Is It Legal To Doggy-Bag Food At Restaurants?

Is it legal to take that half-eaten meal from your favourite restaurant home with you, a practice also known as “doggy bagging”? Some restaurants have banned this popular custom due to alleged food and health laws. Here are the facts.

Hungry girl picture from Shutterstock

I was a bit over-ambitious this weekend and ordered a $51 per head banquet meal with a friend. Halfway through we both realised we made a terrible mistake and could not stuff ourselves with anymore food. We didn’t want the food to go to waste so we asked to doggy bag the rest.

The waiter refused, citing health and safety reasons and how the restaurant doesn’t want to get in trouble for it. I didn’t press him further for an explanation, but the whole situation does beg the question: is it legal to doggy bag food at a restaurant?

There is currently no law in Australia that prevents restaurants from providing customers with takeaway containers for leftover food. This is made clear on most health and food websites operated by state governments across the country. However, they do warn of the potential risks of doggy bagging as lukewarm food is a paradise for bacteria growth which can lead to food poisoning.

If you care to read through the finer details of food laws across each state, you can find them all over at the Food Standards Australia New Zealand portal.

As the Queensland Department of Health so eloquently puts it, “[f]ood purchased by a customer at a restaurant becomes the property of that customer.”

However, restaurants don’t have to provide takeaway boxes. There could be a number of reasons why they won’t provide a doggy bag service such as fear of legal retribution should a customer suffer food poisoning, the cost associated with buying containers or, quite simply, they just want to be dicks about it.

That’s not to say you can’t take your own box. If you are willing to play the food poisoning Russian Roulette game, by all means bring your own container. There is no law stopping you from doing that and if a restaurant complains, politely point out that the food is technically your property — if they still want you to pay for it.

We do recommend, however, that you take precautions when you do opt to doggy bag:

  • Put the food in the refrigerator as soon as possible, so no leaving it in your car to marinate for a few hours while you go grocery shopping.
  • Finish the food within the next one or two days. Please don’t save it for as a late-night weekend hangover snack when you bought the food on a Monday.
  • Re-heat the hell out of the food. That will kill a lot of the bacteria that could potentially make you regret taking the food home in the first place.

Doggy bagging can save you money and prevent food wastage. It’s totally legal but just remember to do it in a safe way to prevent potential health risks.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.

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