U.S. Food Policy: 8 Laws Affecting Bars & Eateries

By Cindy Augustine  |  November 12, 2013

New Yorkers may have balked at Bloomberg’s proposed ban on sugary drinks, but across the country even more stringent rules and policies exist – along with rules against Bloomberg’s rule. For example, Boston is a town known for its booze-friendly culture (maybe it was Cheers that gave it that rep), yet state law prohibits discounts on early imbibing. From truffles to foie gras, read on for even more lock-downs on policies that make us wonder, and a few we even agree with.

  • No Happy Hour, Massachusetts
    What started as a response to a fatal drunk driving incident back in the ‘80s turned into a law abolishing happy hour set by then-governor Michael Dukakis in 1984. Nearly 30 years later, the ban on drink specials is affecting customers to this day, disallowing free or discounted alcoholic drinks during certain time periods.

    Alex Attia, General Manager of The Charles Hotel in Cambridge tells us, “In Massachusetts, ‘happy hour’ does not exist as it does in other states. All liquor specials must be available all hours for a full week and spirits cannot be discounted. At Noir here in The Charles Hotel, we've created a food-driven happy hour - Noir Bites - with our food offerings to entice people during peak periods. At times, it is very hard to explain this to our out-of-state clients, but the law is the law, and we always respect it.”

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    No Foie Gras, California
    Foie gras has been banned from sale in California for just over a year, but the Golden State first passed a law in 2004 prohibiting the sale of any product derived from the practice of force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers, and then granted a 7.5 year grace period, leading up until July 2012. 

    “It's a big discussion in California and around the chef world”, says ONE Group Corporate Executive Chef, Liran Mezan. “The biggest contention is that foie production is a drop in the bucket of ‘wrongful’ animal production for human consumption. Our food system in this country produces millions of inhumanely grown and genetically modified chickens per day and it continues. Around the world countries are farming seafood in waters with high levels of harmful toxins and metals. These are actually harmful to the human population. Foie can become a humane endeavor rather than a banned substance if regulations are in place.”

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    No Booze Served before Noon on Sundays, New York
    While New York may be the city that never sleeps and pretty much anything can be delivered to your door at any hour of the day, forget about getting a drink before noon on Sunday. Both the sale of alcohol at liquor stores and at restaurants is banned until the noon hour – which explains those insane lines for brunch. (Thankfully beer is sold at grocery stories and bodegas, allowing it to be purchased day and night).

    Betony General Manager Eamon Rockey says, “I always find it really frustrating when I go somewhere for brunch on Sunday and am unable to order a Bloody Mary at 11:45 AM.” Join the club!

  • Credit: Flickr/Nociveglia

    Truffle Troubles, Nationwide
    While it’s legal to bring Italian truffles into the States, the rules surrounding their clearance can be disruptive to the food community. Mike Rojas, Food Service Director at Urbani Truffles, explains that all truffles travel as they’re found in the ground, which is to say, pretty dirty. During white truffle season, in the September to December months, Urbani imports three to four shipments per week of the rare mushrooms, about 500 pounds every seven days, and distributes them nationally.

    “If they’re too dirty or if customs finds one bug, the truffles are incinerated or deported back to Italy or held at customs,” adding that this happens perhaps once a season. But when the average price of said white truffles can reach up to $2,000 per pound (these are sold in grams, remember), this can really affect the bottom line and other businesses. “It messes up things with restaurants and we have to deal with a lot of angry people,” Rojas added, nothing that in worst cases, thousands of dollars worth of truffles wont make it to the other side of the airport.

  • Charcuterie Rules Abound, Nationwide

    Scott Bridi, founder of Brooklyn Cured, a small-batch charcuterie purveyor based in Brooklyn, says that in order for his company to make and sell sausages, hot dogs, bacon, smoked meats, and the like, there’s a huge amount of legal paperwork involved. Because in order to sell meat to a third party (like a gourmet grocery store or a restaurant), all products need to be federally regulated.

    “Producing meats in a federally inspected facility has its challenges because there’s an inspector on site at all times, “ Bridi says. “There’s a lot of paperwork and logs and recording procedures  - and that’s where the challenge is,” adding that he needs a full-time administrative assistant to keep up with the demand of legal documentation, an additional cost to small businesses like his. ”It can negatively impact your bottom line if your volume isn’t huge.”

  • Difficult Approval Process for Sous Vide, Virginia
    The sous vide method, in which food is vacuum-sealed in plastic and cooked in a circulator with temperature-controlled water, has been under scrutiny by health inspectors for years due to concern over bacteria growth in the sealed pouches. Until restaurants nationwide filed plans and adopted their local government regulated safety practices, restaurants had to stop using vacuum-sealing machines. Getting approved and adhering to the very specific food code regulations isn’t always easy, however, and the paperwork and data logging has left many forced to abstain from this popular method.

    In Virginia, the rules for sous vide cooking have proven tough to adhere to for some proprietors. "The sous vide method of cooking is known to intensify natural flavors. Once this method becomes approved by the local government, we look forward to incorporating it into the menu to provide guests a unique flavor experience," said Emilia Sparatta, co-owner and general manager of Heritage restaurant in Richmond, VA.

  • No Trans Fats, Nationwide
    The latest ban has been one we likely won’t miss: no more trans fat. This month, the FDA moved forward in its goal to eliminate artificial trans fat, which they had previously made news with in 2006 when trans fat content was added to nutritional labels on packaged foods.

    While New York City banned trans fatty food from restaurants in 2006, with other cities and fast food establishments following suit, trans fats still exist in many food products. Donuts, frozen pizza, pancake mix and cake frosting all contain them – though likely not for long. To further complicate things, there’s also a loophole in the labeling law, which allows foods with less than half a gram of trans fats per serving to be called trans fat-free – angering health advocates. Another burden of eliminating the artery-clogging fat is a shorter shelf life for foods that contain it.

    “One of the FDA’s core regulatory functions is ensuring that food, including all substances added to food, is safe,” said Michael Taylor, and FDA commissioner, said in a statement.

  • No Bloomberg Ban, Mississippi
    Bloomberg’s soda ban message was heard far and wide – as far away as Mississippi, where Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill earlier this year forbidding municipal leaders from regulating food and drink in local establishments.

    "It is simply not the role of government to micro-regulate citizens' dietary decisions," Bryant said in a statement. "The responsibility for one's personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise."

    But in a state where the obesity rate ranks highest in the nation, it’s easy to raise an eyebrow at the new anti-Bloomberg law in which cities and counties cannot limit portion sizes or require nutritional information to be displayed on menus. States including Arizona, Florida and Alabama have also opposed the regulations of the restaurant industry from their local governments.