2017 food and beverage policy roundup

With every new year comes an updated collection of regulations that affect food and beverage businesses, from restaurants to groceries to food manufacturers -- and everyone in between. Check out the following quick summary of some of the most impactful regulations that are either already in place or could be coming up the pike, which could impact food, beverage and retail businesses nationwide.

Calif. plastic bag ban: California consumers voted in November to ban single-use plastic bags in groceries. The rule took effect shortly after the vote, surprising some customers, who thought they had until Jan. 1 to comply with the law. However, grocers and shoppers ultimately adjusted smoothly to the new plastic bag bans, and consumers who don’t bring their own bags can still opt to pay 10 to 15 cents for bags in-store. Shoppers in the state are able to use plastic bags for produce and for meats.

Soda taxes: Last June, the Philadelphia City Council agreed on a 1.5 cent per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Just a few months later in November, voters in Boulder, Colo., approved a two cent per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks, while consumers in the California cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Albany voted to approve a penny per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Not long thereafter, the Cook County, Ill., Board of Commissioners approved a similar tax, levying a penny per-ounce on sweetened drinks. The Cook County tax goes into effect in July, but the other cities are already seeing the impact of their soda taxes, and Philadelphia consumers have expressed outrage over the increased prices they have to pay for beverages now that the taxes have kicked in.

Overtime rules: Restaurants and other establishments were expecting to put the federal government’s overtime rules into effect on Dec. 1, 2016, but an injunction halted the law  just days before it was to take hold. By that point, some businesses had already put changes in motion in anticipation of the new rules, while others had not yet implemented the updates required by the overtime regulations -- leaving some restaurants in limbo as to how they should proceed. Currently, the law that would require businesses to give overtime to salaried staff members earning below $47,476 is still blocked as the Department of Labor awaits the results of its appeal. Meanwhile, some states have announced plans to create legislation that would allow similar overtime rules in their jurisdictions rather than waiting for the federal legal filings to play out.

Wine and beer sales: In November, voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot measure to allow full-strength beer and wine to be sold in groceries. Liquor store owners were opposed to the new law, arguing that they could only sell alcohol in up to two locations, while grocers had free reign to sell in multiple outlets. Yesterday, an attorney for the state of Oklahoma asked the court to dismiss the challenge, which will be heard by a judge on Feb. 14. The law is not scheduled to take effect until Oct. 1, 2018, giving the courts time to hear and decide upon the challenges.

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