People Are Gross, And So Are Potlucks

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and GraphicaArtis/ edoneil/Getty

Potlucks. Some people love ‘em, and some people love to hate ‘em. I’m on the fence. My family on both sides and my girlfriends all throw amazing potluck-style meals. We go all out making the most elaborate, delicious dinners. Since I can vouch for the cleanliness of everyone’s kitchen and their hand-washing practices, I always feel totally comfortable digging right in.

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I can’t say the same for work luncheons, church potlucks, and buffets. I’m always wary of anything cooked by a stranger in a home I don’t know anything about. I mean, have you seen the photo of a woman cooking while her cat sits on the counter with his tail in a pan of food? What about the one where a woman is making potato salad directly in a dirty sink instead of a bowl?

People can be really gross.

I recently perused the Facebook comments on a hilarious Scary Mommy article about potlucks, and it cemented my decision to be really freaking picky about whose potluck offerings I choose to eat.

I mean…

And then there’s this.


How about a little community food poisoning?

One person even shared how a potluck nightmare ended in unthinkable tragedy.


As fate would have it, the day after I read these nightmare comments, I ended up with a gross food handling story of my own. My husband and I took our kids to a little fall festival at a local church, and they were selling cotton candy for a quarter. We paid the fifty cents, and we walked over to the man handing out the cones. His fingers on both hands were glistening with some unidentified slimy liquid, which I quickly realized was….his own saliva.

This man was vigorously licking the candy off his hands, then using his wet fingers to stick fallen pieces back onto the cones. His fingers were covered in a literal slime of melted sugar and his own spit. I was too taken aback and nauseated to say anything. I just snatched the saliva cones away from my sad little boys and threw them directly into the trash. We washed our hands, tracked down some lollipops, and they took it like champs. I was repulsed for hours.

As it turns out, if you look for them, potluck, buffet and food service horror stories are plentiful. Pretty much anywhere that humans serve food, something gross or weird is likely to happen. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these potluck shockers, food service fails, and buffet nightmares:

Potlucks suck.

“I went to a church potluck. I’m eating my food when I hear someone holler, ‘Who brought the sandwiches?’ It’s quiet. Nobody answers. The original yeller now calls out, ‘Well, whoever brought them must be missing an earring.’ I turn to look, and she’s holding up a long, dangly earring covered in either tuna or chicken salad. So glad I didn’t take one of those.” — Taylor F.

“A woman brought her leftover Thanksgiving turkey to a potluck at an art show. The problem? This potluck was in mid-December.” — Gilli G.

“I once witnessed the person in front of me in line at a potluck very openly pick their nose, then rifle through a sandwich platter with their bare hands. After all that, they didn’t even take one to eat! This same person then proceeded to sneeze, uncovered, onto a pizza.” — Ana G.

“A friend of mine brought her famous dessert to a Bible study potluck. Her 5- or 6-year-old daughter was beaming about how helpful she had been making the dish. Before dinner was over, this little girl turned around and projectile vomited in the middle of the living room floor. Turns out, she had a pretty nasty stomach bug. Needless to say, dinner was over, and we were all pretty glad we hadn’t made it to dessert.” — Becky W.


“In my second year of university, I was invited to a classmate’s potluck birthday party. I agreed to attend with several other friends. I brought something I knew I could eat, because I’m allergic to beef. My dish went quickly, so I was left with few choices at the end of the line. I took a chance on the Mexican chili her grandma made, after being assured it was made without beef. It was not, in fact, made without beef. I spent the better part of the next two hours in the one tiny bathroom of my classmate’s parents’ tiny home, praying for a miracle and some bathroom spray. Neither arrived. Needless to say, no one said much of anything on the ride home. I took a chance on some potluck Mexican food, and it didn’t pan out.” — Alison A.

“I was at a small gathering, and we were eating in a small circle. I took one bite of a piece of quiche, and it was clear from the sulfurous smell and taste that it had been made from eggs that were way past their prime. The lady that had made it was watching me eat it. I had to control my gag reflex and choke down the bite. With tears in my eyes, I looked at the lady and said, ‘Yeah, it’s really good.’ That evening, I had the most painful gas and diarrhea of my life. That was the day I vowed to scorn potlucks.” — Erica C.

People even find a way to ruin fancy catered events.

“I worked part-time for a caterer, and she booked a fancy birthday event for a guy who also happened to play on a rugby team. A handful of his rugby buddies showed up already drunk, a few minutes after the buffet was opened. They hung back until the line died down, then they walked over to the table, grabbed forks, and started eating right from the chaffing dishes. Guess everyone else was done.” — Scott C.

“I was in a summer wedding and the bride had her heart set on an elaborate chocolate fountain display. Unfortunately, despite multiple warnings from her caterer, she insisted that it should be placed outdoors in Tennessee in July. Within minutes of the caterer laying out the buffet, the entire tent was swarmed with flies. The chocolate fountain recirculates the melted chocolate, and soon, it was recirculating dead bugs, too. A few of us bridesmaids tried to stand near the table and shoo the flies away, but it was pointless. Grossest buffet ever.” — Jane S.

To be fair, this is probably a people thing, not just a potluck thing.

Sometimes, even health inspected establishments can be kind of a nightmare because they’re run by people, and some people are just gross.

“At a buffet restaurant, an older gentleman stuck his HAND in the tray of popcorn shrimp and ate it standing right there. I mean, I know buffets are kind of gross as a concept but come on! They have utensils there for a reason!” — Tracy A.

“We went to a local taco shop that we had heard amazing things about. We watched while the man in the kitchen licked his fingers and threw pieces of our food into his mouth while he was putting it together. I don’t think he realized the door was ajar, and we could see him.” — Emily D.

I love sharing a meal with the people I love, and I don’t think I’ll ever swear off potlucks with my friends and my family. But I think after reading these stories, I might go the rest of my life without ever partaking in another community meal, salad bar, or buffet restaurant. There are just too many ways that an innocent table full of stranger-made casseroles can go disgustingly, catastrophically wrong.

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