Foods you should never get at the movie theater

Half the fun of heading out to the movie theater is the concession stand. It's filled with amazing treats you might never get at any other time — although that last part might be for the best.

There's a ton of nastiness going on behind that concession stand, and we're talking about everything from cooking, prep, and sanitation methods you probably don't want to know about (but absolutely should), to the hidden nutritional content of some of your favorite foods. And that's where something strange comes into play.

In 2011, Slate reported on new laws regarding labeling and nutritional information at restaurants. It was a big deal, and it was also laws movie theaters were exempt from for a long time. It wasn't until May 2018 that Vox said an Obama-era policy was finally being implemented. All food vendors — including movie theaters — were now going to have to post nutritional information. The loophole that previously exempted places where food wasn't their primary business was closed.

That brings us back to the worst foods you can possibly opt for when it comes time to grab a seat at the cinema. Apologies in advance.

Popcorn

In 2005, Cornell University did a study that looked at whether or not people overindulged in food because they like it. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. The study found that even when people were given 2-week-old popcorn in a theater, they still ate way too much. Researchers found it's the environmental cues of large containers and the distraction of a movie that causes the behavior. It gets worse.

Movie theater popcorn used to be served in containers that held between five and six cups, while today, that's increased to about 20 cups. Medical Daily says the calories that come along with that is the equivalent of three Big Macs, and all that salt is more than you should have in a whole day.

If that's not enough to dissuade you, consider this: Time calls movie popcorn one of America's biggest ripoffs. That's because — as The Atlantic found — popcorn is sold to you at an unthinkable 1,275 percent markup. Sure, theaters need to make their money, but that's insane! Especially considering the number of former employees on Reddit who talk about the rare times popcorn machines are cleaned, and the fact that it might be popcorn leftover from the day before.

That goes double for the buttered popcorn

We get it — the popcorn is super tempting. That smell is enough, after all, and you might be able to rationalize a treat because you don't do it too often. But here are another couple of reasons you should skip the popcorn, especially the buttered stuff. 

MTV interviewed movie theater employees to get to the bottom of what's up with movie theater butter, and of course, they confirm it's not actually butter. What it actually is seems to vary, but a common answer is that it's essentially oil with artificial butter flavor. Yuck! Extra Crispy adds that it also contains things like artificial coloring and a ton of chemicals that keep it the right texture. Every bucket of popcorn has between three and six tablespoons (depending on the size), and each one of those tablespoons has 20 more calories than it would if it was real butter.

Still not bad enough? MTV's employee interviews said it's pretty much a crapshoot on just how often that "butter" faucet gets cleaned, too. Some employees said it never, ever came up in training, so who knows what else you're getting on your popcorn.

Nachos

Sorry, nachos makes it onto the "avoid" list for a few different reasons, and one is simply that they're a great way to be a terrible guest. Den of Geek even suggests they should be banned, because no moviegoer wants to listen to the relentless crunching and rustling, or smell the distinctive smell of that cheese… not to mention, there's the goopy garbage that gets left behind.

There are also insane health risks that come along with nacho cheese. In 2017, CNN reported that one person was dead and at least nine more were hospitalized after eating nacho cheese sauce at a California gas station. The cheese was contaminated with botulism, which can lead to blurred vision, slurred speech, and paralysis in some cases, and death in others.

That happened in May, and in September, officials had determined what happened. According to Food Safety News, health inspectors had found numerous violations around the handling of the cheese sauce, saying they were using it past the "best by" date, and no records were being kept of when each bag was put into the dispenser. Those are things that could easily be overlooked by a less-than-diligent concession stand staff, so why risk it?

Hot dogs

There are definitely plenty of good, quality hot dogs out there, but let's be honest — the ones that you should be buying probably aren't the mystery dogs on offer at your local concession stand. Let's just look at AMC's hot dogs. Opt for a plain dog, and each one contains 270 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 730 mg of sodium. That might not mean much, but look at it this way: the American Heart Association recommends you keep your daily sodium intake at around 1500 mg per day.

You'd be getting 1480 mg of sodium if you opt for one of their chili cheese dogs, along with 620 calories and 36 grams of fat. That'll clog your arteries just thinking about it, and here's another pretty gross little tidbit. According to theater employees on Reddit, employees would save the uneaten hot dogs and put them back out the following day. The general rule was that they could be reheated again and again for three days, and it was only then that they might get tossed.

Slushies and sodas

Concessions aren't just something that a theater offers to lure customers in, or pad their earnings — it's what allows them to keep their doors open. The theater business is weird, and here's a good time to explain briefly how it works (it's important).

Theaters pay movie studios for the right to show their films, so essentially, the price of your ticket is going to the studio, not the theater (via Time). That means theaters need to make their buck elsewhere, and that's where concessions come in. Since it's their biggest money-maker, it's not surprising everything's marked up an insane amount… but what is surprising is how much they're gouging customers when it comes to drinks.

According to Business Insider, a small soda is marked up about 1,000 percent, and that means the little drink you're paying an average of $5.25 for actually cost them about 49 cents. Slushies are even worse, because they don't actually cost the theater more to make, but they charge more for them. Skip this one, and good news, you won't need that mid-movie bathroom break, either.

M&Ms

Not all candy is created equal, and if you're the type to grab a box to munch on, there are a few you want to steer clear of. Unfortunately, that starts with the ever-popular M&Ms.

Here's the thing. That same mindless eating that has you falling into a nutritional trap with popcorn also applies to that box of M&Ms. If you look at the nutritional information on the box, you'll see it lists 9 grams of fat and 210 calories. Not too bad… until you notice there are actually 2.5 servings in that little box. Do the math, and if you eat that whole box (and who doesn't?), you'll be scarfing down 525 calories, 22.5 grams of fat, and a whopping 68 grams of sugar.

To put that last one in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends men limit their daily sugar intake to 36 grams, and women limit theirs to 25 grams. M&Ms may be delicious, but they're terrible for you — especially in the quantity you're going to eat during a two-hour movie.

Raisinets

The danger in Raisinets comes because it's easy to think these are a healthy choice, and when you think you're making a healthy choice, you're even more likely to polish off the whole box without a second thought. Raisinets might boast that they're lower in fat than other candies, but that doesn't mean they're good for you.

While the American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to 36 grams if you're a man and 25 grams if you're a woman, these chocolate-dipped raisins come with way more than that — 56 grams, if you finish the whole box. (And again, who doesn't? No one is judging.) There's also 16 grams of fat in that box, and while that's less than what's in the M&Ms, it's not really that much less, is it?

And while you might think twice about grabbing a dessert with your pre-movie meal because you're planning on getting a big box of M&Ms, Raisinets don't have the same context. Since they're masquerading as at least a little bit healthy, it can encourage you to make even worse choices for the rest of the day.

Cheeseburger Sliders (AMC)

No one expects movie theater food to be good for you, but it's pretty shocking just how bad for you some of it is. Take those cheeseburger sliders from AMC. A single sliders provides 300 calories and 19 grams of fat, and when you put that in the slider box with the sauce, the values are pretty shocking.

One of those boxes will set you back 1450 calories, 92 grams of fat, and 2200 mg of sodium. A third of that fat is saturated, and you're also eating enough cholesterol to set you back for days. Believe it or not, there's also 31 grams of sugar in that box, which is about what you should be eating in the whole day.

Let's put this in perspective: that's the equivalent of about three Big Macs, give or take. And sliders are tiny! The whole point of a slider is that it's not supposed to be a whole meal, and it's supposed to be a lighter sort of burger fix that's more a snack than your entire day's worth of… well… everything, with few redeeming qualities.

Anything you eat with your hands

This next recommendation is a little different, and it's not only about what you eat, it's how you eat. If you're looking at anything that you're going to be eating with your hands — whether that's popcorn, pretzels, chips, or pull-and-peel candy — you might want to rethink that.

In 2011, Good Morning America tested a variety of public seats for bacteria. That included movie theater seats (along with public benches and airport seats), and they found that when it came to the amount of bacteria, theater seats came in with way more than even those nasty seats on public transport trains. Among the bacteria they found was staph, which can cause some serious infections.

In 2014, ABC's 20/20 (via CleanLink) tested movie theaters in both New York and California. They found a whole laundry list of bacteria, including bacteria usually found in human feces and yeast. Experts from New York University warned against sitting on the seats if you had exposed cuts on your arms or legs, and added that you definitely shouldn't be eating with a hand that's touched the seats or the armrest.

Reese's Pieces

Here's another heartbreaking one, and we're sorry. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, that box of Reese's Pieces is one of the worst decisions you can make when it comes to candy. Pick up the 8-ounce bag and you're looking at 1,160 calories, 35 grams of saturated fat, and a shocking 122 grams of sugar. That's about four times the recommended daily intake!

For a little bit of perspective on that, they say the calorie count on this one is essentially like sitting down for a 16-ounce T-bone steak and a buttered baked potato. At least there, you wouldn't be getting all the sugar and you'd be swapping in some protein.

It's not all bad news, though, and they say there are some legitimately, not-horrible options if you just can't walk past the concession stand. Opt for AirHeads, Sour Patch Kids, SweeTarts, or Sour Jacks. They're lower in sugar, fat, and calories, and no one's going to be pounding back Sour Patch Kids quite as fast as M&Ms. Just… don't use your hands.