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[Op-Ed] Restaurants Reusing Food Leftovers

Posted December. 22, 2008 05:58,   


The government has joined forces with consumer protection agencies and restaurant associations to campaign against the reuse of leftovers at restaurants. At an event hosted by the Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry, participants pledged to serve a consumable amount of food and not to reuse food leftovers; make it rule to order an amount of food they can consume; eat all food served; and to use and promote restaurants not reusing leftovers. Rather than finding the campaign necessary, the seriousness of the leftover reuse problem is such that the government has had to step in.

Suspicion has been repeatedly raised over the past few months that certain restaurants reuse food and side dishes left over. TV stations aired several times in August and September the practice of leftover reuse and unhygienic food handling at restaurants. Notably, the three largest broadcasters spotlighted the widespread practice of leftover reuse with shows such as, “Only Customers Do Not Know This: Leftover Reuse (KBS)”; “Reuse and Re-reuse: Controversy over Side Dish Reuse at Restaurants (MBC)”; and “Shocking Controversy over Leftover Food Disposal (SBS).” While embarking on a campaign to end leftover reuse, the Health Ministry has failed to conduct its own survey.

Certain Korean restaurants and those serving homestyle meals are reportedly serving side dishes left uneaten by a patron to other customers, and even main dishes such as soups and stews by reheating them. Korean sushi restaurants often wash and reuse decorative shredded radish. Serving food unconsumed by other people not only makes customers feel uncomfortable, but also poses health risks. Food poisoning is a real danger, as is the spread of the hepatitis A virus that is transmitted via saliva. Ethics in restaurant operations have lamentably collapsed.

Of the 20 restaurants chosen randomly by a KBS investigative news magazine, 16 were found to have reused food. The ministry will revise a food hygiene law and shut down restaurants caught for a third time for serving leftover food. Threatening to punish violators in and of itself, however, will unlikely eradicate the practice of leftover reuse. Campaigns for food served to order and ensuing sanitary food have all gone up in smoke. Restaurants should learn the practice at certain eateries that allows patrons to pick the amounts of side dishes on their own. If more consumers get nervous over reused leftovers and stop eating out, the number of customers could plunge further amid the severe economic slump.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)