throw them out but they won't. I have seen bread put back out. It's a cost saving exercise and I guess if nobody notices or reports them they will keep doing it.

                                    1. Years ago I was snacking on the crunchy noodles in a Chinese restaurant and came across a bottle cap. I pointed this out to the waitress, and she had a laughing fit - and that was her only reaction. No apology, no offer to replace the noodles. I x'd that place off my list.

                                      1. totally disgusting and an immediate entry onto the DNR list.

                                        1. There's a popular joint with the 18-21 year olds in Montreal that serves *plenty* of draught beer by the pitcher. I don't know if its purely urban legend, or if it was reported by people who worked there, but apparently they 'recycle' the beer. If a table leaves a 1/4 or 1/2 pitcher, it gets topped up in the back for a new customer...
                                          OK, everyone didn't necessarily have their fingers in there, but geez.

                                          1. I own a Mex restaurant and if someone doesn't finish their chips; they're thrown in the garbage if the customer don't want to take them home.

                                            Never re served to another customer.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: 9lives

                                              That's great that you do this. Wish more people practice what you're doing.

                                              But to answer the OP, I'm not surprised that they do this with tortilla chips, Chinese fried noodles, bread or butter.

                                            2. Not that I approve of the practice, but could any bacteria actual survive on a chip, Most of the places where I have had free chips, they are so salty (to encourage drink sales), no life could survive on the surface.

                                              1. The chains where I've worked are pretty adamant about not recycling the bread, chips, etc. If it goes out to a table, whether it's eaten or not, it has to be thrown out.

                                                1. That's a serious health code violation, they better be careful before they get shut down. I'd report them if I were you.

                                                  1. I'd be surprised 1) if that was legal and 2) that it didn't happen more often with uneaten food. I had shrimp dumplings in soup the other day, left a good part of the broth, and asked my husband, do you really believe they throw out this broth? The same w/ uneaten white rice--where does the fried rice come from? My FIL worked for an upscale restaurant in DC. He said if they dropped a steak on the floor, they'd just pop it back on the grill for a minute or so. Just don't think about it.

                                                    1. Probably one of those things best not to think about, as it obviously will happen no matter what the rule is.

                                                      1. A similar question came to my mind recently when my wife and I were down in NYC and had lunch at the 2nd Avenue Deli. They serve what seems to me an inordinate amount of pickles with the meal - we're not talking about a dill spear alongside a sandwich, for two of us they brought out a plate with three good-sized half-sours, three equally large sours, and a big pickled tomato! For a nearby table of four they brought out easily twice as much. And this to accompany huge sandwiches, each made with over half a pound of meat.

                                                        I had to wonder whether they really throw away all those uneaten pickles. On the one hand, I surely hope so - but on the other hand, what a waste!

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                          I have a similar wondering about the side dishes (banchan) in Korean restaurants and whether the recycling of leftover kimchi and other sides is common.

                                                          1. re: cheesepowder

                                                            Hey, well-made kimchi is antibacterial all by itself! ;-)

                                                            1. re: BobB

                                                              I remember my mom advising me against ordering kimchee jjigae at restaurants- she was convinced it was always made with the leftover kimchee banchan

                                                              1. re: Cinemaverite1

                                                                Uneaten kimchee, my comfort food? Horrors!!
                                                                Reckless, profligate wastefulness!

                                                            2. re: cheesepowder

                                                              Wait--someone actually leaves leftovers of the banchan? We usually have to beg for seconds of some of the items!

                                                          2. "I mean love it, it's authentic Mexican "

                                                            If you love authentic Mexican, then there won't be any chips to begin with.

                                                            1. Really doubt I'd have kept eating the chips. I'm an outta sight outta mind-er. I want to believe it doesn't happen but realize that in life, anything is possible.

                                                              When I was little, we had a Chinese restaurant we would always go for celebrations as a family, usually birthday or graduation. They treated our big family like an extension of their own. My Dad loved that place- and the staff would send us cards and always sent us home with gifts.
                                                              One time we went for lunch, just me and my parents. They would always present the check with a plate of fried bananas- these were killer, hot, fresh, lightly sweet dough with a light sprinkle of table sugar. It was my favorite part of the meal. And then it happened... I guess she was new- because we didn't know her. She picked up a dish from a table after the people left, and proceeded to dump the uneaten fried banana's right back under the heat lamp area near the counter! The same place they ALL came from!! We couldn't help but notice. I then watched my sweet Daddy proceed to take the dish of fried bananas that were parked in front of me, and grind another saucer into the top of all of them. I know why he did it, but at the time I was just so freaked out this was happening in our most favorite place!!! Visions of a sad, sad life with no Wor Wonton almost had me bursting into tears!!
                                                              Dad took his favorite gal aside- her name was Huey. They spoke a minute. She disappeared into the kitchen and next thing you know the cook comes FLYING out from the back- waving kitchen tools (I want to say it was a knife for the drama, but I don't think it was a knife) and he CHASED THE NEW WAITRESS RIGHT OUT THE DOOR.


                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                                Great story, B_D,
                                                                I remember eating at 'our' family Chinese restaurant as a kid. My father poured a bit of soy (the standard 4" hourglass shaped, red topped, double holer) onto his egg roll. He picked up a whiff of something, but wasn't sure if it was the soy or the roll. He poured some soy into a spoon and gave it the smell test.
                                                                It was off.
                                                                Thinking about it now, I have no idea how soy could go bad. I would also maybe say it was chinese vinegar or other condiment, but no way; this was a 1972 chinese restaurant with ONLY soy on the tables.
                                                                Anyway, he pointed it out to the incredibly bored waiter who picked up the bottle, shuffled to an empty table, switched bottles and returned with another. It was good.
                                                                Dad asked "what about the next people at that table?"
                                                                Waiter arches his brow, shrugs, walks away...

                                                                My father told that story with a few beers for years...

                                                              2. 30 years ago I worked in a very authentic mexican restaurant. We recycled the chips and if it looked ok, the salsa too.

                                                                1. Many years ago, when I was a busboy, uneaten things like bread, butter, etc. was sold to a hog farmer.

                                                                  Sometimes I've wondered why one chip is crispy and the next one stale! Could it be?
                                                                  Seriously, how could anyone not understand the health issues of recycling food? Let's see, I'm sick and coughing, blowing my nose and handling chips, bread (or whatever), I don't eat. They put them back and keep them warm. I don't think a little salt on chips is going to help.

                                                                  1. I wouldn't eat there again.

                                                                    At all the Mexican restaurants I've been to down here, it's SOP for the waiter to dump the unused salsa on top of the uneaten chips as they clear the table. I've assumed that it was some sort of way of non-verbally expressing that they served fresh new chips to every customer.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                        It could be from the second or third bowl...


                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                          There is such a beast at my table when we eat out. I don't like to fill up too much on chips in the name of saving room for the main copurse, and my husband skips salsa altogether because of a sensitivity to raw jalapeno.

                                                                          So we never really make much if a dent in either salsa or chip basket, provided I haven't asked them to just not serve the chips at all.