Dining horror stories abound. Rats falling out of the ceiling, a deep-fried mouse found in a bucket of chicken, chewing gum discovered in a taco, employees not washing their hands after using the restroom. It seems everyone has a tale of something revolting that has happened at a restaurant.

It's enough to make you rethink ever eating out again. But considering that about three-quarters of Americans eat at least one meal out a week, it's unlikely that you'll never visit a restaurant again. Here's what you can do to reduce the likelihood that you find a cockroach in your next burger.

Food Safety Tips

1. Look around. Is the floor clean? Are the tables clean? What about the silverware and plates? Often, if these visible parts of the restaurant aren't kept up to par, the kitchen isn't either.

2. Check out the restrooms. Same thing here. If the restrooms are dirty and not well stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, and soap, health inspectors say the food preparation areas are typically in similar sloppy conditions.

3. Review the score. Although it's not available everywhere, many cities are beginning to publicly post restaurants' latest health inspections reports. For example, in Los Angeles, all restaurants receive a letter grade of A through F, according to a report by the Center in the Public Interest. The grades are posted clearly for customers to review. Not all cities have this requirement, but many do provide access to health inspections reports online. Check with your city's health department or city hall if you have doubts about a particular location.

4. Use caution at buffets. When eating at a buffet, the hot foods should be hot enough to steam, according to the Food Safety and Sanitation Program. This means that they're cooked to at least 140 degrees. It's not as easy to tell if cold foods are cold enough, but foods left at room temperature for two hours or longer can grow bacteria.

5. Watch out at the salad bar. University of California studies found that more than half of salad bar customers did one or more of the following: dipped their fingers into the salad dressing and licked them, ate from their plate while standing in line, ducked their head under the sneeze guard, spilled food, and refilled a dirty plate.

6. Don't eat uncooked foods. If you order steak or other items that can be cooked to order, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against ordering foods rare or undercooked. These types of foods put you at greater risk of food poisoning.

7. Refrigerate leftovers immediately. Don't leave leftovers or take-out meals sitting in your car for more than two hours, according to the FDA. It only takes two hours for bacteria to start to grow. If you're not going straight home, it's probably wise to leave the extras at the restaurant, the agency advises.

8. Make a report. In the event that you do have a bad experience at a restaurant, whether a sit-down establishment or a fast-food joint, don't be afraid to make a complaint. Not sure who to call? This government food safety site lists applicable agencies by state.