Why some restaurants still refuse to wrap food

Over 7 million tonnes of food are thrown away every year in Australia, but many restaurants would rather throw away your leftovers than allow you to take them home in a doggy bag.

Although no law in our country prohibits restaurants from offering take-out containers for leftover food, the risk of lengthy litigation or reputational damage from an improperly stored and reheated meal has seen the practice discouraged or, in some cases, completely prohibited.

Hana Assafiri is the founder of Fitzroy Moroccan Soup Bar, where she bucks the trend. For years, Assafiri has encouraged customers to bring all sorts of pots, pans and even Milo boxes, so leftovers can be sustainably packaged and sent home safely.

Grana staff educates customers on "the danger zone" before packing their leftovers in biodegradable containers.

Grana staff educate customers about “the danger zone” before packing their leftovers in biodegradable containers. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The leftover scraps were turned into compost that would eventually be used in agricultural production across Victoria, but tackling climate change can be costly – the restaurant is shelling out around $1,000 a month to close the loop.

“Companies bear the brunt of these commitments,” Assafiri says.

“I always encourage people to take leftovers home if they want to. It’s ridiculous that restaurants have to worry about litigation and insurance premiums going up just because of one or two individuals. irresponsible people who leave their leftovers in the car for 10 days before consuming.

“We are better than that. We should be able to have a reasonable conversation with our customers and trust them to be responsible if they want to take their food home.”

The Department of Health warns of the potential risks of doggy bags, as lukewarm food is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to food poisoning.

The risk is greatly reduced by ensuring that leftovers are refrigerated within two hours and then reheated to a temperature of at least 75 degrees.

Sydney-based Scott Brown, director of House Made Hospitality, says his restaurants such as Grana in Circular Quay are trying to mitigate the risk by educating customers about “the danger zone” before packing their leftovers in biodegradable containers .

“You should try to minimize foods that are in that danger zone as much as possible, and some food items are more sensitive than others,” he says.

“Proteins such as seafood and chicken fall into the very high risk category. In this case, we would simply explain why they should put them in the refrigerator at a shorter time.

“We spend so much time and effort preparing and presenting our dishes that it would break our hearts to just throw them in the trash.”

Despite the environmental benefits, many restaurants prefer to keep tabs on their leftover policies. Questions asked by The Sydney Morning Herald and THE Ge to several hospitality businesses have been dodged by fine dining restaurants and budget venues. Many operators claimed that their “customers usually eat everything on their plate” and therefore could not comment on the matter.

“Some restaurants just wrap food, some refuse outright,” says Callan Boys, editor of Sydney Morning Herald Food Guide. “Totti’s in Rozelle packed leftover roast chicken and potatoes from our table the other week – which were even better for lunch the next day.

“But next week a restaurant in Crown wouldn’t let my table mate bring home some ribeye left on the table.”

Understandably, says Kenneth Yardy, managing solicitor at Yardy Legal law firm in Surry Hills.

“There’s no specific law that prevents doggy bags, so lawsuits against restaurant owners aren’t very common,” he says.

“The biggest problem is reputational damage.”

In New South Wales and Victoria, once leftovers have been removed from the restaurant, it is the customer’s legal responsibility to ensure their food is handled properly. However, if leftovers cause food poisoning, restaurants could still be sued.

“What you’ll find out is that if there’s been a few complaints, eventually someone will call the council and the council inspector will go over there and hand out a bunch of tickets and take the restaurant to court. “, says Yardy.

“Then you’re on the name-and-shame list, and people can search for you. It’s a huge reputational damage.”

The maximum penalty for serving unsafe food is $250,000, Yardy says.

There are ways restaurants can mitigate the risk. According to Yardy, timestamping take-out containers and providing clear instructions on food storage can be very helpful.

“One of the defenses to being sued under the Food Act NSW (2003) is to show that you have done everything a diligent restaurant should do,” he says.

At Ovolo in Woolloomooloo, restaurants such as popular vegan offering Alibi will soon require customers to sign a waiver.

“This policy will ensure that we are not responsible for anything that may happen once the food has been removed from our premises. We cannot guarantee that the food will be safe to consume when the restaurant chooses to return to it. “, says Ian Curley. , the National Director of Kitchen Operations for Ovolo.

“Once we have the waiver in place, we will feel more comfortable with [allowing doggy bags].”

For some, like Shane Delia of Melbourne-based Delia Hotel Group, the risks just aren’t worth it.

“We don’t encourage it for a multitude of reasons. It’s definitely not something we want to support,” he says.

“For one thing, high-end restaurant food doesn’t translate really well to take-out containers. No one wants to put a nice dish in a sticky take-out container.

“The name, ‘doggy bag,’ probably explains what the industry thinks about it.”

Although the law is in favor of restaurants, Delia says a case of food poisoning from mishandled leftovers is more likely to be solved at the restaurant.

“No restaurant has the time, money or patience to dedicate lawyers to discuss liability with their customers,” he says.

“We’re in the hospitality business. We want to exceed guest expectations, we don’t want them to go home and get food poisoning.

“In our industry, we want to be very risk averse.”

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