New California law allows diners to bring their own containers for restaurant leftovers

Photo: Henrique Westin (iStock)

At certain restaurants, guests go into a meal knowing they’ll take home leftovers. It’s the entire premise of Olive Garden’s “Buy One, Take One” special, in which diners get an entree at the restaurant and one to take home, starting at $12.99. But all those doggie bags add up to a lot of packaging; why can’t customers bring their own reusable containers for the restaurant to load up?

While no doubt some restaurants would fill a Tupperware you brought in, many would not due to fears over cross-contamination in the kitchen. Who knows how long that plastic containers been rolling around in your trunk, right? A new California law, though, aims to standardize and legalize the process of customers’ bringing their own to-go packages to restaurants. While the idea may sound simple, it’s anything but.

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Nation’s Restaurants News reports the bill, signed by the governor this week, makes restaurant participation voluntary, meaning establishments can still decline to fill customers’ containers. But if a restaurant does want to fill that container you brought, it will have to have a few procedures in place. First, restaurants must have a written policy for preventing cross-contamination available on-site for health inspectors. Second, they must “isolate the consumer-owned container from the serving surface or sanitize the surface after each filling.” That sounds like restaurants have to treat customer Tupperware like a haz-mat spill, keeping it away from other surfaces in the kitchen or following its path with a spray bottle of disinfectant.

Other cities have similar policies in place, though not always codified into law. In New York City, for example, health officials tells NRN restaurants can fill customers’ containers with departmental permission. As businesses and individuals make efforts to cut down on single-use plastics and reviled foam containers, no doubt they’ll be more interest from Californians in BYO Tupperware. Whether restaurants want to go through the bother to accept them is another story.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.