Buffet restaurants told not to serve used food

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Buffet restaurants told not to serve used food

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has upgraded the guidelines for restaurants after a local buffet chain sparked controversy by serving old food.

According to the law, restaurants cannot reuse dishes that have already been served to customers, but exceptions are allowed for food that is not considered a hygiene or safety risk.

Exceptions include raw vegetables that can be cleaned with water and fruit that is protected by a skin or peel that isn’t typically eaten. Fruit that has already been cut up cannot be reused.

Dry products like nuts, chips, crackers, chocolate and pastries, except ones that are filled with cream, can be reused. Food served in a container with a lid is also okay.

The guidelines aren’t new, but have been expanded to apply to buffet restaurants. Previously the regulations only applied to ordinary restaurants.

Controversy began in August when a restaurant run by buffet chain Todai was caught reusing shrimp and fish. The chefs at the restaurant said it was standard practice.

At the time, the Food Ministry said that reusing fish didn’t break any laws as long as it was safe, but consumers weren’t impressed.

That same month, the ministry launched an investigation into buffet restaurants nationwide which served as the base for Tuesday’s new guidelines.

“The existing guidelines target restaurants that serve food to customers’ tables,” said a ministry spokesman. “But buffets are different because they lay out dishes in a central location - this put them in a gray zone. The new guideline takes them into consideration as well.”

The new version has detailed clauses tailored to buffet restaurants. It states that raw fish, sushi and gimbap are not reusable as they can contain microorganisms.

Cake cut into pieces at the dessert section should be disposed of immediately for the same reason. Even among food that is kept inside containers, dishes that acidify after exposure to air, like fried dishes and japchae, or stir-fried noodles, cannot be reused.

Restaurants caught violating the rules can receive a penalty and be forced to halt business from 15 days to up to three months.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]
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