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Buffet Bellyaches

Experts provide a plan to maximize your chances of eating safely at buffets.

Check It Out Online continued...

For example, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health site reveals an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant that closed six days because of vermin infestation. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's site lists one Manhattan buffet's past and current violations: hot and cold foods not held at proper temperatures, inadequate personal cleanliness, evidence of roaches, improper bare hand contact with food, improperly installed or maintained plumbing, and "Food Protection Certificate not held by supervisor of food operations."

Reports aren't foolproof. Overburdened inspectors often check a restaurant only once or twice a year, so results are more of a snapshot. But reports can still allow you to be an informed consumer.

Or take Ong's suggestion. When people ask him for buffet recommendations, he steers them toward what he calls "exhibition kitchens" -- where chefs prepare food right in front of customers. Instead of a typical cafeteria setup, diners often can pick their own fresh ingredients and the chef will cook the dish for them right on the spot.

"When there's an exhibition kitchen -- and they have those at buffets -- it's a very good indicator that the place is kept up well because nobody wants to have an exhibition kitchen that discourages customers from partaking," he says. "You have a little more control."

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