How come some Japanese restaurants will sell you a bento (a takeout meal), but they won’t allow you to take home your leftovers if you’ve dined in?
(Note: This might be changing due to COVID-19 encouraging restaurants to be more flexible!)
Within Japan, it is considered safe to sell cooked food even if it has been sitting in a shop for hours. Most vendors are efficient about making sure that food has not been sitting out for an unsafe amount of time, and Japanese people typically eat the food items within the day they purchase. Oddly enough, despite this efficiency, there is no law in Japan that states that vendors cannot sell items beyond its expiration date. However, it is believed that taking home leftover food is not safe because customers have “contaminated” their food via their saliva and eating utensils. Restaurants will worry about food-borne illnesses and do not want to be held responsible if a customer gets sick.
Outside of Japan, it is considered unsafe to purchase food that has been sitting out in a shop for hours. But it is considered normal to be able to take home leftovers from a restaurant, especially since one has already paid for the food. Usually, when I meet foreigners in Japan, particularly Westerners, they always ask about food safety or feel frustrated if they cannot take home their leftovers. Now that you know the thought process behind it, you can be prepared next time you’re looking to take home food!
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