BENDIGO’S foodies are hoping hospitality businesses have an appetite to explore a new concept that could reduce pressure on landfills.
Some of the city’s cafes already employ “keep cups” for regular coffee drinkers, which allow customers to reuse their own travel cups each day.
However, Bendigo Business Council director Marika McMahon has suggested food businesses allow customers to bring their own containers to stores.
The idea would see customers supplying their own reusable bowls or plastic containers, rather than being served in a disposable plastic or cardboard takeaway container.
“Where I work it is noticeable that when people have takeaway food for lunch, the containers fill the bins quickly,” Ms McMahon said.
“I don't like to eat it from (takeaway) containers and always tip it into a bowl, so why not just take the bowl (to the cafe)?”
Ms McMahon’s proposal has gained momentum since she aired it on social media this week.
“I think some customers would be keen to try it but there were some people whose thinking was about looking at health risks,” she said.
“Some businesses are reluctant to use ‘keep cups’ for coffee and as (the conversation) fleshed out it was clear there is confusion among people about what (is legal).”
City of Greater Bendigo manager of environmental health and local laws Susannah Milne said there was no law that prevents a food business from using a customer’s containers.
Ms Milne said individual businesses would need to consider if the customer’s container had been cleaned, and how. They would also need to assess whether it would contaminate anything in the cafe.
“They have to consider some things and talk about what is in the food standards code,” she said.
“Businesses have to have a proper food grade container (to serve takeaway food) and make sure it is clean and sanitised.
“There is an element of risk when a person brings in container (from home).”
Ms McMahon said she would be interested to see if businesses would get behind a potential “containers in cafes” system.
“It could be a great strategy for Bendigo to pursue, where we say let's be clear on the rules and let's do it together,” she said.
“The businesses I have spoken to have all been concerned about knowing what the rules are.
“Some said they used recycled containers anyway and are reluctant to (introduce it) for health reasons.
“Others would give it a go but we would need to educate consumers and cafes.”
Ms Milne said coffee “keep cups” were considered low risk because coffee was a low-risk product.
“Coffee is a less potentially hazardous food. It's just hot water, coffee and some milk, so is recognised as a low-risk product,” she said.
“When we talk about ready-to-eat foods, there is a higher potential of things that can go wrong.
“If there is a food poisoning incident, the customer blames the business and business (would) say, ‘well they had their own container, how do we know that was clean?’ It is similar to some restaurants not allowing people to bring cakes in. It is about what level of risk are they willing to accept.”
Ms Milne said any businesses considering introducing a policy allowing customers to bring food containers from home were urged to discuss it with their council health officer.
“I see the good intent in it but it is about managing those elements of risk. The business holders are the ones taking on those risks,” she said.
Ms Milne said customers could not insist a business serve food to a container brought from home.
“They can have their own policy but customers can’t make businesses do anything. If you put food in to your container after buying it and taking it away, that's your risk,” she said.