In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain says that we’ve all probably eaten a roll that had previously been in another customer’s complimentary bread basket. “When it’s busy and the busboy […] sees a basket full of untouched bread, most times he’s going to use it,” Bourdain writes. “This is a fact of life. It doesn’t bother me and it shouldn’t surprise you.” At least one restaurant owner in South Korea would probably bookmark this page, just in case he gets called into court again, charged with recycling food.
The as-yet-unidentified owner of a Chinese restaurant in Busan had been accused of taking two bowls of rice from one customer and serving them to another in his delivery order. According to The Korea Times, he was facing charges of violating the country’s Food Sanitation Act, which prohibits recycling and reserving food ingredients.
Although the restaurateur did reuse the bowls of rice, he said that he didn’t break the sanitation law, because the previous customer had returned the bowls untouched and “as they were,” with their protective plastic film covers intact. He then just reheated them and put them in the next guy’s to-go order, because what’s the problem? The customer who received the returned and re-served rice apparently saw a problem indeed, and took the restaurant owner to court.
During court proceedings in Busan District Court, the customer’s attorney played a video clip that showed the restaurant owner peeling the film covering from two dishes of fried rice, and there was some Zapruder-level scrutiny over whether one of the bowls was partially unwrapped. The court said that it was “hard to tell if the content was a leftover” and that it “could have been torn during delivery.” The evidence was ultimately deemed inconclusive and the charges were dropped against the restaurant owner.
The idea of recycled food might make you squirm, but Bourdain is probably right: It happens. In August 2016, a Michigan mom went viral after posting that her daughter had been instructed to re-serve chips and salsa at the Su Casa Mexican restaurant where she worked. The 16-year-old wasn’t cool with the owner’s chip recycling program, so she quit.
“I thought it was okay and the health department said it's not possible, you cannot do that,” Su Casa owner Edgar Suarez told WWMT. “I didn't realize that even if people did not touch them or [the chips] were still in the tray, I thought everything was good."
Anybody else thinking about buying their own dinner rolls, tortilla chips, and maybe a rice cooker?