Food - Doggy bag information

Many food businesses and customers are unsure of the laws surrounding 'doggy bags'.

Food businesses may have requests from customers for doggy bags. You need to consider this when writing Food Safety Programs (FSPs) for your business. You will assess the potential risks from giving customers doggy bags for food not consumed at the premises.

The term doggy bag developed when food left uneaten at a restaurant was taken home for the family pet. Today customers will consume that food themselves, but at a later time. Most customers would be unaware that the safety of uneaten food taken away has been compromised and should they suffer from a food born illness, they may hold the proprietor liable.

The food purchased by a customer at a food premise becomes the property of that customer. It may be seen as poor customer service if a food premise bans doggy bags. However, in the interests of public health, the practice of taking away uneaten food from a food premise in doggy bags for human consumption should be discouraged.

Risks of doggy bags

Doggy bags differ from normal takeaway foods, because takeaway foods are intended to be eaten away from the premises and are served in a takeaway container by the food business at the appropriate temperature, that is hot foods are served hot at 60 degrees Celsius or higher and cold foods at 5 degrees Celsius or lower.

Food for doggy bags can be exposed to the following hazards:

  • temperature abuse (time in the Temperature Danger Zone of between 5 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius)
  • handling by consumer (contamination with Staphylococcus aureus which can produce staphylococcal enterotoxins which are heat stable and cause food-borne illness)
  • contamination with other food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella spp
  • cross contamination between cooked and uncooked foods.

Possible solutions

If a customer insists on a doggy bag, there are some ways in which risks can be minimised:

  • have a procedure in your Food Safety Program for dealing with doggy bags
  • only give doggy bags for foods that are suitable (low-risk)
  • transfer food into a new, food-grade container
  • have an instruction sticker or leaflet which explains the risks and sets suitable storage and reheating conditions for the food
  • write the date, and if you have time, put a code on the container and in an appropriate record book. (Recording this information may be helpful in the case of a consumer taking legal action against a proprietor for selling unsafe food. The records would demonstrate responsible action being taken on the part of the proprietor). 

Example Label: 

We hope you enjoyed your meal.
Food taken away from our premise needs to be responsibly managed to ensure product safety.

We want to keep your custom so in the interests of public health: 
Please place this food in your refrigerator as soon as possible
Either reheat the food the following day to piping hot, or throw away
Avoid leaving this food unrefrigerated (that is within the Temperature Danger Zone of between 5 degrees C and 60 degrees C) for more than a cumulative total of four hours – from the time the food was served.

DATE / TIME SOLD ………………………… am/pm ______ / ______ / ______ 

Page last updated: Monday, 12 July 2021