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Health officials: Policy in place to now allow dogs on restaurant patios

On Friday a new Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) policy began, allowing restaurant patrons to dine with their pet dogs under certain conditions.

Patterned after other states’, the policy outlines the requirements that food facilities and dog owners must meet in order to ensure that the health and safety of the public is not compromised.

“MSDH wants to support local businesses in their efforts to best accommodate their clientele. We’ve looked at other southern states – including Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina – and have modeled our policy after theirs,” said Jim Craig, MSDH Senior Deputy and Director of Health Protection. “We assessed the health risks and identified the types of outdoor dining settings that would present low, minimal or no risk to the public.”

Under the new policy, the restaurant must have a separate outside entrance into a designated outdoor dog-friendly area that includes proper signage defining the area.  Pet dogs are not permitted to travel through indoor or non-designated outdoor portions of the restaurant.  Service dogs are allowed indoors in customer areas.  Disposable dishes and utensils are required in the dog-friendly area and pet dogs must not come into contact with serving dishes, utensils, tableware, linens or any other items involved in food service operations. Patrons are always required to keep their dogs on leash and under control and restaurant employees may not touch or handle the pet dog.

“If the restaurant agrees to the policy and requirements are met, it can apply for a variance to the MSDH Food Code to allow pet dogs. Once we review the application and receive the $165 inspection fee, we will inspect the facility to ensure the designated area meets food safety requirements. The restaurant will be inspected at least twice a year if granted the dog-friendly variance,” said Craig.

The restaurant or food facility can deny service if the pet owner fails to exercise reasonable control over the pet dog, or if it behaves in a manner that compromises the health or safety of any person in the restaurant. Additionally, failure to comply with the policy could result in a lower inspection grade for the facility as well as a revocation of the dog-friendly variance.

“It’s important for restaurants planning to provide this option to first check with local and county ordinances to ensure that dog-friendly restaurants are not otherwise prohibited in their area,” said Craig. “We look forward to working with any restaurant interested in adopting this new policy at its facility. There is no reason why we can’t adapt to the changing landscape of restaurant trends. We just need to make sure that the steps are in place to properly do so.”

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