Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

Restaurant Sued for Serving Uneaten Dine-In Food to Delivery Customers

None of us want to waste food. But one restaurant may have taken that good intention a bit too far when it used uneaten rice from a dine-in customer and sent it out on a delivery order. The man who received the recycled rice is now suing the restaurant owner, claiming he violated food sanitation laws.

Besides the ick factor of receiving re-used food, is it actually illegal?

Reused Rice?

It's been one of the urban myths of restaurants for years, only to be confirmed in isolated cases. A Mexican restaurant caught reusing uneaten chips and salsa. Rumors of re-served bread and butter, allegedly confirmed by Anthony Bourdain in "Kitchen Confidential." And now video evidence showing a Korean restaurant owner unwrapping transparent vinyl film covers from two fried rice dishes served in the restaurant before reheating them again for delivery service.

Prosecutors in Busan indicted the restaurant operator in April 2017 for infringing the Food Sanitation Act, which bans using recycled food ingredients. The owner fought the charges, claiming the practice of recycling untouched food "avoids the Food Sanitation Act in that I did not recycle food previously touched." Intense scrutiny of the video of the incident yielded no definitive proof of a violation and the owner was cleared by a district court.

That's not much comfort to many Korean diners, who pre-emptively dispose of side dishes, knowing they're likely to be recycled.

Restaurant Recycling

Not only is it illegal to re-serve uneaten food to a different customer, there are statutes regulating how leftover food from restaurants can (or can't) be donated to food kitchens and shelters. In California, for example, the Sherman Food and Cosmetics Law and the Uniform Retail Food Facilities section of the Health and Safety Code, require prepared food products to be properly packaged and labeled to show all ingredients, origin, and weight, and prepared food must be delivered frozen or kept heated at more than 140 degrees. That said, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 protects food donors "from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient."

Hopefully you're not dining on someone else's leftovers when you're dining out. If so, the restaurant could be in legal hot water.

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