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13th June 2016

Do you let your customers take food home in doggy bags?

Doggy bags, which were once just an American food custom are becoming increasingly popular here in the UK.

But is there a safety issue? The potential problem is bacterial multiplication that may arise from high risk foods which are subject to dangerous time and temperature control by the unsuspecting customer. Once high risk food has left the business, there is a risk that under the care of the customer. Keeping at room temperature during transportation or in the home, for a prolonged period of time. The risk for the caterer is that should food poisoning subsequently occur, the customer may well blame the business. In such circumstances, the onus will be on the caterer to prove they have taken all reasonable precautions to ensure the meal was safe.

So what can a food business do?

We recommend food businesses take a sensible approach to doggy bags:

If possible, discourage Doggy Bags for high risk food. In fact, there remains resistance by the British public to take home their leftovers. A survey by the SRA showed 25% of diners in the UK were too embarrassed to ask for boxes, 24% though believed they were against health and safety policies.

If the customer is insistent, businesses need to minimise the risk, take reasonable precautions and demonstrate due diligence, for example:

    • Include your policy for Doggy Bags into your safety management system
    • Communicate the procedure to your staff
    • Record when a customer is issued with a doggy bag (this could be as simple as recording on the copy bill) – just in case a customer seeks to complain.
    • Place food into a new food grade container
    • Provide guidance to the customer – preferably printed on the container or a sticker applied to the container (guidance leaflets tend to get mislaid and it is difficult to prove that it was issued to the customer).

Are The Government Taking Steps To Protect Food Businesses?

The Queensland Government, for example, have an Industry Fact Sheet 16 “Food Safety Information for doggy bags”  In support of their guidance businesses can purchase instructional stickers from the Government bookshop.

The sticker states:

“Please ensure this food is placed in your refrigerator as soon as possible. Reheat to piping hot before eating. Discard if not used within 24 hours”.

The “Too Good to Waste“ website also provides food safety guidance which in some respects strengthens the above advising to refrigerate within 2 hours. It also includes a disclaimer statement “Remember, whilst restaurants prepare, handle and produce a meal in strict accordance with UK food hygiene regulations, once you choose to take a meal off the premises it becomes the sole responsibility of the customer”.

We would add additional guidance for the customer. “Place in a suitable container for reheating, use clean utensils, and keep separate from raw foods”.

Doggy bags illustrate one of the challenges businesses face. Balancing the demands of safety with customer expectations and the issues of sustainability and reducing waste.

For more information on the issue of doggy bags, call us today on 01252 728 300


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