Gas station's food – convenient yes, is it safe? How nutritious is the food? That depends on the exact location. Some gas station Convenient Store, C-Store, food is safe and some are not, but how is a person to know? Food managed by gas stations is a fairly new and rapidly growing industry. There is no denying that they have become a major player in the fast food market for the traveling public. Your primary concern is healthy safe food while on the go or traveling.
What are the top concerns that you need to be aware of the next time you are tempted to grab chow at the gas station!!!
1. Bad Hygiene/Lack of Cleanliness
Observe the store for cleanliness and hygiene. Go the restroom before you purchase anything to eat or drink. A store's general cleaning practices are typically reflected throughout the entire establishment. If the restroom is a mess, dirty, and unsanitary reconsider purchasing food at that store. If the store does not have cleaning standards that are evident in the restroom, it is possible that it also lacks appropriate cleaning standards around food preparation areas and soda pop fountains. There have been reports of an employee putting on only one glove to assemble food items then going back and forth to do cleaning tasks without removing the glove.
2. Food Holding Temperatures
You may not be aware but certain cooked and refrigerated foods must be held at certain temperatures or they risk becoming contaminated with bacteria, can spoil, and become unsafe to eat. The primary question is whether stations adhere to these standards. As a consumer, this is what you should know.
According to the FDA, hot foods requires an internal temperature of 140 °F or higher. The food handlers should be using a thermometer to assure this is the case. Feeling the surface of the food is not adequate, nor is eating some of the food and making a guess. The best method for holding these appropriate internal temps is to keep the food warming trays, slow cookers, or chafers at the appropriate temperature.
Cold foods must be maintained at 41°F or less.
There are important considerations for food safety and growth of pathogens, this is time and temperature.
Temperature danger zone
- Temperatures between 41°F and 140°F are cause for concern because this is the range that can allow bacteria to flourish.
- As stated, a thermometer must be used to determine temperature.
- Foods that can pose a particular hazard, such as raw animal foods, will need to do be taken through the temperature danger zone rapidly to greatly reduce the risk of bacteria growth.
3. Food That Has Expired
Another element of food handling is serving or selling food that is beyond its”Best Used By” or”Expiration” date. Always checking the dating on the product package and pay special attention that the date on the package has not been altered in any way. Have you ever purchased a cookie or other treat at a gas station only to discover that the product was hard or dry? Perhaps there were signs of dust on the wrapper. If the food looks old, chances are it is! Pass on the temptation to eat any such mummified morsel.
4. Multi-Task Employees
One seemingly obvious contributor to cross-contamination of food substances is employees who multi-task. There are inherent risks when an employee believes they can clean the restroom, handle the cash register, put out stock, and then prepare the food counter. Handling of food requires dedicated employee time to prevent the possibility of cross-contamination that may occur from working in other departments.
Good News On the Horizon
The old joke “I'm so hungry I'd eat a gas station burger” or the infamous “don't eat station sushi” may soon be lost on the fact that the convenience store industry has responded to consumer demand, fresh, fast and healthy. The days of dried crusty buns for day-long warmed hot dogs are finding themselves replaced with authentic Seoul and Thai food and restaurants that offer drive-up and outdoor umbrella seating.
Much to consumers delight, convenience stores have added market fresh fruit and vegetables replacing the less healthy processed packaged options. Other fast food chains have jumped in and capitalized on the growing demand for the busy consumer who wishes to fuel up the automobile and body all in one stop. We now see chains like Subway, McDonald's, Burger King, Dairy Queen and Wendy's partnering with convenience stores.
NOT SO FAST… The fast-food industry is not so much responsible for the healthy food revolution we see in gas station convenience stores, as it was the gas stations reading consumer's demand and a supply the gas stations could fulfill. This is providing healthy food options quick and easy, and recognize the other consumer need, which is a lack of time. This is a genius strategy in a way! Many of the larger gas station convenience stores have chosen to offer a wealth of healthy food options within their own establishment's, putting the competition to the fast food industry. The interesting part is much of their clientele is the same as the past food patrons, millennials, and older driving-age teenagers.
Eat or Not to Eat
That depends! Considering travel by automobile still remains the most popular and affordable mode of transportation, the chances are you will be faced with the dilemma of picking up lunch and snacks at your fuel up stop, or making a separate food stop. Keep yourself safe by being alert and observe. Use common sense and a few tips mentioned here.
- Is the establishment clean? Check out the restroom. If it's a mess and dirty, think twice about eating any food that is not already prepared and sealed
- Is the establishment understaffed?
- Does the food that should be fresh, such as hot dogs, look old and dried out. Don't eat it, chances are it is even older than it looks.
- Check ALL dates on food packaged by the store. If it is not clearly labeled, not get it.
- If the store is hectic and unkempt, pass by any prepared food.
- If it looks bad – walk away!