My reusable coffee mug on the Northeast Regionals

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Jersey Jeff

Service Attendant
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Jul 10, 2008
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102
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Union Tower on the NEC
I travel on Northeast Regional trains about once a month and I often visit the cafe car for a cup of coffee. During my work week, I always travel with a reusable coffee mug that I can refill at a number of popular retailers (Dunkin, Starbucks, QuickChek, 7-11, etc), often at a discount. Bringing my own cup saves the retailer money, creates less waste that ends up in landfills and generates less greenhouse gasses.

On some Northeast Regional trains, the cafe car attendant filled my reusable mug with coffee; at other times the attendant refused. I e-mailed Amtrak this week and received a terse response stating that refilling reusable coffee cups are not permitted by the FDA.

I have two challenges to Amtrak's response:

  1. If the FDA prohibits Amtrak from using reusable coffee cups, why do other national retailers like the ones listed above permit it?
  2. The FDA's 2017 Food Code states the following:

(C) A take-home FOOD container returned to a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT may be refilled at a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT with BEVERAGE if:
(1) The BEVERAGE is not a TIME/TEMPERATURE CONTROL FOR SAFETY FOOD;

(2) The design of the container and of the rinsing EQUIPMENT and the nature of the BEVERAGE, when considered together, allow effective cleaning at home or in the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT;

(3) Facilities for rinsing before refilling returned containers with fresh, hot water that is under pressure and not recirculated are provided as part of the dispensing system;

(4) The CONSUMER-owned container returned to the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT for refilling is refilled for sale or service only to the same CONSUMER; and

(5) The container is refilled by:

(a) An EMPLOYEE of the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT, or

(b) The owner of the container if the BEVERAGE system includes a contamination-free transfer process as specified under ¶¶ 4-204.13(A), (B), and (D) that cannot be bypassed by the container owner.

(D) Consumer-owned, personal take-out BEVERAGE containers, such as thermally insulated bottles, nonspill coffee cups, and promotional BEVERAGE glasses, may be refilled by EMPLOYEES or the CONSUMER if refilling is a contamination-free process as specified under ¶¶ 4-204.13(A), (B), and (D).

For many years, there was a drinking water dispenser onboard Amfleet coaches where I could refill my water bottle.

I suggest Amtrak seize this opportunity and sell reusable Amtrak travel mugs that can be refilled onboard a train at a discount AND permit passengers to use their own mugs. The Amtrak mugs would generate revenue for the railroad AND it would save Amtrak money in the long run due to the generation of less trash on board and the purchase of additional nonrecyclable cups and lids. It would also further cement Amtrak's reputation as a sustainable, green form of transportation.

Ok rant over thanks for listening!:mad::mad::mad:
 

Amtrakfflyer

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They used to sell one in the SSL on the Coast Starlight back in the late 90’s. Really nice large plastic coffee mug. I still have it somewhere. You paid 10 bucks and it entitled you to free refills the rest of your trip. I used to bring it on all my Amtrak trips. Really nice to bring in the diner beats the paper cups they serve with breakfast. I think having the Amtrak logo helps as far as employees comfortability of filling it.
Either way I’m with you. I have 2 or 3 of the 2 dollar Starbucks refillable cups as well.
 

jis

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And then there is the FRA which has a bad habit of coming up with odd interpretations of regulations as they apply to trains too. Who knows whether it is random rule making by the FRA and/or Amtrak while pointing fingers at someone else.
 

rickycourtney

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Look, if Starbucks allows the filling of reusable coffee cups, I guarantee you there's no FDA rule or law against it. They have nearly 15,000 stores in the US, so if there was a problem with this practice, someone would have said something.

This is probably a case of Amtrak misinterpreting the law.
 
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rickycourtney

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Amtrak produces quite a bit of trash, especially lately. Not the most sustainble-bent crowd that's roaming the earth.
Right, Amtrak went from using metal silverware and glass dishware that was washed and reused in the dining car, to plastic plates, bowls, and utensils that are, to my knowledge, thrown in the garbage and not recycled.

But hey... we have compostable plastic cups in the cafe cars, so that's something, right?
 

jamess

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 23, 2017
Messages
71
I recently had this issue with McDonalds. They refused to fill my coffee cup, so I emailed them.

Their response was "local health regulations prevent it".

Bull- The Starbucks, Dunkin, and 7-11 within a 2 minute walk of the McDonalds all allow it.

It reminds me of the "no photography" rules. People love making up bs on the spot and claiming some higher power has a rule that doesn't exist.

With McDonalds, my decision was easy enough - I simply never go there for coffee.

With Amtrak, I would suggest raising noise with a senator or congresperson who has spoken about environmental issues in the past.
 

seat38a

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As someone who used to work at Starbucks back in college, some customers were total pigs and brought in some foul unwashed cups with rancid coffee with milk thats probably baked for couple of days in the car. The smell was enough to trigger my gag reflexes. Not sure what was worse, the ones who expected us to wash the cups for them or the ones who old us to NOT wash it and just pour coffee into it.

Then there were the ones who never washed their tumblers or mugs but always used it at the gym so now it smelled like sweat and BO.

But the whole local regulation thing is true. At one point, the health department wouldn't let us refill the same paper cups that Starbucks gives out and we had to give out new cups when someone brought a cup up to have it refilled.

Also, lets not forget that regardless of how much you think YOUR mouth is clean, all it takes is one outbreak and the lawyers will be all over the business.
 
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PVD

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The fact that one establishment won't do something citing local regulations and someone else will proves nothing, since establishments often are unaware of or routinely ignore rules. Food service franchises are notorious for this. The FDA establishes food safety regulations but does not routinely inspect local establishments, they are regulated and inspected by local AHJ. Amtrak is subject to FDA inspection.
 

chakk

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They used to sell one in the SSL on the Coast Starlight back in the late 90’s. Really nice large plastic coffee mug. I still have it somewhere. You paid 10 bucks and it entitled you to free refills the rest of your trip. I used to bring it on all my Amtrak trips. Really nice to bring in the diner beats the paper cups they serve with breakfast. I think having the Amtrak logo helps as far as employees comfortability of filling it.
Either way I’m with you. I have 2 or 3 of the 2 dollar Starbucks refillable cups as well.
The plastic coffee mug I purchased on the CZ in the 1980s was refillable for free on the CZ for life, not just for the remainder of the trip on which purchased. I used it on many trips on the CZ over the next several years before
(a) Amtrak discontinued the policy of free-forever refills, and
(b) I discontinued drinking coffee altogether (cold turkey) due to allergic reactions causing my throat to swell.
 

jamess

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The fact that one establishment won't do something citing local regulations and someone else will proves nothing, since establishments often are unaware of or routinely ignore rules. Food service franchises are notorious for this. The FDA establishes food safety regulations but does not routinely inspect local establishments, they are regulated and inspected by local AHJ. Amtrak is subject to FDA inspection.
The fact that starbucks and dunkin both sell reusable mugs, and in Starbucks case encourages you to use it via a nationwide discount coded into their registers, is a strong data point that it's allowed.

This is also true in theme parks. At Six Flags, you can purchase a re-usable soda cup that will be refilled for the calendar year for free.
 

Palmland

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No discount from Amtrak, but just buy your coffee and pour into your cup. Not surprising that Amtrak doesn't do something that makes perfect sense. I too much prefer coffee in my own mug.
 

PVD

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To clear things a bit:

The FDA Food Code is a model code designed to provide a technical framework for local jurisdictions to use as a foundation for developing their own standards for regulation and enforcement. It may or may not be incorporated in whole or in part, in a similar fashion to the NEC or ASHRAE 90.1 in building design or construction. It does not do direct oversight over local businesses. It does however have a set of rules for Amtrak and direct oversight and inspection duties. The fact that a chain does something may or may not be relevant. Nothing says you can't serve in a styrofoam cup, but they are illegal where I live. The fact that 4000 (pick name of any chain) uses them somewhere else just doesn't matter.
 
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Sauve850

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Let's not forget Chipotle had to deal with Norovirus from sick employees. Now just imagine all those dirty personal cups from random people walking into the restaurant. Before some of you point out how clean your cups are, no everyone's are and there's really no easy way other than to ban personal cups in some cases.
I agree with you.
 

Thirdrail7

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(2) The design of the container and of the rinsing EQUIPMENT and the nature of the BEVERAGE, when considered together, allow effective cleaning at home or in the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT;

(3) Facilities for rinsing before refilling returned containers with fresh, hot water that is under pressure and not recirculated are provided as part of the dispensing system;
As Seat38a has mentioned, it seems like these provisions you mentioned above could be a problem. How does anyone know that you've effectively cleaned the container? Additionally, the cafe cars likely do not meet part three since the water is not under pressure and is probably recirculated.
 

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If the FDA (or other agency/department) really gave a damn about cleanliness they wouldn't permit American restaurants to allow their restrooms to degrade into disgusting broken down hovels. Broken plumbing, busted fixtures, empty soap, towel dispensers built into overflowing trash bins, spills and stains everywhere, nobody cleaning anything, etc. You come out feeling dirtier than when you entered and whenever I try to imagine a food prep employee trying to clean up after using the facilities I want to gag. Yet despite these problems they still have a food safety score of A or B like everything is perfectly fine.
 

anumberone

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If the FDA (or other agency/department) really gave a damn about cleanliness they wouldn't permit American restaurants to allow their restrooms to degrade into disgusting broken down hovels. Broken plumbing, busted fixtures, empty soap, towel dispensers built into overflowing trash bins, spills and stains everywhere, nobody cleaning anything, etc. You come out feeling dirtier than when you entered and whenever I try to imagine a food prep employee trying to clean up after using the facilities I want to gag. Yet despite these problems they still have a food safety score of A or B like everything is perfectly fine.
And then you have a bum refilling a cup he pulled out of the trash at the soda dispenser. I usually try to avoid those places. But hey, when you are stuck on a train and a guy who has been hacking and coughing since you left Omaha gets a refill, that's a whole bigger problem, you're locked in.
 

jis

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Why is this such a big issue? If someone won't fill your cup, just have them fill one of their cups, take it and pour it into your cup. A bit wasteful yes. But not really the end of the world specially if their cup is recyclable and is recycled.

Incidentally, in Sleepers I have never seen any restrictions on what is filled at the coffee stand.
 

tricia

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It's PART of a big issue for those of us who take seriously the amount of trash we generate. Amtrak's appalling throw-it-out-don't-reuse-or-recycle way of managing services means that when I spend 24 hours on a train, I'm generating more trash than I do in several weeks at home. (We recycle, reuse, and compost. A LOT. Also avoid a lot of elaborately packaged goods.)

If the passenger's mug doesn't make contact with the beverage dispenser, what's the problem? And why do we treat this sort of "safety" as though it has no cost?
 

jis

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It's PART of a big issue for those of us who take seriously the amount of trash we generate. Amtrak's appalling throw-it-out-don't-reuse-or-recycle way of managing services means that when I spend 24 hours on a train, I'm generating more trash than I do in several weeks at home. (We recycle, reuse, and compost. A LOT. Also avoid a lot of elaborately packaged goods.)

If the passenger's mug doesn't make contact with the beverage dispenser, what's the problem? And why do we treat this sort of "safety" as though it has no cost?
OK. so Amtrak has an issue of not recycling. That needs fixing.

The reason it has an issue is purely driven by local optimization of costs at the cost of global costs that are not accounted for in a monetized way. This is not a problem peculiar to Amtrak. It is a generic problem with the United States.

Would it be nice if Amtrak allowed filling the cups? Sure. But howling in the wind at AU is not going to make that happen. To make that happen we need to understand where and why that directive is coming from. Even if you go and chop off the head of every Amtrak employee not filling your mug, it will not change a thing except get you charged with murder or something like that.

The source of this directive I suspect comes from somewhere in the chain that runs through FRA and Amtrak management. The way to effect change is to have the folks who have some power over them to raise the issue. Reauthorization is coming. It is time to get in touch with a Defazio or a Durbin or some such otherwise sympathetic to Amtrak person to try to have them take this on as a cause. That might create a more sustainable change - pun intended.
 
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Jersey Jeff

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Union Tower on the NEC
It's PART of a big issue for those of us who take seriously the amount of trash we generate. Amtrak's appalling throw-it-out-don't-reuse-or-recycle way of managing services means that when I spend 24 hours on a train, I'm generating more trash than I do in several weeks at home. (We recycle, reuse, and compost. A LOT. Also avoid a lot of elaborately packaged goods.)

If the passenger's mug doesn't make contact with the beverage dispenser, what's the problem? And why do we treat this sort of "safety" as though it has no cost?
Amtrak had water dispensers on its Amfleet cars for decades. Granted, those dispensers came with paper cups but nothing stopped passengers from refilling reusable water bottles there. Believe me, I bet the seats on my coach have lots more germs on them then anything on the coffee machine in the cafe car.
 

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OK. so Amtrak has an issue of not recycling. That needs fixing.
Amtrak has an issue with single use waste generation. Recycling is listed behind Reduce and Reuse not just because it's the last chance for corrective action, but also because it is orders of magnitude less effective at addressing environmental impact.
 

seat38a

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I travel on Northeast Regional trains about once a month and I often visit the cafe car for a cup of coffee. During my work week, I always travel with a reusable coffee mug that I can refill at a number of popular retailers (Dunkin, Starbucks, QuickChek, 7-11, etc), often at a discount. Bringing my own cup saves the retailer money, creates less waste that ends up in landfills and generates less greenhouse gasses.

On some Northeast Regional trains, the cafe car attendant filled my reusable mug with coffee; at other times the attendant refused. I e-mailed Amtrak this week and received a terse response stating that refilling reusable coffee cups are not permitted by the FDA.

I have two challenges to Amtrak's response:

  1. If the FDA prohibits Amtrak from using reusable coffee cups, why do other national retailers like the ones listed above permit it?
  2. The FDA's 2017 Food Code states the following:

(C) A take-home FOOD container returned to a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT may be refilled at a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT with BEVERAGE if:
(1) The BEVERAGE is not a TIME/TEMPERATURE CONTROL FOR SAFETY FOOD;

(2) The design of the container and of the rinsing EQUIPMENT and the nature of the BEVERAGE, when considered together, allow effective cleaning at home or in the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT;

(3) Facilities for rinsing before refilling returned containers with fresh, hot water that is under pressure and not recirculated are provided as part of the dispensing system;

(4) The CONSUMER-owned container returned to the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT for refilling is refilled for sale or service only to the same CONSUMER; and

(5) The container is refilled by:

(a) An EMPLOYEE of the FOOD ESTABLISHMENT, or

(b) The owner of the container if the BEVERAGE system includes a contamination-free transfer process as specified under ¶¶ 4-204.13(A), (B), and (D) that cannot be bypassed by the container owner.

(D) Consumer-owned, personal take-out BEVERAGE containers, such as thermally insulated bottles, nonspill coffee cups, and promotional BEVERAGE glasses, may be refilled by EMPLOYEES or the CONSUMER if refilling is a contamination-free process as specified under ¶¶ 4-204.13(A), (B), and (D).

For many years, there was a drinking water dispenser onboard Amfleet coaches where I could refill my water bottle.

I suggest Amtrak seize this opportunity and sell reusable Amtrak travel mugs that can be refilled onboard a train at a discount AND permit passengers to use their own mugs. The Amtrak mugs would generate revenue for the railroad AND it would save Amtrak money in the long run due to the generation of less trash on board and the purchase of additional nonrecyclable cups and lids. It would also further cement Amtrak's reputation as a sustainable, green form of transportation.

Ok rant over thanks for listening!:mad::mad::mad:
There's already rumblings about how the reusable bags(What a surprise) are actually causing more issues than the plastic bags they were supposed to replace. Yeah all we need is reusable NON degradable cups ending up in the dumpsters and landfill.
 
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