The Reason You Should Steer Clear Of Gas Station Sandwiches

We've all been there before – stopped at the gas station in the middle of a super busy day when hunger strikes and you're forced to make a difficult decision. Among the doughnuts and slushies available in abundance, the gas station sandwich case presents itself as an option that both resembles real food and might actually fill you up. So, you give in and grab a turkey and Swiss, even though that soggy white bread looks like it's seen better days.

Is this really that bad of a sin? After all, there was that one Instagram-famous egg salad sandwich recipe The New York Times said was inspired by a Japanese convenience store. And, really, this quick fix of a meal doesn't even have to be the greatest sandwich of all time – just some cold cuts and a piece of cheese between two slices of bread would suffice. Unfortunately, that tuna on rye from the gas station might not be the safest choice for satisfying your hunger. Here's why.

Gas station food safety might not be up to snuff

Instinctively, you may know a gas station probably isn't the best place to grab a meal on the fly – that's what drive-thrus are for. But, dining on gas station sandwiches could be putting your well-being at risk, too. According to Francine Shaw, a food safety inspector who did some undercover reconnaissance for an article published on HuffPost, you need to take a close look at that sandwich cooler before making a selection. 

Shaw says sandwiches and other perishable items need to be kept at a temperature of 41 degrees F or lower to remain safe for consumption. If the temperature in that gas station cooler creeps above this threshold, its contents are at risk of growing some pretty nasty illness-causing bacteria (per the USDA). If you must source your sandwiches from a gas station, Shaw says to look for a thermometer attached to the cooler and make sure it reads 39 degrees or lower, since that will chill the items inside to their ideal 41-degree F temp.

Other precautions you can take when sandwich-shopping at the gas station

If there isn't a thermometer in the gas station's cooler, Shaw says to make sure the sandwiches at least feel cold to the touch. If the sandwiches are stacked on top of one another, avoid the ones on the top and opt for those on the bottom, closest to the cooling element. Lastly, this may seem like common sense, but if there is an expiration date on your gas station sandwich, make sure it hasn't passed and double-check that the sticker hasn't been altered. In Shaw's experience, some gas stations have been known to fiddle with the dates to avoid throwing food out. Yuck.

As off-putting as the thought of foodborne illness is, we're not actually here to scare you. Some gas station food is best avoided, but there are plenty of underrated gas station eats that are worth seeking out the next time hunger strikes – assuming the employees have their food safety protocol in check, of course.