(July 31, 2009) The reuse of food in restaurants in Korea has been a source of contention among consumers, the government, and restaurants. Korean cuisine features small side dishes that complement the main dish. When patrons leave amounts of the side dishes uneaten, restaurants have reused the food by serving it to subsequent customers. Restaurants claim that they need to place ample amounts of food on the table to avoid being labeled as stingy, yet later need to reuse the inevitably uneaten food for economic reasons.
In April 2009, the Korean Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs (MIHWFA) amended the Enforcement Decree of the Food Sanitation Act to impose harsh sanctions against the practice. (Food Sanitation Act Enforcement Decree, MIHWFA Decree No. 102 (Apr. 3, 2009), arts. 13 and 15.) Beginning on July 3, 2009, restaurants caught reusing food will be closed down for 15 days for the first offense. For a second offense occurring within a year of the first, the restaurant will be closed for two months. For the third offense, the restaurant will be closed for three months. On the fourth offense within the year, the restaurant will be closed permanently. Additionally, persons responsible for the reuse may be fined up to 30 million won (about US$23,000) or imprisoned for up to three years.
The Ministry, however, announced exceptions to the ban against food reuse on June 29, 2009. Foods such as lettuce and sesame leaves that remain unprocessed and unmixed may be reused. Similarly, foods such as cherry tomatoes and grapes whose original form remains can be reused after washing. Other categories of reusable food include foods that remain shelled (e.g., bananas and boiled eggs) and foods kept in covered containers to which the customers help themselves (e.g., salt and pepper, kimchi). The Director of the Food Policy Section of the Ministry, Lee Jae Yong Ki, has announced that he hopes to establish a culture of smaller food servings and less waste through the implementation of these new policies. (Pogŏn pokchi kajokbu podo charyo [Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Announcement], MIHWFA website, June 29,2009, available at http://www.mw.go.kr/front/al/sal0301vw.jsp?PAR_MENU_ID=04&MENU_ID=04