Our Guide on Food Hygiene and Safety Practices with Reusable Containers

In order to make your life easier, we have summarized for you the Food Hygiene and Safety Guidelines (MAPAQ) to follow to make zero-waste purchases safely. This guide is intended for the use of merchants and customers.

COVID-19: Note that as of April 20, 2020, health authorities have not recommended any changes to current practices regarding the use of reusable containers for businesses offering bulk products, but strongly suggest that businesses improve their sanitary measures during the pandemic. You will find more answers to your questions on the Quebec government’s COVID-19 website.

Improved Sanitary Measures & print files

To help answer your questions about improved sanitary measures, Circuit Zéro Déchet has joined Maillon Vert to produce an informative flyer available free of charge from businesses that sell bulk products. Download for free the sanitary instructions for bulk to avoid the risks of contamination.

Download our free basic sanitary instructions on the use of reusable containers in stores with a food service offering.

Notre guide pratique «zéro déchet» et normes d'hygiène et de salubrité

I am a customer and I want to bring my dishes, what should I know?

You should respect the following points to ensure food safety and avoid any risk of cross contamination.

  • Your CONTAINER must be CLEAN and HAVE NO IRREGULARITIES in the material (cracks, fissures or other defects that could compromise the integrity of the container)
  • Your CONTAINER must also be made of FOOD grade material, easy to wash and sanitize, so as not to become a potential source of contamination.

Our food hygiene and safety tips with reusable containers

1. Reusable bags for fruits, vegetables and other fresh produce

  • Machine-wash your cloth bags frequently, especially after using them to carry fresh produce, meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Hand-wash reusable grocery bags inside out with hot soapy water if they aren't machine-washable.

2. Meat dishes, etc* (chicken, cold cuts, cut cheese )

Use a dish soap and hot water then wash your dishes and their lids properly with a clean cloth. Rinse well with very hot water and let air-dry (normally, the hot water evaporates). Close the lid so that you can carry your dish and the inside of the lid does not come in contact with unwanted surfaces. If it’s hot outside, use a cooler and add ice or a freezer bag inside to keep your containers cool during the ride.

3. Refillable liquid or oil bottles (juice, olive oil, vinegar…)

The rule is the same as for meat dishes. You should wash them with soapy water properly. Rinse well in very hot water, shake to remove as much water as possible and allow to dry. Close the bottle with its cap so that the inside of the bottle does not come into contact with unwanted surfaces during your ride.

4. Bags and jars for dry foods (nuts, legumes, cereals…)

Follow the same rules as for reusable bags.

5. Preparing your zero-waste grocery list

Prepare your containers according to your grocery list and place them in your bin or carry bag. During the summer, provide ice and a cooler to keep your food cool.

6. Relationship with the merchant

This is not a matter of hygiene, but KEEP SMILING and BE RESPECTFUL to the merchant! Respect and politeness are essential when you want to get something, especially when shopping in a Zero Waste way!

7. Circuit Zéro Déchet responsibility

These tips are only suggestions that are given to you without legal responsibility. The Circuit Zéro Déchet accepts no responsibility for the accuracy, relevance or completeness of the information or suggestions provided in this document. It is your sole responsibility to ensure that your containers are clean, sterilized and ready for use.


I am a merchant and I want to offer this service to my customers, what should I know?

Liability for business - sections 3.1 and 3.2 of the Food Products Act

2015, 25th march - In order to reduce the use of disposable containers, some operators allow their customers to bring their own containers for take-out food orders. The practice is neither prohibited nor compulsory.

Sections 3.1 and 3.2 of the Food Products Act specify that equipment used in any operation must be clean and that its use must not be likely to affect food safety. Contamination risks associated with the use of containers belonging to the consumer occur at 2 levels: when receiving the containers and when filling them. The operator must therefore apply the means to avoid contamination of ready-to-eat food products or food products being prepared.

It is recommended that the operator verifies the condition of the containers brought by consumers: irregularities in the material (cracks, fissures or other defects that could compromise the integrity of the container) are considered difficult to wash and sanitize and are therefore a potential source of contamination.

The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act in Canada

In Canada, there is the labeling law. The Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act is a regulatory statute. It requires labeling on a pre-packaged consumer product to contain accurate and sufficiently explicit information to enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. The Act prohibits the giving of false or misleading information and specifies what information must appear on the label, such as the name of the product, its net quantity and the identity of the supplier.

In order to meet these requirements, companies have the right to refuse a container with the label of another company. This is why you must remove any label, logo or container information you use, if you wish to receive service in these containers from most merchants.

Mandatory hygienic practices to avoid contamination of food prepared, or served in consumer-owned containers

  • Require that the consumer bring clean containers: the operator must check the condition of the containers before placing them in the food service area. Operator must refuse service in dirty containers
  • Avoid contact between containers and food preparation or service areas: containers must be filled as soon as they are received.
  • Ensure that containers brought by the consumer do not come into direct contact with food being prepared or with the preparation material: the containers should only come into contact with the serving tools (ladles, spoons, spatulas, slices, tongs, etc.).
  • Food handlers who come in contact with containers brought in by the consumer should wash their hands more frequently during periods of activity when consumers bring their own containers.
  • An operator claiming to have no allergens in the foods he/she prepares or serves will not be able to carry out this activity.

Note: In order to avoid any risk of contamination, we suggest that you read your Guide to Good Hygiene and Food Safety Practices to properly clean your surfaces and utensils after serving a customer in a “zero waste” manner.

How to safely serve a customer who brings in his own containers

Depending on your products and equipment, you may be required to use disposable gloves or a small piece of parchment paper to perform the service. Most customers should understand that in the absence of reusable serving utensils, this practice is a food safety measure.

In any case, the container MUST NEVER get in touch with the food preparation service area.

  1. When the customer presents the container and the container meets the requirements, take it and bring it to your service area.
  2. To avoid trays, papers or other waste, take the container and place it on the scale. Zero the scale with the container on the scale. Leave the balance at zero and take back the container.
  3. Using your service utensils or gloves, take the product requested by the customer and place it inside the same container.
  4. Re-weigh the container with the product inside and print the label.
  5. Properly close the container with the lid and place the label on the container so that the customer can go to the checkout.
  6. Wash your surfaces, utensils and hands thoroughly after any handling of a container from outside, as mentioned in the RULES.
  7. Do not forget to reset your balance WITHOUT the container once you have finished your zero waste service.

MAPAQ notice

February 13, 2017: “if consumers want more information on food handling, our website has a lot of relevant information on this issue. More specifically, the consumer’s guide, from the grocery store to the home is a relevant document.”

Food establishments can also find a lot of information on our website, both on inspection as such as well as on good hygiene and sanitation practices.

We encourage food business operators or consumers who have questions about this practices, the rules that apply, or any other questions, comments or reports of practices that appear to be at risk, to contact our Toxi-Food Infections Line at 1 800 463-5023