Gas station’s food, sure it’s convenient but is it safe? The travel season is approaching and it’s time to start thinking about our travel habits, like nutrition choices. How nutritious is the food we purchase at a gas station or truck stop? That depends on the exact location. Some gas station Convenient Stores, C-Stores, the food is safe and some are not, but how is a person to know? Food managed by gas stations is a fairly new and a 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.

gas station and convenience store

What You Need To Know the Next Time You’re Tempted to Grab Chow at a Gas Station

  1. Bad Hygiene/Lack of Cleanliness

Observe the store for cleanliness and hygiene. Go to the restroom before you purchase anything to eat or drink. A store’s general cleaning practices typically reflect throughout the entire establishment. If the restroom is dirty and unsanitary, reconsider purchasing food at that store. The store’s cleaning standards are evident in the bathroom; it is possible that it also lacks appropriate cleaning standards throughout the establishment, including food preparation areas. 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.

dirty public toilet

2. Food Holding Temperature

You may not be aware, but always refrigerate certain cooked and raw foods, or they risk becoming contaminated with bacteria making it unsafe to eat. The primary question is whether gas stations adhere to food safety standards. As a consumer, this is what you should know. A central question is whether gas stations adhere to food industry standards.

According to the FDA, hot foods require an internal temperature of 140 °F or higher and food handlers should be using a thermometer to assure this is the case. Feeling the surface of food, eating some food, or guessing is not an adequate method of testing food temperature. The best method for holding appropriate internal food temperature is to keep the food in warming trays, slow cookers, or chafers at the recommended temperature. Always refrigerate cold foods at 41°F or less. Time and temperature are two important considerations for food safety and the growth of pathogens within the food.

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.
  • A thermometer must be used to determine temperature.
  • Foods that pose a particular hazard, such as raw animal foods, need to do be taken through the temperature danger zone rapidly to reduce the risk of bacteria growth.

3. Food That Has Expired

Another element of food handling is serving or selling food beyond its “Best Used By” or “Expiration” date. Check the dating on the product package assuring this date has not been altered. Have you ever purchased a cookie or other treat at a gas station only to discover that the product was hard or dry? If the food looks old, chances are it is!

4. Multi-Task Employees

One contributor to cross-contamination of food substances is employees who multi-task during food preparation. 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 food requires dedicated employees to prevent cross-contamination.

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. Past 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 consumer’s 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. Providing healthy food options quickly and easily, 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 establishments, 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, then 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Is the establishment understaffed?
  3. 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.
  4. Check ALL dates on food packaged by the store. If it is not clearly labeled, do not get it.
  5. If the store is hectic and unkept, pass by any prepared food.
  6. If it looks bad – walk away!
woman raising her hand to say no to a glass of milk