California Sets Guidelines for Diners to Bring Their Own Containers to Restaurants
The new law also reduces single-use items at festivals and other temporary food stalls.
In the food world, the desire to be environmentally-friendly is often complicated by the need for safety. For instance, with food waste, leftover items often get tossed because of the risk of contamination. No one likes trashing food, but it’s better than ending up in the hospital. However, people can be overcautious, too — which is part of the reason we’ve seen a push to clarify “Best If Used By” dates on packaged food. It’s a small, common-sense change with environmental benefits. And yet, even the FDA recently admitted that all of this “is not an exact science.”
These lessons are reflected in a new law out of California: On July 12, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill making it easier for diners to bring their own reusable cups and containers to restaurants to help avoid single-use packaging. Matt Sutton, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the California Restaurant Association, told Nation’s Restaurant News that many restaurants were interested in helping the cause, but were previously worried about the safety ramifications. “Some restaurants were doing it, but most were not because of those concerns about cross-contamination,” he told NRN. But with the new law, he says the state now has an official procedure in place. “A restaurant doesn’t have to accept these containers, but if they want to, there’s no responsibility on the restaurant’s part to clean and sanitize them.”
The state now allows restaurants to fill customer containers as long as they are either isolated from the serving surface or the surface is sanitized after each fill. Furthermore, new, more environmentally-friendly rules have also been put in place for “temporary food facilities” found at places like markets or festivals. Previously, they were required to offer single-use items like disposable utensils. Now, local enforcement agencies can let these food facilities clean and sanitize multiuse options if they see fit.
“Having fun at a concert or festival does not have to result in a sea of trash,” San Francisco’s Assemblymember David Chiu, who introduced the bill, told the SF Weekly. “I am grateful Governor Newsom saw the need for this new law that will give event organizers the ability to make greener choices and reduce landfill waste.”