People often ask me if I ever get shot down trying to use my own containers in grocery stores. Generally, the answer is ‘no’, but that’s mostly because I choose to shop where it isn’t an issue. However, just over a year ago, I had a run in at a popular organic food chain that refused to fill my container citing “health reasons”. They weren’t clear on what legislation governed this, but they were pretty sure that there were “health reasons”.
So that got me wondering if there really was a law that said you can’t use reusable containers at the grocery store or in a restaurant. Long story short, I wrote a letter and got bounced around the government a bit before connecting with Tim Lambert at the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport who, apparently, is responsible for food safety here in BC.
Turns out that using a reusable container is not actually illegal, or even in the ‘not recommended’ category. . .but it is up to the discretion of the store.
I’m hoping that by sharing Mr. Lambert’s response, we will all be a little better equipped for friendly negotiation next time we get confronted about reusable containers. (Failing that, I think we should all make official looking ID cards that say “this person has been approved to use their own container and takes full responsibility for any health issues stemming from such use” and practice flashing them at the deli counter.)
“. . . There is no provision within the Food Premises Regulation that specifically prohibits the use of reusable containers. Section 12 mandates that an operator must (a) protect food from contamination; and, (b) store, handle, prepare, display, and dispense food in a sanitary manner. Some food premises may allow or even encourage the use of reusable containers for environmental benefits or cost-saving potential. However, some may interpret the regulation in such a way that reusable containers prevent operators from keeping food and the premise sanitary. Some opportunity for cross contamination exists, such as with grocery store delis that place containers on weighing scales or restaurants bringing containers into the kitchen area, which is probably why some food premises may interpret the regulation to prohibit this type of activity.
I agree that reducing packaging is an important environmental concern and encourage the use of reusable items where their use does not create public health concerns. Although a food premises’ policy will be informed by their interpretation of the legislation, I would encourage you to speak with the operators of the food premises you frequent and try to reach a solution. You may wish to share a copy of this email with them.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns.