Why you should steer clear of the salad bar at a buffet

Salads are more or less typecast as a go-to food for health-conscious eaters. They aren't just harmless but helpful, which may explain why so many people seemingly help themselves to gallons of salad dressing when eating salad — to wash down all that healthiness, of course. So when eating at a restaurant buffet, it makes sense that people who are trying to enjoy the tastier things while prolonging their lives would head to the salad bar for part of their meal. Salad bars were apparently such a sure bet in the town of The Dalles, Oregon during the 1980s that they became the target of the largest bioterror attack in U.S. history

As Vice recounts, in 1984 an utterly nutty cult led by Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, who went by "Osho," contaminated salad bars with salmonella at 10 fast-casual restaurants in a demented attempt at election fraud. They planned to incapacitate the electorate in a bid to tilt the upcoming Wasco County election in favor of their candidates. While the Rajneeshee failed to steal the election, a total of 751 people contracted salmonella, and 45 required hospitalization. 

Obviously, most salad bars aren't unwitting pawns in a demented attempt to poison you. But they might accidentally make you sick, anyway.

Pick your poison, or better yet, don't

Speaking with Insider, senior food safety educator Martin Bucknavage Martin Bucknavage of Penn State University named raw salad greens as being among the five worst items you can eat at a buffet. Bucknavage highlighted them as an example of the more general peril posed by raw foods, including uncooked fish. The underlying logic is the same — both foods are fishy in the sense that heat-sensitive bacteria that would otherwise die in the cooking process can live on your leafy greens. Also, per Berkeley Wellness, salad tongs can become a vessel for easily spreading E. Coli between customers. 

"But what about the healthy benefits?" you might be asking. Well, to top off all that bacteria you might be swallowing, the salad toppings can be pretty unhealthy. The Daily Meal compiled a list of some of the biggest offenders. For example, that heavenly blue cheese dressing that you just want to drink by the gallon is drowning in sodium and fat. The candied nuts have "candy" in their name for a reason, and craisins are crazy sugary as well.