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Accepting BYO reusable items - for cafes

Prior to the pandemic, the use of reusables in society was gaining positive traction. People were becoming more and more accustomed to bringing their own bags, water bottles and coffee cups.

While there have always been questions around the acceptance of reusables and their potential contamination risks, since the pandemic concerned business owners have also questioned their use based on misinformation around safety, arbitrary rules and regulations and a fear of fines from regulatory bodies.

Whilst food safety is by no means our area expertise, we do feel it necessary to debunk some common myths and provide some facts and suggestions to help business owners feel confident in their acceptance of reusable items.

First of all, what constitutes a reusable?

There is currently no strict guidance on what is considered reusable in Australia. For some business owners, this is potentially where the confusion lies - they may be in wondering whether a BYO item is acceptable for use.

We believe that a reusable item includes any cup, mug, jar, container etc. that is made for, or capable of, multiple use, where such multiple use will not compromise the integrity of the product or make it unable to be washed via sanitary processes.

An example of this would be comparing a glass container to a ‘Chinese’ style takeaway plastic container. The glass container can be safely washed time and time again. Glass is inert so therefore does not absorb any bacteria.

Comparatively, the plastic container, despite technically being able to be used again, begins to lose its integrity quickly, and it is hard to clean and sanitise, particularly when it has housed oily items.

Facts & common myths surrounding the use of reusables

FACT: Food safety is governed by the Australia & New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Accepting reusable cups and containers from customers is allowable under the code

(section 3.2.2), providing these are suitable for use, clean and not designed for single use.

MYTH: Businesses will be fined for accepting reusables.

The is currently no legislation or regulation in any state or territory in Australia that can be used to fine a business for accepting reusables. There were periods throughout the pandemic where Queensland enacted state laws to temporarily ban BYO reusables, however these regulations have since been lifted.

MYTH: There needs to be an onsite dishwasher available in order to accept reusables/use reusables.

Under the Australia & New Zealand Food Standards Code Appendix 6: Cleaning and sanitising surfaces and utensils, a dishwasher is not required to effectively clean and sanitise eating and drinking utensils and food contact surfaces. Under the Code, cleaning and sanitising can be done manually (e.g. using sinks), or using dishwashers or other specialised equipment.

Therefore, as long as there are appropriate sinks and food safe washing/sanitising substances available, then reuse is permitted.

Some local councils may have requirements around this before issuing food licenses however, so it would be worthwhile checking in with your local council.

MYTH: Accepting reusables will increase the risk of food contamination

There is no evidence of this. If a reusable container is clean, then it should be considered the same as a single-use item.

FACT: It is up to the individual business whether or not they accept reusables.

A business can choose to refuse reusables if they decide to, but equally a customer can choose to go to a business that does allow them. Increasingly customers are choosing to frequent businesses that are more reusable friendly.

Ways to mitigate risks and address your concerns

Firstly, get in touch with your local council and speak with the relevant food health and safety officer. They should be able to direct you to the legislation and ease your concerns.

Only accept clean reusables - this is a rule of thumb and cancels out issues surrounding potential contamination.

Only accept reusables that are genuinely ‘reusable’ - this way you can be sure that the material is made to be washed, withstand heat and hold food/drinks safely.

Sanitise BYO reusables in house - this can be done quickly and efficiently by having a vessel on hand with food grade sanitiser, whereby the reusable item is placed in the solution before receiving its food or beverage.

Encouraging BYO reusables with your customers

Your customers may have the same concerns as you, unsure whether reusables are Ok and whether you accept them.

Let them know you support a culture of reusables and encourage them to bring their clean BYO cups and containers. You can do this through signage, media/social media promotions, and just chatting with them about it!

We have some great signage options you can download for free.

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