Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) filed last week with the Secretary of State a notice of proposed rulemaking to provide updated retail health code language that better allows for reusable containers in grocery and other retail establishments. In our never-ending battle to eliminate single use plastic pollution, Surfrider Foundation launched our "Clean up the Code" campaign in Oregon late last year following hearing from both businesses and customers that Oregon's retail health code prevented customers from bringing their own reusable container for shopping in bulk, produce, etc. For customers and businesses seeking to reduce their single use packaging and promote reusable culture, the rulemaking is a critical step in modernizing Oregon's health code. The full rule, attached to the notice, is open for public comment until January 04, 2023, more information below on how to comment or participate in the rulemaking hearing.
Participate in the hearing: The hearing will be conducted virtually at 3pm, January 4, 2023. Individuals wishing to participate online may use the below Microsoft Teams link to listen in and provide testimony. For any special needs or other information about the hearing, contact Sunny.Summers@ODA.Oregon.Gov.
Wednesday, 01/04/23, 3pm - Click Here to Join the Meeting
Meeting ID: 226922009614
So what does Surfrider think of the rule?
Surfrider Foundation is encouraged to see the agency's notice following several years of working on this issue and supports the current draft rule, but would like to see some clarity in the rule about the inclusion of certain "ready-to-eat" bulk foods. The rule goes a long way to allow for customers to bring their own container for refilling bulk foods and produce, but because of some existing code definitions, foods like bulk ready-to-eat snacks like trail mix, granola, dried fruit, chocolates, candy (that don't require temperature or time controls) are not explicitly included in the rule. We believe it is the agency's intention to include these, but without a specific language stating such in the rule, Surfrider and some businesses remain concerned the code will cause confusion. We commend the agency on the rule update and development of the proposed rules, but encourage the agency to make this clear distinction in rule for bulk snacks. Particularly given the profuse amount of packaging associated with these types of snack foods, we think it's important there is clarity in the rule.
No really, you can't bring your reusable container...yet
Right about now you might be thinking, wait a minute there surf hippy, I've been bringing my own reusable granola jar and proudly refilling it at the local food cooperative for years no problemo! You may even be one of those grocers or other retail businesses that allows customers, even promote to customers, to do this. Well, the reality is that while many establishments have long been allowing for customers to use reusable containers for bulk and produce, it is not actually allowable by health code. And when you don't very consistently (or ever) enforce that code, the reuse culture continues. Heck, most of us plastic pollution haters have been promoting a reusable shop in bulk culture for decades, all our life even.
How'd we get here exactly?
An uptick in ODA food inspector citations in 2019 first prompted statewide interest in addressing the food code. Surfrider Oregon chapters and staff started really hearing from businesses and customers in 2020 when another effort to update the health code failed to pandemic crossfire. Businesses like Realm Refillery, that build their business model around promoting reuse, food equity and providing customers with a package free experience were struggling. Larger grocers like Whole Foods just stopped allowing customers all together to bring their own containers following code citation concerns. Surfrider spent the better part of a year researching alternative codes, organizing and campaigning this on the agenda of the agency's Food Safety Advisory Committee.
It's been a minute, but here we are
The Committee and Oregon Department of Agriculture were responsive to our advocacy, creating a subcommittee to evaluate best recommendations for reusable containers in retail over the course of 2022 which Surfrider participated and supported small business engagement. The key issues were processes for cross contamination, types and construction of allowable containers, who is doing the refilling and what types of foods you can use a refillable container for. Surfrider organized with Senator Sollman a listening session with businesses to better understand their needs in rulemaking and support a secondary legislative strategy should constituents feel necessary. With legislative session just around the corner and the Senator holding a legislative concept to move on this issue, the official rulemaking notice comes as welcome news in a long saga to modernize Oregon's health code with sensible solutions for reusable containers.