Todai accused of reusing buffet food in dishes

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Todai accused of reusing buffet food in dishes

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Seafood on display at Todai, a restaurant chain accused of recycling untouched buffet food in cooked dishes. [TODAI]

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said on Monday that there was nothing wrong with using previously displayed food as ingredients for new dishes after chefs at Todai said in a report on Sunday that it was a regular practice at the buffet chain.

Nonetheless, Todai discontinued the practice and issued an apology.

“We admit our mistake in using uneaten food displayed at our Pyeongchon branch as ingredients for other dishes between July 5 and Aug. 9, as was broadcast in SBS,” the company said in a statement on Monday. “Todai will completely discontinue the practice of recycling food and work hard to win back the trust of our customers.”

Chefs at Todai’s Pyeongchon branch in Anyang, Gyeonggi, told local broadcaster SBS that the restaurant ordered them to reuse uneaten and previously displayed food as ingredients for new dishes. The U.S.-based buffet chain founded by a Korean-American has seven branches in Korea.

“As professionals, we couldn’t accept what was being done morally,” the chefs told SBS.

The chefs said they boiled uneaten shrimp and raw fish from lunch to use as ingredients for new dishes like sushi rolls during dinner time. They also reused raw salmon and deep-fried tempura as ingredients for sushi rolls.

They added that they received orders to reuse the food directly from restaurant management through messaging apps.

When SBS asked the chief executive of Todai Korea, Hans Kim, to speak on the matter during the broadcast, he defended the restaurant’s decision to reuse displayed food.

“We reused the raw fish from sushi because chefs were saying it was a waste to throw them out,” Kim said. “Sushi rolls are tastier when they contain many different types of fish.”

Korean law bans restaurants from keeping and serving leftovers to customers, but according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Todai did not break any laws.

“It has been our official interpretation that uneaten food from buffets and other places where food is shared is not considered leftovers,” a ministry spokesman said on Monday. “It is also alright for raw fish to be reused again as long as it is cooked in a different way before being served again.”

Still, the revelations have made consumers squeamish.

“Even if the displayed food in buffets might not be considered leftovers, I’m surprised that there are no restrictions against their reuse since the food will collect a lot of dust and particles from being exposed out in the open,” said one 45-year-old office worker. “I used to frequently take my children to buffets, but now I’m a bit worried.”

One online comment read, “It’s shocking that a buffet where prices aren’t even that cheap can so boldly recycle food.” Dinner at Todai for one adult costs 34,000 won ($29.99) on weekdays and 39,000 won on weekends.

“It is not ideal to recycle leftover foodstuffs and provide them to consumers in unexpected ways,” said Prof. Yoon Yo-han, who teaches food and nutrition at Sookmyung Women’s University. “That will only break down trust and expectations.”


BY PARK HAE-LEE, LEE GA-YOUNG [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]

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