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New year brings new restaurant regulations

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

Much of last year’s coverage of restaurant regulations focused on the affect of federal health-care legislation that will require restaurant chains to post calorie counts, New York’s new posted letter-grade inspection system and, most recently, a new federal law aimed at tightening the safety of the nation’s food supply.

But restaurants in several states and municipalities became subject to some other new rules on Saturday, including revamped health regulations in Denver that make potential punishments for so-called “critical” violations pricier but less public. New rules impose stiffer fines on restaurants that are found to be in violation of relatively minor infractions more than once in a year, but officials will no longer post notices of the violations in the restaurant’s window. Previously, eateries found with repeat violations as minor as a cook not wearing a hat three times in 18 months were fined and required to post a violation notice in the window for 30 days.

Major violations, such as a lack of hot water, are still grounds for closing the eatery, imposing a $2,000 fine and publicly posting notice of the infraction. “You should only have something posted in your front window if there is legitimate concern for public safety,” restaurateur Mark Berzins, who worked with health officials to craft the new rules, told the Denver Post. “At the end of the day, someone who’s not preparing food in a safe manner isn’t going to be in business very long anyway.”

In New York, restaurant workers got a raise in their minimum wage and eateries officially won the right to institute tip-sharing policies for servers and other front-of-the-house workers. It’s the first time state regulators put rules regarding tips in writing, a move likely to help restaurant owners avoid lawsuits filed by employees unhappy with the way gratuities are distributed among staffers. Under the law, food service workers, including servers, bartenders, bussers and nonmanagement sommeliers and hosts, are allowed to share in tips, which can be pooled and distributed by management or split up by servers at the end of the evening.

A law passed in 2007 that phased out trans fats at California restaurants beginning a year ago expanded on Saturday to include bakeries and doughnut shops, a move the state restaurant association doesn’t believe will make many waves given that most of the eateries in the state have already eliminated trans fats from their menus. A separate law that goes into effect July 1 is more likely to effect restaurants — that rule requires the state’s 1 million restaurant workers to complete courses in safe food handling. “To be a successful restaurant, rule No. 1 is that people need to know that the food they’re eating is safe and healthy,” the California Restaurant Association’s Daniel Conway told The Press-Enterprise.

In Maryland, agriculture officials are considering a plan to label local produce and seafood by its state, and sometimes county, of origin. The move is a compromise by Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance, who was challenged by a law passed last year to define “local” much as the federal government defined “organic” almost a decade ago. State officials say consumers are clamoring for locally produced food, so such labeling is likely to spur sales for the state’s farmers.

“If we put it back in the hands of the consumer, the person purchasing the apples at the grocery store, if we’re doing a good enough job at the Department of Agriculture promoting local, then hopefully they would pick the apples grown in Carroll County (Md.) rather than the apples grown in Washington state, as long as its clearly identified,” state Agriculture Department spokesman Mark Powell told the Carroll County Times.