Nov. 16, 2012 -- intro: While you're feasting, where are the germs festering?
To get the dirt on dining out, ABC News Consumer Correspondent Elisabeth Leamy went undercover at 10 restaurants in three states. She took swab samples from 10 surfaces you come typically in contact with at a restaurant. Then Dr. Philip Tierno and his team at the New York University Microbiology Department lab tested the samples.
What's dirtiest? The condiments? Do bacteria pull up a chair and join you at the table?
Read on -- the results may surprise you. Visible goop didn't always translate into bad bugs, and some spotless surfaces harbored major microbes.
quicklist: title: Salad Bar Tongs text: The salad bar tongs weren't that bad -- maybe because Americans don't eat enough salad.
quicklist: title: Ketchup Bottles text: The ketchup bottles weren't harboring anything too awful.
quicklist: title: Bathroom Faucets text:
quicklist: title: Bathroom Door Knobs text: "The faucets, the door handles ... were some of our least germy items, because they get cleaned," Leamy said.
quicklist: title: Rims of Glasses text: The hidden cameras caught waiters gripping glasses right at the top where we drink, which gives pathogens a direct route into our bodies. Tests on the samples Leamy took detected multiple bacteria, including one linked with tuberculosis.
quicklist: title: Tables text: Here's a clue as to how tables could be so germy. Leamy and "20/20" were shown photographs of parents changing their baby's diapers at the table and toilet-training their toddlers in restaurants.
quicklist: title: Salt and Pepper Shakers text: Half of the swabs Leamy took from them were contaminated. How is that possible? They're used often but are rarely cleaned.
quicklist: title: Lemon Wedges text: One of the most frequently occurring contaminants in the test results was fecal matter. Half of the lemon wedges tested were tainted with human waste.
How does fecal matter get on lemons in the first place? Cameras caught restaurant workers grabbing lemons with their bare hands, reaching in again and again without gloves or tongs. If they haven't washed their hands well after using the bathroom, germs spread.
quicklist: title: Menus text: Leamy found the bacteria that causes staph infections on one, and the germs that cause strep throat on another.
quicklist: title: Seats text: Seventy percent of the chair seats Leamy tested had bad bacteria on them -- 17 different kinds, including strains of E. coli. Why? All customers sit on them, and most restaurants don't think to sanitize them.
So what can you do? For starters, Leamy advised, the next time you go to a restaurant, take a seat, order your food -- then go wash your hands before you eat.