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May 12, 2010 08:11 AM

I cannot eat "strangers'" food

Unless I know a person very well, I cannot eat something homemade by someone who is just a passing acquaintance, a coworker, a friend of a friend, etc. My mother also "suffered' from this and my brother does as well. I was fine until a few years ago. Now, at age 49, I cannot stomach food brought in by coworkers for "pot luck" lunches, etc. Even the smell is enough to put me off. Anyone else "suffer" from this?

(And yes, I do eat out in restaurants, but that does not bother me. I know that is odd, but that's the way it is.)

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  1. Sorry to hear this! Sounds like an anxiety problem that you might approach clinically, or just go with it and be open. People can like you just fine even if there's a quirk in your style. (You gotta be fun.) And maybe it will pass.

    Does this cramp your socializing style much? I can see how dinner parties would become stressful. But you can hit a cocktail party and not eat anything. I often do that, just because I prefer chatting with people over juggling a little plate and a glass. (For me, the glass alone wins.)

    24 Replies
    1. re: Bada Bing

      Oh, this is not a problem on any level. It doesn't cramp my style a bit. My friends and I laugh about it, so it's nothing that even bothers me. I was just wondering who else may have this aversion.

      1. re: ttoommyy

        Good news. Although you miss out on some tastes, you've got solid friends, and there's always restaurants!

        1. re: Bada Bing

          Don't strangers cook your food in restaurants?

          1. re: buttertart

            In case your reply's to my latest post, I'll add that the original poster is the one who said that restaurants are fine. If it ain't broken...

            1. re: Bada Bing

              Oops, sorry - it escaped my notice.

            2. re: buttertart

              Yeah, I mentioned I'm OK with restaurants...more than OK; I eat out almost every weekend. Who knows...the mind is a very complex organ. I find the subject fascinating though.

              1. re: ttoommyy

                It doesn't bother me in the least, food from individuals or restaurants. Used to work for a company at which we used to have "international days" and people would bring in homemade food of their country. Had some amazing treats that way - lumpia shanghai (Filipino spring rolls) the size of my pinkie, lovingly made by one of my coworkers' mother, by the gazillions. It was a very close-knit company and I think this brought us closer together - a lot of us are still friends over 25 years later. But...whatever floats your boat.

                1. re: buttertart

                  "But...whatever floats your boat."

                  lol It's not like I choose to have this behavior. Yes, I admit it's screwy, but it's not like I go out of my way avoiding others' food because it "floats my boat." I just cannot physically bring myself to eat food prepared my people I do not know very well. Just wanted to make this distinction. :)

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    I just meant, if that's your way of dealing with the world, if you are physically unable to bring yourself to eat from other people's kitchens, fine. I just don't feel the same way. I have known a lot of people like you (my mother-in-law conspicuously does not eat Christmas cookies sent them by neighbors, for example).

                2. re: ttoommyy

                  ttoommyy! You have me laughing! If you only knew what MAY be going on back in the kitchen at a restaurant.

                  When I was but a girl I worked in a restaurant where the cook would get hot and his jock itch would trouble him and he would take the corn starch and - dry things out and get some relief - with his bare hand and then proceed to handle the food with the same unwashed hand.

                  I will NEVER ever ever ever forget that. Did I mention never ever? I think of it every time I eat tempura or gravy. $20 bucks sez no home cook did that! LOL

                  I like that affliction though. I may take it up myself. I am rarely thrilled with potlucks. I think maybe you are just clever.

                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                    Sal--I worked in restaurants for many years. My family has owned restaurants. I owned a small dessert catering business for a while. Beleive me, I know what goes on in kitchens! ;)

                    "I like that affliction though. I may take it up myself. I am rarely thrilled with potlucks. I think maybe you are just clever."

                    LOL Maybe!

                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                      Hahaha, well, I'm sure if that fellow was relieving himself in that way in the restaurant kitchen, in front of others, he would probably be guilty of perhaps even worse, in his own home!!

                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                        Thanks for posting Sal Vanilla (great name, btw!).
                        This made me think of one solid reason for my behavior, at least here at work.

                        I have been in the bathroom many times to see a guy go from the stall to right out the door without washing his hands. And I know for a fact that at least two of these guys have brought food in from home for pot luck lunches. Sorry, but I could never not eat anything from those guys knowing what I do.

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          Oh my. Such laughing you inflict on me.

                          We had a group over for dinner not too long ago. Well, I went into the bathroom after the guy who was going to be helping my guy with steaks and the sink was dry and the soap dish untouched. Dry as a bone. I went out and made my poor husband make him wash his hands (I was to cowardly to do it myself). Mr. Ick Hands did not want to wash them. My husband MADE him when he saw me gulping his wine as a revenge move.

                          ** 20 years brings out a lot of passive aggression and phobia. My clearly better half wishes it would bring out a little bravery.

                          Later I saw the guy poking the steaks to test for doneness. I am pretty sure I would have swigged right from the bottle if he did not soap up.

                          Strangely I have no compunction about eating off my own floor or from seedy street vendors. Ignorance is indeed bliss... until about 4-7 hours later.

                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                            Hahaha, that "revenge move" is hilarious. No wine for you, Hubby!! Only fair if you won't be able to eat the steak, I suppose...

                          2. re: ttoommyy

                            you may have just solved my "eating-too-many-calories at work" problem.

                            1. re: westsidegal

                              I mentioned in another post in this thread that we just had a month-long charity drive at work. Every morning there were breakfasts with lots of homemade cakes, muffins, etc. i think I am one of the few in my area who actually lost weight instead of gaining over the last month! lol

                  2. re: ttoommyy

                    I did when I was a kid...I couldn't stomach the idea of someone else handling my at age 45 it sometimes bothers me but not very much...don't know what happened, kind of went away on it's own.

                  3. re: Bada Bing

                    I agree with Bada Bing. Sounds like anxiety. I am germophobic and hate eating at dives or being in dirty places (like public buses). I find that the more I avoid it, the worse my phobia gets. If you find it getting worse, maybe try forcing yourself to face it and symptoms will alleviate?

                    Easier said than done though. I know how that is.

                    1. re: NancyChin

                      You responded to Bada Bing, but are your questions directed to me? If so, I don't want to get over this aversion. I think it saves me not only unwanted calories, but also keeps me from eating bad food. Case in point: We had a month long charity drive at work with various breakfasts, etc. I heard from more than one coworker that they felt sick after eating some of the homemade "goodies."

                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        ttoommyy: I am not of a mind to rag on your preference, but the very point you make here could be taken to confirm rather than refute what NancyChin said. There is no such thing as failsafe eating--home, restaurants, or whatever. If you allow one incident such as you report to seize your imagination and validate a specific food-aversion, then that is what most people, if not you, will call a "problem."

                        But you're doing fine, it seems. I'm not telling you to change. I AM encouraging you to widen your perspective, though.

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          I have eaten at many restaurants, food stands, festivals, etc. in the US and Europe. I have eaten wonderful dinners at friends' and family's homes. I think my perspective is pretty wide already. Thanks.
                          Btw... I have repeated this a few times in this thread: of course I realize there is no failsafe eating. I also realize the psychological aspect of this "quirk." It is what it is. I'm not looking for help; I only started this post to see who else shares this "aversion." That's all.

                      2. re: NancyChin

                        Nancy, ever eat on a train in Mexico, "coach" not first class. I think the chicken sandwich did me in, but the 10 days in Mexico by train and bus, and a couple of days across beautiful West Texas were some of the best in my life. The volcanic eruption coming out of my rear was a price to pay, but a price I'd gladly pay again. Mescal, Tequila and beer probably didn't help, but then again it didn't hurt.

                    2. I am the same way and so is my Mother. I think it's because most people are not very good cooks. I am a pretty good cook but even my wife does not like everything I make. She grew up eating German and Polish food and I like more well seasoned and spicy food, Cajun, Mexican, Italian and BBQ.

                      I can usually handle pot luck because most people bring one of their better dishes. But there is always some pot of glomp that have to avoid.

                      1. Totally with you. Unless I know what your kitchen looks like and have the sense that you're reasonably hygienic and clean, I'm totally skeeved by food from other people's kitchens.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: southernitalian

                          Agree. At least in a resto, hopefully there are health codes being observed.

                          1. I'm not Italian American, but I have a very difficult time eating other people's cooking (except restaurants). I can trace it to a very bad food poisoning event where everyone in my office got sick after a food day. Very sick. Spent the entire Memorial Day weekend being sick and hoping for death. After that, everyone else went back to normal but I see food prepared in unfamiliar, unmonitored kitchens, and I just know someone has done something to contaminate it. They kid me about it at work. Honestly, no one here is that good a cook that I think I'm missing anything.

                            No kidding. Very, very sick.

                            22 Replies
                            1. re: Parrotgal

                              parrotgal - did you post about that on CH before? - I vauguely remember the story.

                              Just curious - was there office chatter about what/who might have been the culprit?

                              I can just imagine!

                              1. re: NellyNel

                                Since so many of us were sick there was a lot of comparing of who ate what, and we never did narrow it down to one thing. My suspicion is that the person who didn't get sick was responsible.

                                1. re: Parrotgal

                                  Highly likely that somebody was carrying a "bug"which you got rather than the food. Just athought.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    My late father-in-law (an MD) said that the vast majority of the "food poisoning" cases he saw were in fact stomach viruses.

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      I believe it. It always makes me laugh when people call out at work and say they have food poisoning, but come in the next morning feeling fine. My friend had food poisoning when we were in our 20s. He literally turned yellowish-green, his arm got numb and he got violently ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. He didn't recover for 3 or 4 days. THAT'S food poisoning.

                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                        If it's the real thing, it can be really dreadful. I hope he recovered quickly?

                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                          "It always makes me laugh when people call out at work and say they have food poisoning, but come in the next morning feeling fine."

                                          Not true. Majority of food posioning patients recover from a few hours to 2 days:

                                          "Most people fully recover from the most common types of food poisoning within 12 - 48 hours."


                                          "Most people begin feeling better within 24-48 hours."


                                        2. re: buttertart

                                          Whether food poisoning or a stomach virus, exposure usually happens the same way: improper handwashing. So in a situation where a potluck or a dinner at a restaurant leaves a bunch of people ill, it is likely that someone involved in food preparation/serving touched the food with unclean hands, thereby contaminating it, and then people ate it.


                                  2. re: Parrotgal

                                    Very interesting Parrotgal. Sounds horrific. And I know what you mean when you say, "no one here is that good a cook that I think I'm missing anything."

                                    I wonder if my family can trace this thing back to some major episode while growing up. Maybe it happened to my mother and it became a learned behavior by my brother and eventually me. Hmmmm.

                                    1. re: Parrotgal

                                      Sounds like a generalized version of why some people will never try another mussel or whatever after a bad experience. My only collective food poisoning was when I was a young child, from a neighbor's potato salad left out too long at a picnic. I think I was among the sick (at maybe 5 years old), but I'm sure that lots of people got burned. Hasn't stopped us from heading back to the trough, though! Not sure if that makes us evolutionarily hardy or foolhardy!

                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        Hey, I read/ saw something that said, it's not the mayo that spoils the potato salad, It's the onions???

                                        1. re: flylice2x

                                          onions are slightly anti-microbial, so it's not the onions.

                                          What spoils the salad is temperature abuse and contamination during food handling.

                                          1. re: Bryn

                                            Exactly. If correctly made, mayonnaise has enough acid content (lemon juice and white vinegar) to stabilize it even if it's hanging out in the sun for awhile at a picnic.

                                            Invariably something really bioactive (raw meat) comes in contact with the knife/board being used to prepare the potatoes. The surface of the potato provides a nice, moist (typically warm) surface that will cause bacteria to grow exponentially. By the time the dressing's on the potatoes, there's already trouble brewing that can't be negated by the small amount of acid in the dressing.

                                            Now, all that being said, the Federal and local food guidelines all dictate that cold foods must be stored and served at no higher than 40 degrees F. Hot foods must be kept hot -- out of the danger area that exists between 40 degrees and 160 degrees.

                                            1. re: shaogo

                                              Are there really still people out there who let other food come into contact with a raw-meat-contaminated cutting board? That is just mind-boggling to me. Those things are strictly and immediately washed, or isolated till they can be washed in my kitchen.

                                              1. re: sonia darrow

                                                Yes, I have done it many times. If I am making steak tartare then chopped onions, capers and other stuff will be cut on the same board. The same goes for the veg I will be throwing in the stew.

                                                A washed wooden board that is allowed to air dry results in little cross-contamination. Shellfish are worse culprits than meat. Foodstuffs that give off a juice as they 'age' are the worst as the liquor is a far better medium for bacterial growth. Certain foodstuffs such as boiled rice can be a bad contaminant as certain bacteria that enjoy this leave little trace in terms of aroma and taste. (We can tell when fish has gone off.) Most cross contamination occurs in the fridge. Luckily I don't store my chopping boards there. In fact I store them vertically. This is safer as it does not leave a wet sandwiched layer.

                                                Maybe, as SF would say, I live in a magic kitchen. I think most people do. See how many cases you can find of food poisoning in the home due to using (after washing) a meat cutting board for something else. Good luck!

                                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                                    Well sure, it's fine after washing. I don't bleach mine or anything (as many people seem to recommend these days).

                                                  2. re: sonia darrow

                                                    Yes, there are! I cooked a meal with some people from my church that was to be served to people at a low-income and elderly housing place, and I was stunned by some of the unsafe practices I saw. Raw meat touching salad ingredients, people mixing meatloaf with unwashed hands, you name it. And when the organizers of this event asked if I wanted to join them for the meal? Um, no thanks. Non-CH types, the ones who just eat to live, are rarely educated about food hygiene.

                                                    1. re: sonia darrow

                                                      Some people just don't know. Teaching friend about cooking now and he told me if I hadn't said anything he would have put his cooked chicken back on the plate where he was keeping the raw chicken.

                                                      1. re: melpy

                                                        Seriously? Does your friend think the only reason to cook the chicken is personal preference?

                                                        1. re: Full tummy

                                                          He just didn't have any concept of any of the WHY behind any of the cooking.

                                                1. re: flylice2x

                                                  No I have read that it is the potatoes/macaroni that are the problem. Cooks Illustrated, I believe.

                                            2. i'm terrified! bbq's are the worst: burnt meat, not thoroughly cooked inside. some people even take the meat from the freezer and directly onto the grate!!! marinades are not good, limp salads, use the same tools for raw and cooked food. my stomach churns.