Former Hotel Staff Reveal What Foods at the Continental Breakfast Could Make You Sick

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 18, 2024

One of the best parts of staying in a nice hotel is enjoying the continental breakfast in the morning. However, depending on the quality of the establishment, the food may not be up to standard.

A group of former hotel employees shared the items they would never touch at the breakfast buffet.

Some Breakfast Items Should Be Avoided

While many people want to eat every item they see at a buffet to get their money’s worth, it’s wise to read on and discover what could be contaminated.

A table with several plates holding omelettes, fruit, bacon, and pancakes with fruit

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Unfortunately, when food is left out, it can reach unsafe temperatures and cause harmful bacteria to grow. Even worse, you can’t always trust your fellow hotel patrons not to touch the food directly or accidentally sneeze into the eggs.

Stay Away From the Fruit Salad

One of the worst culprits for contamination and carrying bacteria is pre-sliced fruit. While it might seem smart to sample local fruit and veggies on your holiday, the diced confection can carry seriously harmful bacteria.

A plate with sliced kiwi, pineapple, half an orange, and seeded pomegranate

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In fact, it’s one of the major foods pregnant women are urged to avoid. Uncooked food that has been handled extensively by chefs and cooks can easily cling to any bad bacteria it touches. Melons and cantaloupes are especially risky because most establishments don’t wash the rinds. When added to freshly cut fruit, there’s no telling how many hands have touched the outside of a melon that is now mingling with your diced pineapple.

Fresh Eggs Only

If you’re lucky enough to find a place that offers omelettes to order or freshly scrambled eggs, you should definitely take them.

Two black pans on a stove with sunny side up in one and scrambled in the other

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However, if you’re staying in a hotel with a large pan of pre-scrambled eggs, you should stay far, far away. Former hotel employees often note that the eggs themselves might come from cartons and thus feel watery or rubbery. Eggs, especially, should never be left out for long periods of time. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that eggs should never be left out for more than two hours at a time. The growing bacteria can cause serious illnesses.

Follow the Two-Hour Rule for Bacon

Just like eggs, pre-cooked meat is safest when eaten warm. This means that the bacon you see at the continental breakfast might have been cooked several hours ago, and no, the warming tray doesn’t count.

Several bacon strips

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A senior lecturer in Clinical Microbiology at the University of Leicester, Primrose Freestone, explains that when she’s at an event with a buffet, she makes a mental note of the two-hour rule. After two hours, food left out at room temperature will begin to grow harmful bacteria.

Fried Potatoes Can Be a Little Disappointing

Although skipping the roast potatoes has no health benefits, many former hotel employees agree that the hashbrowns are usually a soggy letdown.

A ceramic plate sitting on a metal counter with a dish of baked beans, tomatoes, blood sausage, regular sausage, a sunny-side up egg and roasted potatoes

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Potatoes can be used in a dish as a cheap filler. When there are rich sauces and fresh proteins on the same table, take a pass on the potatoes. Beloved celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who worked as a breakfast chef, noted that “You make friend potatoes in huge amounts and re-heat them. Most of the home-fried I have in diners are not food; they’re not cooked all the way through, they’re not crisp.”


Cereal Just Isn't Worth It

The reason that many hospital staff recommend avoiding a bowl of cereal might surprise you.

A bowl of cereal with a honey dip stick in the back ground and milk being poured into the bowl

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When on vacation, you’re most likely going to be walking around a new city, sightseeing, or taking part in fun outdoor adventures. You’re going to need more protein and energy than a simple bowl of cereal can provide. If you still insist, simply add some protein-packed foods on the side.


Jams and Jellies May Not Be Safe

Jams and jellies are easily contaminated by communal spoons and knives. If an open jar is available, there’s a good chance other guests have mistakenly touched the inside.

Two pieces of toast on a plate with red jam spread by a knife

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If you can order a small ramekin from the kitchen or access individual packets, feel free to eat the condiments.


Warm Milk Is a Big Danger

Beverages are an easy place for bacteria to culminate and grow. Food scientist Dr. Brian Quoc says that milk sitting out should be avoided at all costs.

A long buffet table filled with juice, milk, sliced meat, and a basket of fresh bread

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Similarly, warm juice can also be a breeding ground for bacteria. Fresh juice isn’t pasteurized and might carry some of the germs present on the outside of the fruit.


Items Served Without Utensils

A lack of utensils at a buffet should be an immediate red flag. Not having anything to pick up a muffin or a slice of bacon with means that other guests have also used their hands to touch your items.

A buffet counter with sliced melons and bowls of bread

Source: Amanda Lins/Unsplash

If you see this, skip the buffet altogether. It’s unlikely that the rest of the food provided has been handled with care.


Hollandaise Can Be Trouble

Eggs benedict covered in a rich hollandaise sauce is one of life’s great pleasures. However, the tempered egg sauce doesn’t always get cooked all the way through, and you might wind up eating raw eggs without knowing it.

A plate with eggs Benedict, fresh fruit, and hash browns.

Source: Amy Tran/Unsplash

If you’re craving the rich taste of this lovely dish, just be sure to pick it up when the dish first comes out.


What Can You Eat?

It’s important to know the general guidelines for food safety. However, you don’t have to let it dictate your life.

A large buffet table with various fruits, breads, and cheese surrounded by green plants and ceramic plates

Source: Yukiko Kanada/Unsplash

If you have the option, go for the made-to-order options; an omelette bar is a great place to start for an excellent breakfast in a nice hotel.