When you grab a burger and fries from the local drive-through, you know you're probably not getting the healthiest meal. But if you think trans fats are your biggest concern, you might want to inspect those fries a little more closely. At some fast-food restaurants, the hygiene habits are appalling.

Think you're not at risk? Think again. About 76 million (or nearly one in four) Americans are afflicted with a foodborne illness each year, and about half of those come after eating at a restaurant.

A researcher with the Tennessee Department of Health and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine found that most people have unrealistic expectations of restaurant cleanliness. While restaurants generally are required to be inspected only twice a year, most people surveyed said the inspections should occur between five and 12 times a year.

Even so, some restaurant chains manage to rack up a long list of health and safety violations. Read on to find out which places have the worst records when it comes to appropriate food storage and preparation.

The Dirty Truth

Filthy utensils, foodborne illness, and poor personal hygiene run rampant in these five fast food joints.


Sonic advertises itself as "America's drive-in"—and maybe it's better that you don't get to see how dirty the inside of the restaurants are. Besides having the worst employee hygiene of all restaurant chains, Sonic also has the second highest number of repeat health violations, according to healthinspections.com, which reviewed more than 7,000 records. A dead fly in an ice cube and black mold on onion ring covers were among the disturbing violations discovered at Sonic locations.


Colonel Sanders' famed restaurant ranked the second worst for hygiene violations. This rating includes KFC employees who did not wash their hands before touching food and improperly sanitized cooking utensils, among other violations. The fried chicken chain also ranked number four among chains with repeat health violations.


The popular roast beef joint had the most repeat violations of all chains reviewed and ranked sixth for poor employee hygiene. In fact, dirty meat slices at two different locations—one in Washington state and another in Georgia—were linked to food poisoning. More than 70 people were believed to be sickened due to the Georgia outbreak.

Taco Bell:

In addition to having less-than-stellar health and safety reports, a multistate E. coli outbreak linked to Taco Bell stores secured it a place on this list. More than 70 people in five states were sickened after eating at Taco Bell restaurants in November and December 2006. The bacterium was traced to chopped onions.

Jack in the Box:

One of the most famous E. coli outbreaks occurred at Jack in the Box restaurants in 1993, when hundreds of people became sick and four children died after eating tainted hamburgers. Dozens of lawsuits were filed; one 12-year-old girl who lapsed into a coma after eating at the restaurant was awarded a $15.6 million settlement. Since then, Jack in the Box has set up several ways of ensuring the safety of their meat, including adding a new testing mechanism for E. coli and increasing the meat cooking temperatures.