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.


Comments

    When I ask to take away leftover pastries, etc. after corporate events, to take back to the office for my colleauges, I usually have to sign a waiver that indemnifies them against any liability due to lack of food safety and handling standard. I think that's fair enough - and prevents food waste. Restaurants should do the same.

    Last edited 03/08/15 6:29 pm

      I'm fine with that. I hate food wastage, make me sign whatever

    Alot of places now will attach a sticker we get from the food and safety office that basically states as soon as the meal leaves the plate and is packaged for "take away", the kitchen is no longer responsible.

    As for the refusing to supply the container well plenty of people simply disregard the attached message and by not offering a container you're not encouraging them to take it home. We've had issues with people claiming they were ill after taking food leftovers home, only to have the front of house tell us they were sitting in the bar with the packaged meal for 4,5 hours after service >_>

    Last edited 03/08/15 7:08 pm

    was the same for us.
    we had a sign next to the till, that wasn't enough, as someone got sick, after eating their food 3 days after they visited us.
    we then stopped allowing people to take food home

      Not providing a container is one thing, but I'm curious to know what you would do if a customer brings their own container. Has that happened before?

    I imagine there'd be the greater risk of the restaurant's reputation suffering because someone suffered food poisoning from food made by them.

    i don't think I've ever had a problem with food poisoning ever; despite (or because of) my very liberal attitudes to food storage.

    It seems I have an extraordinarily high tolerance for food that's been left out too long, or else when I get takeout they load it with preservatives.

    I have terrible practice when it comes to leaving food out (have left pizza out for 2-3 days while it gradually gets consumed over multiple nights) but over 20 years or so have had food poisoning maybe twice. I'm quite aware this sort of thing is terrible practice but it just doesn't seem to affect me for some reason.

    One of those two occasions was from a nominally fresh kebab...

    The whole point of the article is that from a legal standpoint you CAN'T stop people taking *their* food home.

    I work in a pub in the more affluent suburbs of Perth Australia as a chef and the wealthy don't stay that way by wasting money. This means that if they don't finish their meal - even a few chips and half a salad - they almost always come up to the till to ask for a take-away container. We explain to them that because of the risks involved with storage and re-heating (and how it isn't under our control once it leaves the premises) we do not provide containers, also because the vast majority of our containers are re-useable.

    We do however state that if we don't see them take the food then we are not liable and in that case they can do as they wish, there is an older couple of regulars who bring their own tupperware when they visit and will usually only finish half of their meal and take the rest home for them, we also have some local businesses who use their own containers to grab lunch for everyone in the office. We don't discourage it openly but we do warn them of the risks and our staff are trained to properly instruct anyone who asks on the proper re-heating methods should the food just happen to follow them home.

    We even have some people use napkins to wrap their left-overs and carry them home, the only time someone claimed they got ill doing this (turned out it wasn't food poisoning any way) we conjured up the appropriate cctv footage of them leaving with the poorly stowed food and that solved that issue.

    I am not against it, it is perfectly legal but at the same time our insurance doesn't cover us for illness caused by food consumed by a patron if the food is marked explicitly for take-away and so we do not outright accomodate it.

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