HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >

Discussion

Avoid eating out due to flu in the air?

I have a certain reluctance to be eating out in restaurants lately due to the widespread flu infections. Restaurants seem like an infectious minefield - menus, credit cards, staff that are not given sick time etc. etc. Do others feel the same or am I just being overly howard hughsian??

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. We went out to dinner last night and the whole flu thing didn't cross my mind at all. Ditto for our trip to the super-crowded Trader Joe's in the afternoon.

    So I guess it isn't affecting my shopping/dining out habits.

    1. Well, now that we know that viruses and not evil spirits cause influenza I think caution is warranted, for sure, during outbreaks. For example, I've been sticking to eating hot foods only - and get my veggies from, for example, cooked broccoli instead of salad. Behavioral and dietary modifications are smart. If someone sneezes over your Cobb Salad, done.

      $.02

      1. nah- hadn't occurred to me. Restaurants are really no different than grocery stores or even my office building. You just need to take the usual precautions.

        1. Must admit that I tend to hibernate during the winter months anyway. I am not very good at being sociable at the best of times, but when it is cold outside (UK), then I really don't want to venture out at all.

          My OH and I discussed going to our favourite sea food restaurant for lunch today - but then opted out as it is not the best heated place in the winter.

          1. I have a sister-n-law germophobe that is extreme and gets sick a lot more than I do, but she won't eat at buffets because of the common use buffet spoons.

            I especially love a good Indian buffet, but in response to her putting me on utensil alert, I now eat my naan with the other hand. It's just not very practical to wash one's hands between trips to the line. but it's cheap insurance. These germs have a lot more probable and concentrated route of entry if they have a vehicle other than "dust in the wind" to get them from a sicko to you.

            A two dollar cloth glove for pumping gas is not a bad idea either.

            1 Reply
            1. re: slowcoooked

              Small bottle of purell (or a generic version) in the pocket for restaurants - keeping in mind that Purell and other hand sanitizers so now kill viruses and they are not that effective for respiratory/airborne illnesses.

              Box of disposable latex (or latex free for those allergic to latex) for the car, used for multiple things, from picking up crud, anything that involves popping the hood, putting on snow chains - anything that involves handling dirt and/or chemicals.

            2. You use your credit cards in plenty of other establishments...staff are not given sick time in other establishments, either (and let's be realistic -- sometimes it is possible to pass the virus on without being sick at all, so that's really not an indicator) --

              This page will tell you that you are no more likely to get the flu in a restaurant than you are at home, at school, at work, or just...living:

              http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/...

              1. No, not overly whatever. We had a new buffet place open, someone was there with a norovirus type thing, and over 300 people got quite ill.
                It was investigated and tested, and those were the conclusions. It was not food illness, but a highly contagious virus.
                As for the flu, yes, we are being hermits, too. It is an epidemic. Our county ran out of the vaccines at public health, there are people in ICU.

                18 Replies
                1. re: wyogal

                  and just to clarify my above post in the same light as yours....

                  If the flu is really bad (which it sounds like is the case near wyogal) then staying out of public places is not a bad idea...

                  ...but restaurants are no more or less a hotbed of the flu virus than anywhere else.

                  (norovirus is intestinal...but behaves differently than the flu virus)

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Right, I know it is intestinal, but it's a virus that was spread in a horrific way by those frequenting the restaurant while sick. Like people eating there, going to finish their weekend shopping, then spontaneously puking in stores. whole families.
                    and it, the flu, is really bad nation-wide.
                    I am trying to stay away from those other places, too, but have a week in schools coming up tomorrow. I try not to hug anyone and am a freak about handwashing, using sterilizing stuff on the grocery carts, trying not to get too close to anybody, speaking to the side and not directly into a person's face.
                    Just because it's not any worse than the other public places, doesn't mean that it's O.K., it means it's just as bad.
                    I went down with it on December 22nd, and yesterday was the first day I felt decent.

                    1. re: wyogal

                      Yes -- that not eating out isn't going to change your odds any, either way -- no reason to shun restaurants in particular.

                      You're particularly vulnerable to norovirus in a restaurant because you're putting the virus directly into your digestive tract.

                      By comparison, the flu virus has to end up in your respiratory tract..and the flu virus doesn't survive for as long outside a host as the norovirus does.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I'm just shunning places where people gather, if I can. If I don't have to be there, I'm not.
                        Good points about the norovirus. I guess with the combination of the flu at epidemic proportions, and that incident here, I am wary.
                        :)

                        1. re: wyogal

                          hard not to be -- and glad you're feeling better.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Thanks, It was horrific, like delirious horrific for days and days. Hopefully, my time in schools will be good this week. I'll be with 4th and 5th graders tomorrow, and they don't hug. whew.

                            1. re: wyogal

                              That's what's making me more cautious this year. Everyone I know who's had it has been down for at least a week and been really sick.

                        2. re: sunshine842

                          There is an article in the local paper today about the increasing spread of the norovirus across the U.S. An infectious disease specialist, interviewed for the article, said that it is exceptionally easy to catch, and the article went on to note that, in some instances, norovirus is transmitted through food via preparers' unsanitary hands. I think I’ll stick to eating in for the next few weeks.

                          1. re: tcamp

                            Oh no! I wish I could un-know that.

                        3. re: wyogal

                          Good Lord, Wyo! I am so sorry for the severity of your illness! Wow! I'm normally "hand clean" conscientious but I go into overdrive during flu season.

                          SO hangs out w/ friends that for some odd reason ALWAYS want to kiss. Full on the lips. Men and women both. I start offering my cheek as another option starting in September and muttering "Cold and flu season". I don't avoid places but I do stay on high(er) alert for cleanliness.

                          1. re: JerryMe

                            It's been awful. But, I am feeling better, and my bloodwork turned out well, I didn't damage the liver. whew.
                            But, I didn't "high five" kids today at school.
                            We also had a lockdown due to a threat of violence (all schools in the town were locked down), so most of my morning stuff got canceled. We were allowed to leave the building when the lockdown was lifted, but the enrichment activities were cancelled until after lunch.

                            1. re: wyogal

                              Wow, you are just not having a good time of it lately! I'm sorry to hear you got so sick, but happy you're doing better and that no lasting damage was done. You're now due for a few good days, I think!

                              1. re: alliegator

                                It's been crazy, but, hopefully things will calm down! At least I am feeling much better and am able to resume a normal schedule again.
                                Oh yeah, by the time school got out, they arrested the guy, several states away. He just picked our town at random, graphic threats of violence.

                            2. re: JerryMe

                              a couple of years ago, during the "swine flu" scare, France did its best to keep people from doing the kiss on both cheeks because of the impending epidemic (that never actually happened)

                              It didn't work. People are very cognizant, however, of the proximity issues -- if they're feeling unwell, they'll apologize and not give bisous -- but if everyone's feeling healthy, culture prevails.

                            3. re: wyogal

                              Yikes - three weeks! The doctor tells my aunties, every year, to avoid public spaces during the winter months as much as possible. They are in their 80's and get the flu shot, but the doctor said they should skip going to the movies and order in from Netflix instead.
                              Glad you're starting to feel better.

                            4. re: sunshine842

                              I've had the Norovirus before. It hits with the same symptoms as a bad case of food poisoning.

                              1. re: PotatoHouse

                                Yep, which is why it took awhile for the health department to figure it out. it was awful. A friend saw a whole family start puking in Wal-Mart. barf-o-rama

                                1. re: wyogal

                                  Gross, I'd have been traumatized by that sight. Sounds even more repulsive than People of Walmart videos.

                          2. Statistically, you're more likely to get influenza from your kids ... schools are all pest holes, ya know. Just use common sense, wash your hands a lot, sneeze into your elbow, get enough sleep and GET A FLU SHOT.

                            1. Might as well stay home then.
                              I think the annual odds are pretty good for wellness.

                              1. Wee usually keep a low profile in the winter during flu season. However, this year we are flying to Aruba in Feb. I'm planning to keep the sani-wash bottle in my purse and using it liberally. I actually used it in church this am after a gal grabbed my hand and pulled me over to her to tell me how sick she has been since Christmas. I'm not a germaphobe, but I seem to get bronchitis VERY easily, and I'd heard her hacking earlier. I will do whatever I think will help on the trip. You can't avoid all the germs, but can use common sense and wash hands often with germ killing agents.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Nanzi

                                  When my husband went in for surgery on the 21st of Dec, I watched as a couple of friends of the receptionist came in, and talked about how sick they were, they went over and helped themselves to the coffee, and the receptionist went on and on about how sick she was the night before, up all night puking.
                                  gawd.
                                  I spoke to the office manager, discreetly, and then watched as he insisted that she go home.
                                  In our churches, they tell people to nod instead of shaking hands during the sharing of the peace, during this time.
                                  Some people..... Hope you don't get sick.

                                2. DH and I ate out yesterday, and I was a little appalled at the number of people who cough without covering their mouths, or cough/sneeze into their hands. When I'm ill I stay home, and while I realize that's not possible in many instances I do wish someone with a gooey cough wouldn't hit the buffet.

                                  I like the idea though that I've built up a certain immunity to "the cooties" by braving the outside world. I know someone who is homebound (anxiety disorder) and who regularly becomes ill, perhaps her immune system might be more robust if she exposed herself to the world at large. Of course, if the cooties are gonna get us, they'll get us despite our best efforts, cooties are sneaky that way.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: afridgetoofar

                                    Sometimes the fear of getting sick is worse than actually getting sick.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Just ask Howard Hughes. Or at least anyone who knew him.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        If I could "Like" this comment, I'd do it 100X. So true (and this is written by a Nervous Nellie).

                                    2. Two words: Flu shot!
                                      And I just keep on eatin'...

                                      25 Replies
                                      1. re: alliegator

                                        http://www.scientificamerican.com/art...

                                        "But science on the vaccine’s efficacy is scant among those two vulnerable groups. And although healthy adults do get some protection, it may not be as robust as they expect."

                                        I'm not staying out of all public places because I need groceries and other stuff, but am avoiding eating out. I don't get the vaccine either, since the only years I've had flu in the past two decades were years in which I got the vaccine. Milder upper respiratory stuff, but just as long and miserable otherwise. Haven't had flu in the years since refusing the vaccine.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          True. and I know some feel sick from the actual shot. But I'd rather have some protection and not limit my activities.

                                          1. re: alliegator

                                            I'm not anti vaccine, except in my case, because I react in a way that has raised my flu risk. I think the risk/benefit calculation is different for everyone and it's good to know how to go about making the decision either way.

                                            1. re: alliegator

                                              <But I'd rather have some protection>

                                              This, I agree with. I'm around K-12 kids and a huge population of adults who're coughing and sick and out in public. I'm absolutely amazed at the amount of them who're not innoculated for some very serious diseases. So many diseases that were, at one time, eradicated are now being introduced again.
                                              Flu shots are a simple, innocuous, and helpful way to be, at least, a little protected from the flu when sick people don't have the good sense to stay away from well people.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                The immuno-compromised folks are happy you got a flu shot, too.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  That's one of the main reasons I'm militant about getting it. Every several months I go back to my home state and visit my 91 year old grandfather at his retirement community. I enjoy spending my days hanging out with him and his friends. So I'm at least a lot less likely to be dragging the flu in.

                                                  1. re: alliegator

                                                    Good for you! The vaccine is less effective in the elderly, so they're that much more dependent on not being exposed in the first place. Keep up that herd immunity.

                                                    1. re: Meann

                                                      Wow, I'd never heard the term "herd immunity" until today. It makes sense. My thought was just that before I stroll into the old folks' apartment building, I've been on a couple of planes, through a couple of airports and out at the stores buying candy and treats that get shared. A little bottle of Purell isn't going to knock out everything I'd been through in a day like that.

                                                      1. re: alliegator

                                                        No, but the fact you're immunized and cognizant enough to have used the Purell means you're not a whole lot more dangerous than any of the other visitors, or anything they've carried in with them.

                                                        1. re: alliegator

                                                          Interestingly, one of the first things my MIL's assisted living facility did when a bug started spreading was to discontinue all shared food opportunities in the building. They shut down the "Bistro" with its coffee/tea service, popcorn machine, cookie and fruit platters where tongs were used until the flu and noro viruses are done with.

                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                            Shutting things like that down are a great idea when sickness is spreading.
                                                            Off topic, how nice that they have so many options for snacks like that. I could start a whole other thread on what I think of the food served to our older folks in these places.
                                                            In my pap's place, there's a community kitchen where residents or family members can cook and nothing makes me happier than when curious folks come in to have some stuff I made that didn't come out of a can or was chipped off a frozen block.

                                                            1. re: alliegator

                                                              I would have loved that when I was a resident at one of those facilities this last summer! It was hard enough to get them to cancel regular food when my folks would bring in something good from "outside".

                                                              1. re: tracylee

                                                                My MIL is in a very nice hotel like assisted living facility. One can always just not come to a meal (though staff have to contact them if they don't show up, to make sure they're ok) or have a tray brought up to her if unwell. There's also a very nice private dining room for residents to use if they have family coming to visit. No one but residents is permitted in the dining room, since that's also when they very discreetly count heads to make sure everyone is accounted for.

                                                              2. re: alliegator

                                                                I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the food... following the USDA guidelines, the meals are carb heavy, and low fat, and most of those folks are diabetic. :-( There are better options available, but I'm told by the manager that by law, they *must* put a potato or other starch on the plate... the snacks are fruit, cookies, popcorn and the bistro and dining room are very comfortable and beautiful. The food is well prepared, but not what these folks need, including MIL, who is there because she cannot remember how to eat properly.

                                                                They're so fortunate you're spending the time and making the effort to bring real cooking to them.

                                                                I keep my MIL supplied with cheese sticks, nuts and low carb chocolate protein shakes that her companions remind her to have to prevent post dining room hypoglycemia... she could no longer remember she had them, or where her fridge was.

                                                                1. re: mcf

                                                                  I found that they not only have to follow guidelines and dietary recommendations from doctors (mine were way out of date), but most residents, regardless of their health, expect food to be what they used to have at home. So that's what the chefs cater to.

                                                                  It's great when residents have an advocate from outside to make sure they're getting what they need.

                                                                  I'd go on, but I know this is OT.

                                                                  1. re: tracylee

                                                                    In assisted living, they don't accept doctor's orders for diet, except maybe in the memory unit. Residents must be able to ask for what they want and not eat what's presented if it's bad for them. My MIL has no memory, and her aide is not permitted in the dining room with her when she orders or eats. :-/

                                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                                      There were plenty of times that I'd end up with grilled cheese sandwiches based on what was offered. I didn't realize that they were restricting my diet texture until they were serving cheeseburgers and mine looked more like a sloppy joe. I asked about it and was told about the restriction. Ummm, there was a restriction on texture 4 years ago due to surgery, so I'm not sure where they got it from.

                                                                      My roommate who's teeth didn't fit well enough for her to chew things asked for and received a pork chop for breakfast one morning. She didn't feel well for a few days after upchucking that.

                                                                      Communication was not the facility's strong point.

                                                                    2. re: tracylee

                                                                      Thanks, MCF. I wish I could be doing it more. But here is Texas and there is Pennsylvania :/
                                                                      My pap's place is a nice, new construction, awesome staff and all that. But the food is so carb heavy and salty. It is, however, on par with what he ate at home because my late grandmother was an awesome lady with no cooking skills.
                                                                      I just would just be happier to see healthier meals, especially during these winter months when it is so easy to pick up the flu or any other bug. obviously, if you eat good stuff, it can only help your immunity. All I can really do is ensure that he takes his vitamins and makes common sense choices.
                                                                      Ok, I'll shut up on this topic now;)

                                                        2. re: sunshine842

                                                          Yeah...

                                                          I think the CDC's motivation is to make sure everyone's immunized so the spread is weakened.
                                                          Even if the flu shot is just a placebo (in some people's minds) I think, psychologically, it's a plus.

                                                            1. re: tcamp

                                                              a friend of mine's daughter has just finally gotten into remission after a long battle with leukemia.

                                                              Herd immunity is a big, fat, hairy deal at her house.

                                                              1. re: tcamp

                                                                <one of my favorite public health terms>

                                                                Mine too....great point. I always wonder about those little kiddos whose parents have chosen not to immunize them. The industry that i'm affiliated with immunizes all of us (by choice of course but we all do it) so we're not putting children and the immune compromised at risk. It's not just for us but for those we come in contact with.

                                                      2. re: mcf

                                                        but restaurants aren't any higher-risk than anywhere else you go.

                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                          Yes, but they're an additional risk exposure, an optional one. I'm going to the public places I must, and avoiding the exposures that are optional.

                                                      3. We were at a movie last night where the couple next to us was coughing and hacking.

                                                        Also, at a buffet, I got to thinking about all the (possibly sick) people touching the serving spoons.

                                                        However, the threat of the flu has not stopped us from going out.

                                                        My rationale... We received our flu shots; we have an immune system and we try to minimize hand to eye/face contact.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: dave_c

                                                          It's that nost to air contact that's the real bitch. ;-)

                                                        2. Seems to me that restaurants are no more risky than other public places, including transportation, theatres, libraries... Less so, maybe. In restaurants at least, the law requires kitchen and wait staff to wash their hands! Unless you're going to hole up at home until the flu is past, there's no reason I can see for avoiding restaurants in particular.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: John Francis

                                                            It's no worse, maybe, but that means it's just as bad. In our neck of the woods, avoiding any large group of people is prudent. The flu is rampant, and believe me, no fun. We have a shortage of vaccines, public health ran out and is not getting any more. One can find some at their doctor's office, and a few pharmacies have a few left.

                                                          2. It never crossed my mind. If I had a compromised immune system, yes, but as a healthy adult, no. There are more dangers in driving your car than in getting the flu. Our lives are fraught with dangers when you think about it. Not to make anyone who's already neurotic more neurotic....;-)

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              I dunno about "danger".

                                                              For me, anyway, the worst part of the flu is just how awful it makes you feel. I usu. get aches, pains, chills and a fever that burns like a NYC pizza oven.

                                                              I don't really have fear of dying from the flu, just the fear of being inconvenienced.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                Sorry I wasn't clear. I meant getting the flu is one of the dangers, not that getting the flu has dangers, in general. There are dangers lurking everywhere, not just in getting the flu from eating out.

                                                            2. I'm not avoiding anything. From working on the periphery of the healthcare sector, I'm pretty conscientious about hand washing and I did have a flu shot back in October. I have a normal immune function so I buy into the "low level exposure to most germs is good" school of thought.

                                                              1. I think the office is by FAR the most likely place to pick up a bug. Public transit is up there too. Oh and schools...restaurants don't even rate, in my book. I don't even know why they would--there's probably more handwashing in restaurants than in your office or in schools. Are people afraid that the bug is in their food and that's how they are going to catch it? I don't think that makes sense, given how the virus actually spreads...

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: christy319

                                                                  Filling your own gas tank?
                                                                  ATM machines?
                                                                  Valet parking with someone's handling of your steering wheel?
                                                                  The point is...
                                                                  Where does it end?

                                                                  1. re: christy319

                                                                    yes, and flat surfaces are washed/wiped down far more regularly!

                                                                    There was a report not too many years ago about desks in offices frequently have more bacteria than a toilet seat...and we won't even go into most office kitchen areas. (you really don't want to know....)

                                                                    Public transport is a great big one -- I attended a flu seminar a couple of years ago here in Paris -- the expert giving the talk said flat-out that the best thing you can do is wear gloves on the subway -- and then put them in the wash.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      I read that report too about desks. Since I usually eat lunch at my desk most days, I am sure I was a culprit in the germ breeding offensive. Anyway, I started using Clorox wipes periodically which makes me feel better. Possible placebo, who knows.

                                                                    2. re: christy319

                                                                      Agreed to all the above. Our poor mailman was sick as a skunk today. So the germs came to us, in a form. We're being vigilant about hand washing, not touching our faces, etc. But everyone should do what they're comfortable with.

                                                                    3. In the past month I have probably eaten out a dozen and half times.....and in all honesty unless you want to stay hold up in your home until the virus epidemic passes I don't feel you are at any greater risk than anywhere else in the general public.

                                                                      If you have to go to work and work in an interior environment, office, warehouse, retail you are just as vulnerable as you are in a restaurant.

                                                                      The key is to be diligent in keeping yourself clean and healthy. Wash your hands often....use hand sanitizer and whatever else that keeps you as germ free as possible. Don't live in fear just take proper precautions....or stay home!

                                                                      1. Not at all. In fact, that seems an arbitrary choice, assuming you are otherwise out and about in the world.

                                                                        My primary mode of transportation is a crowded subway train. I work in a large office. I grocery shop and sit in movie theaters and go see bands play. Avoiding people just isn't in the cards for me, so I get a flu shot, wash my hands often, carry Purell and hope for the best.