Inside Edition Investigation Finds Some New York City Restaurants' Dishware, Cutlery Are Covered With Bacteria

Columbia University microbiologist Dr. Susan Whittier told Inside Edition cross contamination is a major problem. And the bottom line is, restaurant employees need to do a better job washing their hands.

Now that restaurants are springing back to life, perhaps it's time to start wondering just how clean are all those dishes and plates.

Most restaurants use large industrial dishwashers, which clean and sanitize dirty dishes and silverware with scalding hot water and commercial grade soap. When the process is over, everything comes out sterilized and squeaky clean. 

But what happens between then and when these dishes and silverware reach your table?

One concern is cross contamination. By the time your food reaches the table, all those dishes and utensils have likely been handled by multiple employees.

Inside Edition swabbed utensils and dishes from several restaurants in New York City and sent the carefully collected samples for testing to IEH Laboratories in Seattle.

Four days later, the results were in.

“Wow, it was pretty bad. We're not talking about just a little bacteria, we're talking about a lot,” said Dr. Susan Whittier, clinical microbiologist at Columbia University, who reviewed the lab’s report.

“I actually have a plate that I can show you really up close, if you want to see it. It has millions and millions of bacteria,” Whittier said.

A cup we tested at the Applebee’s located in the heart of Times Square had a whopping bacteria count of 2.4 billion. A plate full of mozzarella sticks had a bacteria count of 2.2 billion.

Whittier says that's a concerning amount of bacteria, enough to possibly get you sick.

And the swabs we collected at two other restaurants tested positive for E. Coli.

“Four of the samples had millions of bacteria that you normally would find in fecal matter or poop,” Whittier said.

At Del Frisco's steakhouse in Rockefeller Center, the plate and glass came back clean, but the fork tested positive for E. Coli.

Right down the street at Olive Garden, the lab detected E. coli growing on the rim of their "never-ending" salad bowl.

“It's disgusting, because you think you're going to a restaurant to eat and it's going to be cleanly and it's not,” one customer said.

Whittier says cross contamination is a major problem. And the bottom line is, restaurant employees need to do a better job washing their hands.

“Obviously, you don't want somebody else's bacteria on a fork that you are going to be using or a plate that you're eating off,” Whittier said.

Olive Garden did not respond to Inside Edition's report, but Applebee's said they've got an “A” grade from the health department and they addressed what they call an “isolated case.”

“A clean, well-run restaurant is what our guests deserve and expect," Kevin Carroll, chief operations officer at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill + Bar, said in a statement. "The franchisee who owns and operates this restaurant maintains an 'A' grade with the NYC Health Department for this restaurant and all of their restaurants, as well as top results from the brand’s third-party food safety evaluation and consulting partners. The franchisee immediately corrected any issues from this isolated case. At Applebee’s the health and safety of our guests and team members remains our top priority, and we are committed to the highest levels of food safety and sanitation."

Del Frisco said they were going to run their own version of our test, but have also retrained their employees. 

“It is important to Del Frisco’s Grille that the highest safety measures related to the quality of food, cleanliness and overall experience are followed. We will be performing the same test to ensure this event does not occur again as well as the accuracy of your test which no one witnessed. We are retraining all our employees and adding additional procedures to ensure that the highest measures of sanitation and safety are always maintained for our guests," a spokesperson for the restaurant said.

Both restaurants say they are committed to the highest safety standards.

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