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DOH, DOR guidelines for selling grocery and pantry items during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order

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As restaurants continue to re-evaluate their business models amid the coronavirus outbreak, many are now selling grocery or pantry items.

Taking advantage of this service from restaurants can help customers avoid crowded grocery stores with no-contact delivery or pick-up to allow for social distancing. And it can help restaurants earn income they wouldn’t ordinarily have.

Here’s how to sell groceries and pantry items in Washington state – the right way.

Department of Health guidelines

If you decide that grocery items will add to your business right now, the Washington Department of Health has some guidelines.

Properly package all items for sale:

  • Use gloves or utensils to prevent bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods
  • Use food-grade packaging

Label each item, and each label should include:

  • Common name of food
  • Ingredient and allergen information
  • Name and place of business
  • Weight or quantity of the package’s content
  • For potentially hazardous foods, or foods that need time and temperature control, include safe-handling instructions such as “keep refrigerated” or “keep frozen”

Note: Specialized packaging methods, such as canning or vacuum packing, require prior approval from your local health department.

Bulk meat products

The guidelines also include recommendations for repackaging bulk meat products, after the USDA has made an exception for this during the coronavirus pandemic. Repackage the meat and duplicate the information from its original label. The only difference in labels should be the USDA mark of inspection.

Shell eggs

If you are selling shell eggs, the Food and Drug Administration permits the sale of eggs by the carton or flat without labels during the pandemic, as long as your restaurant:

  • Posts a sign at the point of purchase that includes the name of the manufacturer, packer or distributor and includes safe-handling instructions for raw eggs. If you have eggs from multiple suppliers for sale at the same time, it must be clear to consumers which sign or label applies to the eggs they are buying.
  • You must sell eggs in the complete carton or flat.

Temperature control and refrigeration

Make sure cold food is stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below:

  • If customer-facing refrigerators are limited, you may store the products in the commercial refrigerator at the back of the house
  • Wait until the customer requests the product before removing it from refrigeration
  • Coordinate delivery with the customer to ensure proper food temperatures

Meal kit guidance

Restaurants can assemble meal kits for customers to prepare at home. Make sure you cook and cool the ingredients properly, package raw and ready-to-eat components separately to prevent cross contamination. Provide your customers clear instructions for assembly, cooking or reheating.

Read the complete guidelines here.

Department of Revenue guidelines

On April 21, the Department of Revenue provided guidance for restaurants selling grocery items.

The short answer is yes, you should collect sales tax on these items, but there is an exception.

If a restaurant is offering four or more servings of food or food ingredients packaged for sale as a single item and sold at a single price, the item is exempt from sales tax as long as the seller doesn’t provide utensils. Utensils are classified as knives, forks, spoons, plates, glasses, cups, napkins and straws. The packaging for the item doesn’t count as a utensil.

Restaurants will need to keep detailed records that show which items are tax-exempt and why. Many restaurants have point-of-sale systems set up to separate taxable and tax-exempt food items.

Need inspiration for where to begin?

The Texas Restaurant Association held a webinar in early April to discuss selling grocery items.

Many restaurants are selling commodities: flour, salt, eggs, coffee, milk and fresh produce.

Trent Patterson, director of operations at Dish Society in Houston, recommend only selling those items you normally buy from your suppliers. This way, when the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order lifts you aren’t stuck with a lot of product you can’t use.

Chris Berry, managing partner at River Smith’s in Lubbock, Texas, said he usually doubles the markup when pricing items. If he gets a product for $2, he’ll sell it for $4. But he also looks at prices in the local grocery store to see what their prices are, and he thinks about what he would be willing to pay for that product as a consumer.

At Foreign & Domestic in Austin, Texas, Co-chef and Co-owner Sarah Heard is the only employee who leaves the building to hand out orders for curbside pickup. She uses a napkin to open the trunk or the back door of the guest’s car for a no-contact delivery.

And of course, the employees sanitize everything and wear cloth face masks.

All three of these restaurants have very active social media accounts to inform guests of this new service. Berry included price sheets in customers’ take-out order bags. Heard suggested taking orders in advance, so they are ready to go when the customer arrives.