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Restaurants not fully labelling undercooked food items on menus; how to politely raise issue...

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I'm in the midst of my first pregnancy and am now a cautious eater.

I have noticed that some menu items have * that indicates something like "Notice: The consumption of raw or undercooked eggs, meat, poultry, seafood or shellfish may increase your risk of food borne illness." Often this is on some seafood dishes, eggs, and burgers. BUT I have seen many menus where dishes are not starred but following conversation really ought to be.

I feel like such a jerk asking things like "Is your deviled egg made with aioli with raw egg in it? Is that raw egg pasturized?" or "Do you make your caesar salad dressing from scratch or from a bottle?" or "The toasted meringue on top of that s'mores tart sounds delicious; does it have raw egg in it?"

I hate being so obnoxious, but at the same time, would rather not consume things that are potentially hazardous. What is best way to deal with this? It is only my knowledge of recipes and cooking that has prompted me to ask these questions, and I'm sure there are people with compromised immune systems who don't know that housemade pepperoni that rests on top of an artisnal pizza rather than being baked in could be on their verboten list.

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  1. I know people don't like hearing this, but maybe you should just avoid those items for the next 9 months. I would bet your server probably doesn't know the answer and is it really worth all of the commotion if you can't get a definitive answer? It's not like you can never have those items again, you just need to wait a few months.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Philly Ray

      I agree 100%.

      I rarely avoided any food while pregnant except for raw fish so I just stayed away from raw sushi and didn't eat the kind of fish I prefer just lightly seared or cooked rare-like tuna and salmon.

      It's really not that long a time to "go with out"

      1. re: foodieX2

        Also agree. I was not a worrier when it came to most foods but if you are that concerned, why take a chance?

    2. Diners need to take personal responsibility for their food choices......the onus is on them. If you need special requirements, then you need to announce them beforehand. sometimes you can be accommodated and sometimes not.

      1. the enormous risk you are taking if the server doesn't get it right is, imho, not worth the inconvenience of sticking soley to "safe" food during the course of your pregnancy.

        the probabliliy of something going wrong with raw product may be low, but if you happen to be the person who comes up with the wrong number, the results can be worse than disastrous.
        best to play it absolutely safe during this period and assume that all servers and cooks don't really know what they are talking about.

        4 Replies
        1. re: westsidegal

          Are you a physician?

          1. re: Nayners

            It isn't necessary to be a physician to be aware of, and concerned about, potential hazards in food. But I don't think restaurants have an obligation beyond meeting food safety codes.

          2. re: westsidegal

            <best to play it absolutely safe during this period and assume that all servers and cooks don't really know what they are talking about..>

            That is a bit harsh. Everyone who is pregnant has different ideas about what they should or shouldn't eat. As long as they go to a competent restaurant and explain that they are pregnant and what they wish to avoid, your needs should be accommodated.

            I have worked in many kitchens and have always known my ingredients. I knew what cheeses were or were not pasteurized, I knew what meats were cooked, vs smoked vs cured vs raw, etc.

            Really not a big deal to work with any food restriction for any reason as long as the diner explains that they have a restriction, and what they need to avoid, before ordering. Bonus points for calling ahead and making sure you can be accommodated.

            Maybe all restaurants are not run this way, but as long as you communicate with restaurants you don't have to hide at home and never eat out.

            1. re: TeRReT

              "Bonus points for calling ahead and making sure you can be accommodated"

              That is a key point and the wisest course of action for the OP if she wishes to eat items she is concerned about.

              There are so many variables to getting correct information at the time of ordering. Language barriers with back of the house, servers not well versed in ingredients and preparations, and timing. I've seen managers running expo on a busy night scream "no questions - get out!" and fire the server who tried to get a dietary question answered...Obviously much will depend upon the venue.

              Unless it is high-end dining where the OP can communicate prior to the meal I think it is just safer to forgo the items she is concerned about.

          3. It sounds like you know what items to be concerned about so if I were you I would just skip them. Do you go out to eat so frequently that you couldn't make those "problem" items at home when the desire strikes? If I was worried, that's what I would do.

            1. Aren't restaurants forced to make the 'Notice: ...' by local or state laws?

              http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Docum...
              is the Washington State regulations regarding eggs. Note special rules for 'FACILITIES THAT SERVE A HIGHLY SUSCEPTIBLE POPULATION'

              Dishes that may require the advisory or pasteurized eggs:
              - Eggs served sunny-side up, poached, or scrambled
              - Caesar dressing
              - Hollandaise sauce
              - Eggnog
              - Ice cream
              - Tiramisu
              - Meringue for pies
              - Egg-fortified beverages

              3 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                Varies very widely. More likely to be true in nanny-ish jurisdictions, less so elsewhere.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Even if a state requires a warning it doesn't mean that the dish will be cooked to FDA "safe" standards.

                  Here in Mass there is an asterisk on basically any dish that can be ordered "rare" with the following warning:

                  “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”

                  Doesn't mean you can't eat it or order raw or undercooked foods.

                  Which is why I think a pregnant woman who is nervous or concerned is better off just avoiding the foods they are worried about. It is such a short period time, if you are that worried don't eat it. Is it really worth the stress it is causing the mother?

                  1. re: foodieX2

                    "Short period of time, just avoid...." you know, that seems like pretty good common sense advice.

                    As a dad, I did enjoy feeling those little punches & kicks a little sugar seemed to bring about. :)

              2. Everyone has their own level of comfort when it comes to undercooked foods. During both of my pregnancies, I avoided raw fish (sushi), but women in Japan eat raw fish throughout their pregnancies without ill effects. I ate lunchmeat both times, but my SIL avoided places like Subway during her pregnancies because of listeria.

                Obviously, meringue is made from raw egg whites that is either baked in a low heat until dry or just toasted on top. If you're concerned, order something else to avoid any possible risks. Or ask for it without the meringue. But if you are that worried about it, then stick to the "tried and true" items that have no potential issues. Get vinaigrette dressing instead of the caesar or blue cheese. Get the beet carpacchio instead of devilled eggs, etc.

                1. I think if the fear is of being obnoxious or avoiding being obnoxious, then perhaps the best method would be to call the restaurant during off hours.

                  Talking on the phone at that time, and not in the middle of an active service may result in someone having the time to get the exact answers - or give you a better impression if the staff is simply not educated enough to be trusted on such issues. And if you're concerned that you're not being taken seriously, on the phone you can say that you're asking due to a compromised immune system.

                  Another idea would be to look at the suggestions and methods of those with celiac disease (where they are very concerned about glueten presence perhaps as opposed to a trend dieter) which may also give you insight on how to approach restaurants.

                  1. I suppose that is because I have read "the fine print" so often, that I never worry. I know of many (most?) potential problems, so just go beyond.

                    If it bothers you, pull the service captain, the GM, or the chef aside, and express your concerns.

                    Hunt

                    1. Congratulations on the upcoming baby! It's a thrilling time. I devoured the "What to Expect" series of books that were popular when I was pregnant. It made me hyper-aware of everything, which is good and bad.

                      You are informed and concerned, rightfully so. I agree with many posters that if you are THAT concerned and don't want to appear to be obnoxious, just skip the things that are on your list of possible hazards. Ultimately, you are the one responsible.

                      9 months in the scheme of life is pretty short for most. Stick with the safe stuff.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: justalex

                        When my wife was first pregnant, we both read the What to Expect books. One piece of advice I remember reading was avoid eating spicy food like Chinese or Mexican. I asked my wife what do the pregnant woman in China and Mexico do for 9 months? Do they hunt down bland American restaurant food? I imagined a Chinese woman trying to find mac and cheese in Beijing. We had a chuckle. A truly ethnocentric series of books.

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          Word. And how about all those French and Italian women drinking their wine and eating their unpasteurized milk cheeses?

                          1. re: pdxgastro

                            actually, French women don't drink wine or eat unpasteurized cheeses when they're pregnant -- it's a pretty new shift, but I know several French mamans who were warned to avoid raw-milk cheeses during their grossesse.

                            But as a whole, yes -- we seem to have lost sight of the fact that the birthrate has somehow managed to exceed the deathrate throughout our collective history, despite disease/war/lack of sanitation/medical care. The human body (and the universe) protects unborn children in way that leave me slackjawed in awe and wonder.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              And we are still just learning how much elimination contributes to propensity to allergies.

                        2. re: justalex

                          I wish the entire series of "What to Expect" could be destroyed. It has ruined the pregnancies of so many women, because it is written in a manner designed to scare the living shit out of anyone who reads even a single paragraph.

                          I'm not a worrier, but I drove myself nuts when I read that stupid book....once I chucked it in the garbage, I began to actually enjoy my pregnancies.

                          It's one thing to tell people about the risks and how to avoid them -- it's another to leave a woman frightened to do much more than breathe because OHMYGOD it could be dangerous.

                          Try "The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy" -- has lots of very straightforward advice, wrapped in enough truly funny writing to wake your spouse up because you're shaking the bed trying not to laugh out loud.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Exactly! That's why my suggestion to the OP is to discuss her feelings with her physician. These books will send women spiraling into neurosis.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              You said it much better than I did with "scare the living shit out of anyone who reads even a single paragraph."

                              True, so very true.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Completely agree.

                                Now, I took a few precautions when I was PG - the obvious and easy ones, but as a woman of strong Greek ancestry, there was no way I was avoiding feta cheese the whole 9 months. Basically after the first trimester, I ate pretty normal stuff and even had a half a cup of coffee a day, and a small glass of wine here and there in the last tri. If I was in doubt about something like stuff the OP asks, I would just skip it and get something else - get the Casear with a different dressing or get a different salad or whatever.

                            2. The first thing you should do is discuss your concerns with your physician. If you are healthy, you can eat what you want. Just because someone has "compromised immune systems" doesn't mean they'd have to avoid "pepperoni that rests on top of an artisnal pizza". I think you are over-thinking the issue.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Nayners

                                This repeats a common misconception which gets repeated again and again on this website: that "healthy" people can eat what they want without risk. The fact is, anyone can get food poisoning and food poisoning can cause severe illness. Even though food poisoning is rare, it seems prudent to me to reduce the risk of food poisoning during pregnancy by avoiding those foods most likely to cause it. No one should have to suffer the stress of food poisoning during pregnancy.

                                1. re: GH1618

                                  (although even pepperoni cooked on an artisanal pizza...and raw-milk cheese, for that matter, has by definition been cooked on the pizza and thereby passes over to "safe" in most cases)

                                  Raw pepperoni, yes should be avoided, but cooked on a pizza, not so much.

                                  Obviously, ymmv, speak with your doctor, one size does not fit all, yadda yadda yadda.....

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    It comes down to statistical risk.

                                    Listeria, salmonella, fish parasites - these are low probability illnesses. Your chances of catching one of them is very small. They are, however, much more serious an illness if you have a comprised immune system (or are very elderly, or very young), and can't fight off illness as well. In some cases, they are easier to catch if you are pregnant or immune compromised. If you are pregnant, they can cause problems for the baby as well. So people who are more susceptible to these illnesses are advised to avoid riskier foods (raw eggs, raw fish, unpasturized cheese, lunch meat, bean sprouts etc), even though the actual chances of getting the illness are small.

                                    For things like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, etc the situation is slightly different - consuming large quantities of the active substance has been shown pretty conclusively to be bad for developing babies, but it is not conclusively known what the maximum safe exposure is. For medicine, most of the time the situation is "we don't know if it causes birth defects, but we don't know it doesn't, either, so avoid it unless necessary".

                                    So, from a practical perspective, women are advised to avoid a whole bunch of stuff while pregnant, either because there is a low probability of a serious illness, or because the substance causes problems when taken in too large a quantity, or because a substance may or may not cause problems.

                                    However, for most stuff it's not like a peanut allergy - if a morsel of unpasturized cheese finds its way into your salad, or the pepperoni in your pizza wasn't hand made, or the sauce has some wine in it, the odds are very strongly that it won't affect you or the baby.

                                    And the "just avoid everything that might be a problem, it's only nine months" sounds good, it can be difficult to implement - the sheer number of things you're supposed to avoid, combined with morning sickness and aversions, can make it difficult.

                                    A quick list of things to avoid, that I've come across on major pregnancy sites.

                                    Seafood high in mercury, smoked salmon, undercooked seafood, seafood from polluted water, undercooked meat, poultry and eggs, pate and meat spreads. Deli meats and hot-dogs unless cooked until boiling. Eggs unless cooked hard. Soft cheeses. Milk from cows that were fed growth hormones. Food packaged in containers using BPA (includes many canned and bottled foods), Caffeine. Alcohol. Inadequately washed vegetables. Bean sprouts. Fresh squeezed fruit juices. Ham salad, chicken salad, seafood salad. Eggnog. Nuts, eggs and milk.

                                    Avoiding deli meats might be easy. Quizzing your server about how well they wash their vegetables, what sort of cow the milk came from, and the food packaging is a lot trickier.

                              2. There are several ways "uncooked" foods are treated to make them safe.

                                People are taught taught to fear dishes with raw eggs without being educated that heat isn't the only way to kill salmonella, sugar and acid kill it off as well. Meringue? The sugar is what makes it safe to eat. Aioli? lemon juice often does the job there.

                                We are often only offered a singular solution a problem with many solutions.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                  I'm really not thinking you're going to convince many moms-to-be that a meringue, sweetened or not, is worth risking the life of their unborn child.

                                  It's only 10 months. (ain't that the best lie in the world? Pregnancy is 9 months, right? Nope. Full-term pregnancy average 40 weeks. Divide that by 4 weeks in a month, and you have TEN months.)

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    There are about four and one-third weeks in the average month. It works out to about nine months and one week.