By Susan Algeo, MPH, CP-FS, Director of Project Management, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
Food safety is one of the most important issues in the food service industry. Restaurants, hotels, retail stores, institutions, and other food businesses need access to the most updated information around food safety so they can adjust their protocols accordingly. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Model Food Code provides regulators and facilities with the most up-to-date means of keeping food safe in food service and retail operations. By following the guidelines set forth in the Food Code, operators can help increase the safety of the foods they’re serving.
The Food Code guidelines are science-based and provide practical application for operators. As new technology, food products, preparation and cleaning procedures are being developed and researched all the time, it’s important that Food Code continues to meet these up-to-date standards. That is why the FDA releases a new Food Code approximately every four years. The most recent 2017 edition was released in February 2018.
So how are these changes made to the Food Code? The Conference for Food Protection (CFP), an organization with members from regulatory, industry, academia, and consumer groups, created a process to collaborate with each of these groups to gather input to improve food safety guidance. Issues (suggested changes that people want made to the Food Code) can be submitted by anyone. These issues are reviewed at the bi-annual CFP meeting where council members debate on the need to accept the issue. Accepted issues are sent to the FDA, who makes the final determination on changes that will be implemented in the next Food Code or supplement.
The most recent updates to the Food Code include changes to the Person in Charge (PIC) requirements, the use of bandages, finger cots, or finger stalls, updated cooking time/temperature requirements, and written procedures for emergency situations. These changes include:
- The PIC – The PIC shall be the Certified Food Protection Manager, and needs to be designated and on-site during each shift. The PIC is responsible for food safety, so it’s critical that this person is trained in food safety and has passed an exam to demonstrate their knowledge on the topic. By having this properly trained person on-site during each shift, they can oversee other employees to ensure food safety practices are being implemented.
- Bandages – When a food service employee needs a bandage, finger cot, or finger stall on their wrist, hand, or finger, the bandage must be covered with a single-use glove. This means that open wounds must be covered, and that a glove must be worn on top of the cover. The reason for this change (adding the glove as an added layer of protection) is to reduce the risk of a physical hazard. By wearing the glove, the bandage, finger cot, or finger stall is less likely to fall off and get into the food, creating a safety hazard.
- Cooking time/temperature requirements – The updated Food Code includes new cooking time for ground meat, ground fish, eggs that will be hot held, poultry and stuffed foods. Ground meat, ground fish, and eggs that will be hot held must be cooked to 155ºF for 17 seconds, which was changed from 15 seconds. Poultry and stuffed foods must be cooked to 165ºF for less than 1 second, changed from 15 seconds. By cooking these foods to the proper internal cooking temperature, the potential pathogens can be reduced to safe levels. The change in time is to align the FDA guidelines with the USDA cooking times and temperatures.
- Bodily fluids – Procedures for clean-up of vomiting and diarrheal events shall be written, so all staff members are clear on what to do during an event. Pathogens, such as the highly contagious Norovirus, can spread through vomit and diarrhea, so it is important to properly clean when these incidents occur in a food establishment. When there is a written plan, employees will be able to properly follow procedures to reduce the risk of spreading the pathogens and contaminating others. The written plan should include the equipment required, which chemicals to use, and how to contain the area, properly clean, and properly dispose of bodily fluids.
Operators need to keep in mind that the FDA Food Code is a guidance document, meant to help keep foods (and consumers) safe. However, city, state, and county regulations have the final say on the rules and requirements for all facilities in their jurisdiction. Not all local jurisdictions adopt the current Food Code as written. As of last year (and prior to the newest Food Code being released), only 17 states had adopted the most recent (2013) Food Code, 20 states had adopted the 2009 version, and 16 agencies were using the 1995-2005 version of the Food Code. Some regulatory agencies adopt the Food Code as written, others make changes to it. If changing the FDA Food Code, however, it’s recommended that these changes are to make the guidelines stricter than the Food Code to ensure the safety of the food and those that consume it.
As operators and PICs, it is imperative to stay up to date on the local requirements. This will help the facility meet standards and pass inspections. More importantly, it will keep the food safe and protect customers and the business. And get involved! CFP welcomes industry members to be a part of the process. Submit issues, attend the conference, join committees. By allowing industry members to have a voice, it verifies that the guidelines the FDA sets in the Food Code are manageable by facilities.
Susan Algeo is the Director of Project Management at Savvy Food Safety, Inc., where she facilitates food safety training classes, including ServSafe® and NRFSP®, for corporations nationwide. Susan also provides other food safety services, including food allergy training, as well as consulting, helping operators and their teams improve their standards, procedures, and overall commitment to food safety. Additionally, she conducts third-party inspections of customers’ operations to improve their health inspection results. She is also co-author of the SURE™ Food Safety series. These training manuals are aimed at improving food safety procedures for employees, managers, and trainers in food service and retail establishments.