Should I Eat at Restaurants With Food Cross-Contamination Problems?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: In the past I have seen food being contaminated in a restaurant/food selling place that also sells haram food. For this reason I have avoided such places for approximately 3 years. Should I go by these doubts? How did the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his companions go about in such situation? If it is allowed then how about the knife they use to cut sandwiches (if same knife used for vegetarian and haram food)? Are we allowed to eat from the same utensils on which haram food/alcohol has been served (provided it has been washed)?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that this finds you in the best of health and spirits, insha’Allah.
If you are reasonably sure that there are contamination issues, it would be an emphasized sunna to exercise caution in eating from such a place.
And yes, you can eat from utensils that were used for unlawful (haram) substances, but have since been washed.
What is Caution (ihtiyat)?
Linguistically, caution is preservation, protection, or guarding.
And technically, it is defined as “guarding oneself against falling into sin.” [Tahanawi, Kashshaf Istilihat al-Funun, quoting Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani]
In general, the legal ruling of caution (ihtiyat) is that it is recommended (mustahab).
Caution has differing rulings depending on circumstance:
It is obligatory to be cautious from the clearly unlawful (haram),
(2) Highly emphasised sunna when there is a reasonable possibility of the unlawful,
(3) Praiseworthy and encouraged when there is a reasonable possibility of the disliked,
(4) Disliked when there is no reasonable basis for it, and
(5) Impermissible when without basis, and it leads to a wrong or the unlawful.
Restaurants and the Presence of Sin
The primary purpose of a restaurant is to serve food. Thus it is not sinful in and of itself to sit in and eat from such a place, irrespective of any secondary activity.
However, it is disliked and blameworthy to choose to be in a place wherein sin is taking place, such as the presence of background music or alcohol. This is in the case it is not unavoidable.
Therefore, and according to our aforementioned principles, it would be praiseworthy to exercise caution in even eating from a place in which there is the secondary presence of sin.
Eating at Restaurants & Contamination Issues
If there is a reasonable possibility of contamination— whether due to bad practice of not using exclusive cutlery for vegetables and unlawful meat, or a shared use of oils for deep-frying, for example— then you should ask for details on how they prepare their food before deciding to eat something.
If you are certain that there are contamination issues, it would be obligatory to be cautious.
As an aside, Sheikh Nuh Keller writes, “Restaurants, coffee shops, and fast-food places are showcases of gluttony, nafs, and worldliness. They should only be used in unpremeditated cases that are not for the enjoyment of the self but for others, and not for the love of the fare or socialising but because they are pressing needs.” [Keller, Sea without Shore]
The Way of Taqwa
Mindfulness (taqwa) is an inward restraint that enables one to avoid that which displeases or distances from Allah–and to embrace all that pleases and draws close to Allah. It is a state of the heart, manifest in one’s attitude and actions–in one’s character and conduct. [see: The Book of Certainty: Qur’anic Themes & Reflections ]
When you have the choice, higher spiritual resolve and true Godfearingness (taqwa) would entail being cautious.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt.” [Tirmidhi]
However, when difficult or there are other reasonable considerations, then you should stay within the limits, and you’ll be rewarded as per your intention and not as to what actually happened. This is the mercy of our Religion.
See also: Eating at Restaurants That Play Music  and: A Guide for Consuming Various Meats, Foods, Alcohol, Animal By-Product Ingredients, and Cosmetics
And Allah alone gives success.
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani