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Jul 5, 2008 05:03 PM

Alcohol in food at restaurants - Legal?

I know that many ethnic foods use alcohol such as sake as one of the key ingredients for food. Some cook the alcohol and let the alcohol evaporate but some are left with fresh uncooked alcohol left in their food. Although it maybe such a small amount of alcohol in your food, I was wondering if restaurants can legally serve such food with alcohol in it without discriminating against minor customers. Does anybody know what FDA has any rules regarding such practice?

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  1. the amounts are so miniscule as not to matter

    2 Replies
    1. re: thew

      Right. There's probably a legal minimum -- I know some liqueur-filled chocolates can't be sold to minors, but those products usually are labeled as containing 4+ percent alcohol (and I can't imagine eating enough candy at 4 percent to get buzzed on something other than the sugar!). But most dishes where alcohol is used as a flavoring there isn't enough to make a difference. After all, vanilla extract contains a fairly high percentage of alcohol (I looked it up -- the FDA requires a minimum of 35 percent, which is 70 proof, to qualify as vanilla "extract") and is sometimes used in uncooked foods (whipped cream, for example).

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        OMG, total flashback to Utah when I was 20 trying to buy some nice truffles for my mom. Going to school in New Orleans, I found that to be a new low, even by Salt Lake standards. Diabetes would have been a more accurate concern than me getting wasted on $20 worth of champagne truffles.

    2. I've always thought alcohol laws were up to the states.

      1. Alcohol laws are state mandated, but jfood believes the Federal government has told the states if they do not enforce a 21 yo drinking age they will not receive federal road funding. The FDA will mandate whether something can or can not be sold (among other things).

        In jfood town the police have now come up with an ineresting interpretation. They are arresting <21 yo for "possession" of alcohol if it is in their system (breatherlizer confirmed) even if there is no bottle or can in sight. This is not a position agreed to by any other town in CT. Jfood guesses a good lawyer will now come up wih the Coq au Vin defense.

        8 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          Sounds like since David Letterman's stalker was packed away, the New Canaan police have a lot of time on their hands....:)

          1. re: Veggo

            I second that emotion, Veggo. I will be visiting there next week, and I know they really had it out for me when I lived there growing up. I still can't speed down Weed Street without thinking of Letterman and the fact that he and I got tickets from the same cop (many years apart).

          2. re: jfood

            That seems an odd approach. Even if the test does not prove possession in the traditional sense, it certainly proves consumption, which is probably also part of the statute.

            Not sure how well the Coq au Vin defense would work, considering that they'd have to show the defendant consumed something like 48,271 plates of it within the previous four hours for there to be enough alcohol to show up on a breathalyzer test.

            1. re: BobB

              believe it or not the statute does not contain consumed and jfood's town is solo in this theory. An jfood assumes your 48k plates assumes a .08 type level on the breathalyzer. they are arresting the kids with 0.01 and 0.02 which is significantly less coqs.

              1. re: jfood

                Actually, my estimate of the number of plates required was based less on scientific accuracy than on its humor quotient - 48,271 plates of Coq au Vin being an inherently funnier concept than "dozens." But you knew that ;-)

                1. re: BobB

                  jfood calculated 48,272 but figured you and he just rounded differently. :-))

            2. re: jfood

              Actually, I've done a lot of work with drunk driving defense, and food is a fairly common defense (and the main reason behind the 15-minute waiting period before a breathalyzer). Since the breathalyzer measures based on metabolized and respirated alcohol, if you have even a miniscule amount of alcohol remaining in your mouth (from say a wine-soaked bit of food caught in dental work), you'll register sky-high.
              You'll also blow off the charts if you've been around wet paint and a myriad of other substances, but that's a bit off-topic.

              1. re: jfood

                Human bodies naturally produce alcohol. Even someone who has never had a sip of booze in their life could blow over 0.0 on a breathalizer. There has to be a threshold over which they can charge a minor with having alcohol in their system.

              2. I would say most cuisines incorporate alcohol in certain dishes. Red wine in red sauce. Champagne vinaigrette. Bourbon marinated steak. Not to mention cooking wines and sherries, vanilla or almond extracts, etc. I'd venture that most restaurants have something on the dinner menu prepared with alcohol.

                These cooked meals have so little alcohol remaining that it is not illegal to serve underage folks in most parts of the country. I do know some restaurants that do not allow young'uns to have certain desserts, however, where the alcohol isn't cooked out and is a major part of the flavoring.

                10 Replies
                1. re: mojoeater

                  This is probably a dumb question, but do wine vinegars actually have any alcohol left in them?

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    No. All of the alcohol has been converted to acetic acid.

                    1. re: stilton

                      Thanks - I suspected there was no alcohol left, but didn't know the 'technical' term.

                  2. re: mojoeater

                    Where did you get your information from mojoeater? Also is it illegal in AZ?

                    1. re: pShrum

                      Whatever knowledge I have is from working in restaurants in DC, VA, MI & CA. Never worked in AZ.

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        So its company policy and not a state law in the states you've worked at?

                        1. re: pShrum

                          To what do you refer? Alcohol in desserts? Yes, certain restaurants would not serve, for example, a flambe dessert to underage folks. They also would not serve "non-alcoholic" beers since they do indeed have some alcohol content.

                          1. re: mojoeater

                            <<These cooked meals have so little alcohol remaining that it is not illegal to serve underage folks in most parts of the country.>>

                            Much more alcohol remains than previously thought, even though it may not be illegal to serve it. For example, the bourbon-marinated steak you mentioned retains 40% of the alcohol after cooking. That's a lot. 75% of the alcohol remains after flambéing.

                            (See the stats below in my Jul 25, 2008 12:27PM post.) While I'm fine with children having a sip of wine, or a glass of water with a splash of wine, dishes prepared with spirits, especially à la minute dishes, are unwise to serve to children. A bite of a dish, I'm fine with.

                            1. re: mojoeater

                              I'm sorry, I was reffering to minors consuming any type of food prepared with alcohol. I was trying to find out if it was illegal as a state law or if it was just company policy not to serve minors that type food.

                      2. re: mojoeater

                        I remember when I was in college that I was out to dinner with my father once and had a dessert with a brownie and ice cream. The waitress asked if I wanted it with the liquor on it (I can't remember now, maybe Kaluha?). It was delicious. This was even in DC when the beer and wine drinking age was 18.

                        When I was at the same restaurant a month or so later with friends, they did not allow us to have it. I guess being with my dad gave them the "cover" to serve it to me once.

                      3. You may be interested in this article where they performed breathalizer tests on people after consuming foods with alcohol, including those liqueur-filled chocolates (36 of them, to be exact). Everybody clocked in at 0.0.


                        That said, I was once having dinner with somebody who was a former alcoholic who asked me if I wanted his flan/custard as he said it tasted too much of alcohol.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          But from what I know about alcoholics, with alcohol in food it's not the amount of alcohol they're worried about, but that the taste/perception of alcohol will trigger alcoholic cravings.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Yes, you're correct. I didn't mean to imply that the former alcoholic was getting drunk from his dessert. Just meant to say that there was enough alcohol in that dish for him to stop. He hasn't with other dishes like tiramisu. With some desserts, alcohol is very noticeable. With others you may not feel a thing. When I first started drinking alcohol in my teens (when I wasn't as used to the taste of it), I got totally drunk off of a creamsicle made with ice cream because I couldn't taste the booze.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              My understanding of the risk is different, after reading a handful of scientific articles. It's not that the alcoholic will taste alcohol, because sometimes the alcohol level is below the level of taste perception, but that the body will recognize the molecule alcohol, and the addiction cycle/craving will kick in as a result from that.