Are Fast Food Restaurants Safe?

After Taco Bell ordered the removal of green onions from all its restaurants when tests suggested they may have been the source of an e. coli outbreak, some wondered about the safety of fast food overall.

The restaurants are cheap. They're convenient and they're clean. But are they safe?

Award-winning food critic and author Steven Shaw says fast food restaurants are safe, if not healthy.

"If my only concern was safety, I would … go to fast food places because it's like eating food in outer space," said Shaw, author of "Turning the Tables." "It's been fried and processed, so it's totally safe."

That idea that may be hard to stomach for some, especially after all the food-borne illnesses that have come to light in the past week.

However, there are many fast food restaurants and their names are familiar, so people hear about illnesses at them more often than at fine dining establishments. So when e. coli claims lives, as it did at Jack in the Box in 1993, everyone heard about it.

"Food safety is the top priority for our industry, and I feel very comfortable and confident in dining out," said Dr. Donna Garren, vice president of health and safety regulatory affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

Shaw said that often, chains and high-end restaurants can afford sophisticated safety appliances that cheaper restaurants can't.

Still, he says, the restaurant industry as a whole has a better safety record than the kitchens in American homes.

"I think most at-home people don't know the basics of food safety," Shaw said. "One statistic I've seen is that 60 percent of food poisoning incidents come from home kitchens."