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Are non-service animals such as dogs allowed in stores that sell food?

Ken Little
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Q. What is the law concerning non-service animals in grocery and retail stores that sell food? I have noticed a lot of small dogs in shopping carts in area stores such as Walmart, Harris Teeter and Big Lots. These are not service animals but expensive pets that people take shopping with them. One manager said he would rather allow the pet than turn away a customer yet other customers in line were clearly upset. I understand not leaving an animal in a hot car, but taking it shopping where food is prepared or sold is questionable. What is the law?

A. There is no law in New Hanover County against non-service dogs or other animals coming into businesses with their owners, County Attorney Wanda Copley said.

“The establishment can determine whether to allow the dogs in,” Copley said.

However, it is a violation of federal and state food safety rules for pets to be in grocery stores. Guard or guide dogs may be allowed in some areas of a store “if their presence is unlikely to result in contamination of food, food-contact surfaces or food-packaging materials,” said Brian Long, public affairs director for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Long said that if someone sees a non-service animal inside a grocery store, the person should contact the Food and Drug Protection Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (919) 733-7366.

“The division will investigate,” Long said.

The law allows the division to assess penalties of up to $2,000 for violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, depending on the degree and extent of harm caused by the violation.

UPDATE: Pat Hairston, program manager at Canines for Service, a Wilmington-based nonprofit, asked us to include this comment:

I believe the above response does not accurately answer the “are dogs allowed in grocery stores” question.

According to the North Carolina Food Code Manual, live animals are not allowed in premises that are considered a food establishment. Grocery stores come under this code.

So a pet — a “non-service animal,” as the reader phrased it — would not be allowed in a grocery store.

The Food Code manual exempts service animals accompanying persons with disabilities in areas that are not for food preparation.

It is my opinion and our professional understanding as a service dog provider that service animals are allowed access into all customer areas of a grocery store or supermarket.

This is based on the Americans With Disabilities Act, which defines that access.

Grocery stores are covered by the Food and Drug Administration, Code of Federal Registers, and therefore are considered “food establishments” under the Food Code (http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/RetailFoodProtection/FoodCode/UCM374510.pdf).

In New Hanover County, the North Carolina Food Code Manual is the published reference (http://www.nhcgov.com/Health/enviro-health/Documents/NC-FoodCodeManual-2009-FINAL.pdf) and includes section 6-501.115 Prohibiting Animals.

It states “(A) Except as specified in ¶¶ (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT.” This manual was an adoption of the US Food and Drug Administration Food Code Regulation in 2009.

In addition to the food codes, other state and federal laws govern animals in business establishments.

The NC State Statue 168 specifically addresses service dogs and service dogs in training in North Carolina and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) with revision in 2011 addresses service dog access on a federal level.


Is there a state law banning dogs from businesses where no food handling occurs?

Can Wilmington Downtown Inc. keep dogs out of the Friday concerts?

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