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The plight of the humble 'doggy bag'
Gone are the days when you could over-order at a restaurant and simply ask for a doggy bag to take the excess food home. These days, a request to take uneaten food away from a restaurant is quite likely to be refused.
This can be a frustrating experience. After all, you’ve paid for the food. Surely it’s yours to do with as you wish?
The restaurant owner may disagree with you, and for good reason.
The fear of litigation in the food industry is high. The past couple of years have seen many instances of food poisoning which has been directly attributed to unsafe food storage or handling. Highly publicised cases include the death of an elderly man after eating at a prestigious Pymble restaurant, and a young girl who effectively became a quadriplegic after eating at KFC in Villawood.
As a result, food safety has become of significant concern to restaurant owners. Once food leaves the restaurant, they cannot ensure that it isn’t exposed to dangerous temperatures, or contaminated through handling by the consumer. The fear of course, is that if the consumer then eats the food and becomes ill, the restaurant will be blamed.
According to the NSW Food Authority, temperature control is a major factor in preventing bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Food enters the temperature danger zone when it is between five and sixty degrees Celsius. Doggy bags are often taken away while the food is in this danger zone. The longer the bag sits on the back seat of the car, the higher the risk.
There is nothing to prevent restaurants from providing consumers with doggy bags. But the advice from the NSW Food Authority is that restaurants should make it clear to consumers that the onus is on them to handle the food safely once it leaves the restaurant.
As a way of protecting themselves, some restaurants have introduced doggy bag stickers, which provide consumers with food safety advice, like: ‘Leftovers should go straight into the fridge and be reheated to steaming hot’. Others ask consumers to sign an indemnity form before taking food off the premises.
Ultimately, restaurant owners are unlikely to be found liable if consumers, who take food off the premises, handle it in a way that creates an "obvious risk". According to the Civil Liability Act 2002, restaurants have no duty to warn consumers of an “obvious risk”. Of course, the definition of what constitutes an “obvious risk” is not clear cut when it comes to safe food handling and will depend on the facts of each case.
So although it may frustrate some consumers, it’s perhaps understandable when a restaurant owner chooses to take a hard line on doggy bags.