Chow Line: Are You Eating Out for Valentine’s Day?

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With all the recent media reports of foodborne illness caused by eating at some restaurants, how can I know if the place I take my sweetie this year for Valentine’s Day won’t make us sick later?

Good question!

With nearly 30 percent of consumers planning to dine out on Valentine’s Day this year, according to the National Restaurant Association, it’s good to know that health officials inspect these places to make sure they prepare food safely.

Local public health departments routinely inspect food establishments to ensure that they follow safe food handling procedures. Generally, inspectors check the restaurants to make sure that certain safeguards are being followed to prevent food contamination.

In Columbus, Ohio, for example, consumers can easily check to see if a licensed restaurant or other food establishment has passed inspection by viewing dated, color-coded signs posted in the restaurant. The colors indicate the results of the establishments’ most recent health inspections.

For example, a green sign indicates that standard inspections have been conducted and the business has met the standards of Columbus Public Health, according to the city of Columbus.

A yellow sign indicates that the establishment is in the enforcement process due to uncorrected critical violations found during follow-up inspections.

A white sign indicates that the business has been placed on an increased frequency of inspections. A red sign indicates that the eatery has been ordered closed by the Board of Health or the health commissioner.

You can check restaurants’ health inspection records in your area by contacting your local public health department or board of health. Some restaurant review websites even publish this information.

In order to make good nutrition choices once you’re at the restaurant, be aware of the nutritional content of the foods you order, including the calorie content, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can look up the menu’s nutritional information on the restaurant’s website, or in many cases, that information is posted on the menu or somewhere in the restaurant.

The CDC offers these other tips for a safe and heart-healthy Valentine’s Day celebration:

  • Ask before ordering. Raw or undercooked eggs can be a hidden hazard in foods, such as Caesar salad, custards and some sauces, unless they are commercially pasteurized.
  • Order it cooked to the recommended endpoint temperature. Certain foods, including eggs, meat, poultry and fish, need to be cooked to a temperature high enough to kill pathogens that may be present.
  • Know your sodium intake. More than 40 percent of the sodium we eat comes from these common foods: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and snacks. Most restaurants offer lower sodium options for entrees and dressings, so check the menu or ask the staff for suggestions.
  • Consider ordering one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two.

And lastly, if you end up with leftovers, remember to refrigerate them within two hours of being served, or one hour if the temperature outside is warmer than 90 F. If this isn’t possible, consider leaving the leftovers behind.

One more thing to take note of: in addition to having Valentine’s Day, February is also American Heart Month. Show your sweetie you care by getting active and eating healthier, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure. 

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Abigail Snyder
OSU Extension

Barbara Kowalcyk
CFAES Food Science and Technology