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Jul 27, 2013 10:32 AM

Are Chain/Franchise Restaurants safer?

Hi all. By safer, I mean sanitation and short term health safety, not taste related or long term safety.

This question came about because I read another CHOWHOUND response a few days ago. The responder said that his friend is scared to eat in non-chain restaurants. My first gut inner-response was that this is baseless and I personally ate from mom and pop restaurants all the time. However, I gave some more thoughts today, and I think this statement has some merits to it.

Let's just say $3-5 hamburger restaurants. I expect McDonald (or Burger King or Wendy...) has a more systematic food safety control than an average mom and pop store. McDonald must check its food source very careful, has a tight food transportation timeline, a very rigid cooking protocol, and worries to death about lawsuits. This is why McDonald hamburgers are often on side of overcooked. Now, I can understand that your local organic hamburger restaurant which sells $15 hamburgers will likely to have very good food safety control, but that is a very different class of restaurant.

I believe this to be the same for Red Lobster, Apple Bee's...etc.

I am not encouraging or discouraging people from eating at Chain restaurants.

What do you think? Do you think, on average, chain/franchise restaurants produce safer foods? Thanks.

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  1. Haven't there been some photos and/or video clips of chain restaurant workers doing some pretty gross things to the food?

    I think the best safeguard is a strong muni inspection program, which you generally find in larger cities, and perhaps counties.

    You can't know how stringently the home office inspects the franchise-owned places. However, I'd like to hear from actual franchise owners and workers.

    Also, bear in mind that when the bottom line is the major goal, everything else might suffer, As in the hidden food stores in the Seven Seas ship which the Feds found in a recent inspection of the Silver Sea. The same pressures are felt in all food industries. I don't know that the chains would be less likely to feel that pressure.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sueatmo

      <Haven't there been some photos and/or video clips of chain restaurant workers doing some pretty gross things to the food? >

      I agree and I think these are true. However, I also think they are selective observations. In other words, we only hear the bads from franchises, but not from mom and pop restaurants. Who to say workers in a mom and pop store work more professionally. For example, we get to hear about food poisoning from franchise restaurants like Subway and Jack in the Box:

      But I am very certain that food poisoning happen in many mom and pop restaurants, they just don't make it to the news. I had three food poisoning incidents in my life. Two are from local small restaurants and one is from a small market.

    2. Since chain restaurants depend a lot on centrally processed and prepared items, they are probably safer. Inventory is packaged or frozen until it is cooked and not left up to potentially unsafe storage and handling by an individual restaurant.

      However, when something does go wrong at a chain and bad food slips though, the impact is far more widespread.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pamf

        < the impact is far more widespread.>


      2. When it comes to food safety, chain restaurants usually aren't the best, but neither are they anywhere near the worst.

        If someone has had a bad experience with food poisoning and is afraid to eat in an unsafe restaurant, a chain restaurant is probably a safer bet than a random unknown restaurant.

        1. I remember a recent article about a restaurant worker who had been fired for doing something disgusting and posting a pic of the act on Facebook or Twitter. The article said that events of this sort usually happen at restaurants that are part of big low-end chains, and suggested that this was because the workers have so little respect for the chain. If this is true, then a Mom & Pop should be better.

          5 Replies
          1. re: drongo

            A few years ago I spoke with a young worker at a "mom and pop" pizza place and this person was not happy. I suspect that generalizations cannot be made on this.

            Its too bad this has not been studied.

            1. re: drongo

              I think the best mom & pops are easily better than the best chains and the worst mom & pops are worse than the worse chains.

              If you're desperate to avoid the worst experiences and have no way of evaluating a restaurant before you walk in the door, then chain dining is for you, so long as you accept the penalty of never having the best experience.

              1. re: FoodPopulist

                You are possibly right, but I am wary of the first assumption, that the best mom and pops are always going to be better than all chains.

                But perhaps you mean all independent restaurants? A Mom and Pop means to means to me a specific small independent restaurant.

                If you are in a smallish town, it is entirely possible that the safest meal will be found at a chain burger joint.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  If you are in a smallish town, it is entirely possible that the safest meal will be found at a chain burger joint.

                  I beg to differ. I worked in a diner in a small town (not smallish, but small.) To say the owner was anal about cleanliness and food safety would be an understatement. As the one who did most of the cleaning, I can tell you firsthand she worked my butt to the bone.

                  1. re: al b. darned

                    I said "it is entirely possible. . ." If you worked for an extremely conscientious owner, then great! I hope his restaurant does well and makes him a comfortable living.

                    But I've seen places that weren't that great in smaller towns. Had very disappointing food too.

            2. There will always be exceptions ...there are good chains and bad ones....but as your query is posed.....I can definitely tell you Chains are safer from a cleanliness position. They have more staff'labor and have stricter standards for safety and food handling procedures. The also have daily and hourly schedules for cleaning both front and back house. It's not unusual for them to have night cleaning crews come in do the job professionally. They do not neglect the purchase of health code required chemicals and cleaning products.....All their equipment is NSF rated and changed as needed or required for any menu changes.

              If any cleaning or safety procedures are not's not the chains fault by specifications.....but rather an employee and his manager for not seeing it gets done properly....because they do not care or are simply lazy. All chains have an employee handbook for each position that must be read and signed off on.