Making the Grade: The Skinny on Straws

By Austin Publicover, Bulletproof! Restaurant Compliance

August 7, 2014

Let’s take a peek at what Article 81 of the NYC Health Code has to say about drinking straws.

§81.07 Food; sanitary preparation, protection against contamination.

(o) Drinking straws. Drinking straws shall not be offered to the consumer unless they are completely enclosed in a wrapper or dispensed from a sanitary device. Drinking straws shall be discarded immediately after use.

There are a hundred different types of straws.  For our purposes, mostly all of them are made of polypropylene and are not designed to be used again.  There are spoon-straws, mini-straws (aka cocktail or “rocks” straws), extendo-straws, bendy-straws, red straws, black straws, crazy straws, basic straws… you get the idea!

Now here’s where it gets fun, because the following (although not incorporated into Article 81 of the Health Code) is my best-practice approach to complying with this portion of the Code:

  • If straws (especially mini-straws) are to be placed into drinks by the employee, then those straws can be unwrapped provided said employee uses some means to eliminate bare-hand contact with the straw.  Since the straw is considered to be a food contact surface, without a discernible “handle”, nowhere on the straw may be touched by the employee… which means the employee must utilize tongs, gloves, wax paper, or some other impermeable barrier to transport the straw from its container (be that a rocks glass or a container) to the guest’s drink.
  • Since unwrapped straws are always stored together and always dispensed by employees, the use of gloves or tongs to handle the straws also eliminates the possibility of contaminating other straws in the bunch through incidental contact.
  • Unwrapped straws cannot be stored within reach of a guest, due to potential contamination.
  • Unwrapped straws must be stored in a uniform direction to minimize cross-contact.
  • Many bars set out quarter-wrapped soda straws in a glass, so that the employee may pick up a straw via the wrapped end without exposing the straw to bare hand contact.  The sanitized glass can be considered a compliant “sanitary device” and the wrapper is a compliant “barrier”.
  • In a quick-casual or front-of-house setting, unwrapped straws can only be obtained from a dispenser, and that dispenser must be easily-cleanable or NSF-approved stainless or plastic, free of contamination.  But I bet you already knew that!
  • If straws are not stored in a dispenser, but are set out for guests to obtain, then those straws shall be completely wrapped to prevent cross-contact and contamination.

Be aware that the beautiful, custom-made wood boxes adorning so many bars across the City are neither “easily cleanable” (you won’t be sending that through the dish machine!) nor NSF-approved.  And I doubt the polyurethane or shellac used to seal the wood is non-toxic or food-grade.  You can keep those beautiful wood boxes, however, if you purchase NSF-approved plastic insets or build your box around a removable plastic sixth-pan, then you’ve satisfied the Health Code without detracting from your décor.

And that, my friends, deserves a drink.  Cheers!

Austin Publicover | Bulletproof! Restaurant Compliance     Bulletproof! Restaurant Compliance is a New York City-based services provider founded by consultant Austin Publicover, an industry professional with almost a decade of experience in restaurant compliance and food safety. We can help improve your profitability, better your letter grade, and enhance your team’s expertise with a comprehensive approach to Mock “Health” Inspections, Team Training & Foodworker Education, Health Tribunal Representation, Operating Permits, Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, Standard Operating Procedure, Critical Path Project Management, Pre-Operational Audits, Regulatory Compliance and Certification (NYC Dept. of Health, Fire Dept., Dept. of Consumer Affairs, FDA, USDA/FSIS, NYS AgriMarkets).

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