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A Cleaner Code: Paving the Way for Reusables in Oregon

This past week, Surfrider Foundation presented to Oregon's Food Safety Advisory Committee to advocate for the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to address long overdue code updates that would allow for reusable food containers in retail establishments like grocery stores and local food cooperatives. The committee, which meets monthly and advises state agencies on food safety issues, agreed to launch a process by early 2022 for recommending rule updates. The news is welcome to Surfrider's Oregon chapter network who have been exploring a variety of campaign strategies to update Oregon's food safety codes and rules to address reusables and sanitation.

Inconsistent interpretation of current food code in Oregon has prompted enforcement actions disallowing reusable produce bags and bulk containers in some retail establishments.

In an effort to further reduce consumer plastic pollution and promote reusables more comprehensively in Oregon's restaurant and grocery industry, the Oregon Chapters of Surfrider Foundation have launched a formal campaign to update Oregon's Retail Food Code and Food Sanitation Safety rules. The two complimentary codes are under different agency jurisdictions, with Oregon's retail industry falling under ODA's food code and Oregon's restaurant industry falling under Oregon Health Authority's (OHA) Food Safety Program. Both agencies participate in Oregon's Food Safety Advisory Committee where Surfrider presented last week. Given legislative interest in the issue, the committee established a deadline for recommending rules prior bill filing deadlines in the fall of 2022.

bulk items in reusable containers Reusable glass jars are great for bulk food items, they can be easily hand-washed or sanitized in a dishwasher

While many establishments have long been allowing for customers to utilize reusable containers for bulk and produce, an uptick in ODA food inspector citations in 2019 first prompted statewide interest in addressing the food code. The citations sent ripples of confusion throughout many retail establishments for both business owners and customers that are specifically trying to curb plastic pollution and reduce their consumer footprint. Large grocers and corporate marketers cited concerns with sanitation of customer containers and confusion about tare weights at the check-out...but

glass reusable jars with tare weight printed Not only are glass jars like these easy to sanitize, but many can be purchased with the tare weight printed for ease of checkout. Photo and buy them at:

Since 2019, the interest and capacity for ODA to address code updates has waned, but consumers' interest in  reducing plastic pollution, ditching single-use for sustainable packaging and utilizing reusables has only grown. What's more, in a state where we've enacted new plastic packaging and recycling laws requiring producers to make new investments to shift away from single use items, it's critical we have the legal foundation in our health code that provides for safe reusable food containers. Whether detailing the CDC's recommendations for reusables and food safety during the pandemic or breaking down sample health code from our neighboring states, Surfrider Foundation continues to advocate for more pathways to reducing plastic pollution for our oceans, waves and beaches.

Bulk up! A photo from the author's kitchen

Read more about how reuse wins and what the major sticking points and confusion within Oregon's current food code.