FDA Food Code Process and Changes: Keeping Foods (and Consumers) Safer

By Susan Algeo, MPH, CP-FS, Director of Project Management, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
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photo by Kyle Klein

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.

Food allergies are no laughing matter

by Jocelyn Tolbert

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While food allergies are often dismissed as people just being picky, the reality is that food allergies can be life-threatening. Knowing the difference between allergies and intolerances, and how to deal with each, is of utmost importance for a chef.

Understanding how to avoid feeding customers potentially harmful food can be the difference between life and death for your customers, your reputation, and make or break your career,” says Leah Sarris, Executive Chef at the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. An allergy is an immune response and can cause a life-threatening reaction from a very small amount of inhalation or ingestion. An intolerance is not an immune-related reaction, and generally will not be life-threatening.”

Want to learn more? Sarris gives a hands-on workshop at Goldring Center at Tulane University School of Medicine on July 15 during Cook. Craft. Create.

Attendees to this workshop are eligible to receive CEHs. Pre-registration ends this Friday, June 22. Afterwards, attendees must register on-site.

How to Watch for Temperature Abuse

This is part four of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

Creating a food safety culture is the responsibility of the entire team. Creating, facilitating and instilling food safety policies throughout the entire company is a responsibility that does not lie with one person. ACF_0954(1-30-16)

The Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food every year. Foodborne illness is common, costly and 100% preventable!

Temperature abuse is a major factor contributing to foodborne illness. Monitoring temperature during food processing, distribution, and storage is an easy, effective means to reduce the occurrence of foodborne disease. In fact, two of the top five risk factors responsible for causing foodborne illness, as reported by the CDC, involve temperature control. Those risk factors are improper hot/cold holding temperatures of potentially hazardous food and improper cooking temperatures of food.

Make sure all employees understand that time and temperature control are important aspects of building a food safety culture. The temperature range in which foodborne bacteria can grow is known as the danger zone. Another critical role in food safety is time and temperature control. The amount of time that food spends in the temperature danger zone must be minimized to prevent time-temperature abuse.

Holding time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods (TCS food is food that requires time and temperature control for safety) at proper temperatures is important because it minimizes the growth of any pathogenic bacteria that might be present in the food. TCS foods at improper temperatures may allow pathogenic bacteria to reproduce rapidly to large numbers, putting someone who eats that food at extreme risk for foodborne illness.

TCS foods that are going to be held at cold temperatures (i.e., refrigerated) must be held at a temperature of 41°F or below. It is important that the temperature of the food itself always be at 41°F or below. Foods in a cooler that read 40°F in the morning before the restaurant opens may rise above 41°F during rush periods when the cooler door is constantly opening and closing.

TCS foods that are going to be held at hot temperatures must be held at a temperature of 135°F or above.

The temperature range between 41°F and 135°F is called the danger zone. Food facility operators must minimize the amount of time that TCS foods spend in the danger zone.

This applies to the cooling and reheating of TCS foods as well. When cooling hot foods for later use, they must be cooled quickly. This means that the temperature must be reduced from 135°F to 70°F within two hours, and then from 70°F to 41°F within four additional hours. At the end of six hours, the food must be at or below 41°F.

When reheating cold foods to hot, they must be rapidly reheated. TCS foods must be reheated to 165°F within two hours before being placed in a hot holding unit.

A company’s food safety culture is composed of many different segments. You must not only talk the talk but walk the walk. Leading by example is imperative, as is good training and follow-up. Don’t just say your business has a food safety culture, understand the value of that culture. Make certain that food safety policies and procedures are established, correctly followed and ingrained as part of your corporate culture. Do your part to help your company be recognized as the leader in the industry.

francine-l-shaw-headshot
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers numerous services, including consulting, food safety education and inspections, crisis management training, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. Her team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and convenience stores. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

The Importance of Food Safety Training

This is part three of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

While attending a recent food safety conference, an attendee said something that really hit home for me: “We don’t provide food safety training, we provide food safety education.” She explained further, “Do you want your children to receive sex training or sex education?” BINGO! She’s right.

As foodservice professionals, we train our teams on many aspects of the foodservice business and that must include food safety education. We provide employees with knowledge about food safety protocols and procedures so they can perform their jobs correctly and safely, and so that our guests will remain safe and healthy. dsc_0174_32717325330_o

Why is food safety education and training important?

If food safety is neglected, the risk of food contamination increases, which can cause foodborne illness outbreaks. Foodborne illnesses can critically damage a company’s reputation and result in criminal negligence, loss of sales/profits, scathing media coverage and even bankruptcy. Food safety education and training is a win-win situation, protecting both the guests and the company.

[Tweet “Food safety education and training is a win-win situation. @FSTS3787 #ACFChefs”]

Educating and training employees involves some expense, but the return on investment is immense. If your company has a well-established food safety culture, employees are more likely to follow company policies and procedures correctly. As a result, mistakes significantly decrease, profitability is amplified, employee morale is boosted, employee turnover and absenteeism is reduced, and the company’s reputation remains secure.

Many times, food safety lapses occur when new employees are not properly trained or during a change in company policy. Training also gets neglected when finances are tight or things get busy. Create a system to prevent these lapses!

While we want to think that our employees do things correctly all the time, in reality, they do not. Before becoming a food safety professional, I spent over 20 years in the foodservice industry. I had a great team, yet I sometimes caught my wonderful employees taking short cuts. They were well-trained, we did well on our internal inspections, health inspections, third-party audits, etc., but one of those short cuts could have made someone sick. acf_12331-31-161620

Educate Employees on the Why

Often, employees aren’t educated about why things are important. Perhaps they don’t understand why it’s important to wash their hands often and well, why poultry must be cooked to 165°F, why raw proteins should be stored on the bottom shelves in the coolers, etc. Understanding why these things are critical helped me (and my employees) follow the rules more closely. If employees understand that juices from raw poultry could drip onto ready-to-eat foods such as vegetables and contaminate them, they’ll be more likely to follow the rules versus if their manager told them to store poultry on the lower shelves without offering an explanation about why this behavior is important. When training, it’s always important to explain the “why” factor.

When developing a training program, there are many things to consider:

  • Determine whether your current program is effective.
  • Remember that various levels of management require different training, but all levels should be educated in food safety.
  • Determine which training certification program will be best for your restaurant.
  • Determine who will be certified?
  • Will classroom or online training be best for your team? (I recommend that the initial training is done in a classroom environment.)
  • How frequently should your team be trained? (Regular, ongoing training is best.)
  • Would your team benefit from a food handler program?
  • Would incorporating company-specific information be beneficial?
  • Who will deliver the training?

Other training tips include:

  • Incorporate visual aids for participants who may be visual learners.
  • Include participatory exercises to help make the materials and lessons more memorable.
  • Use consistent terminology throughout the program.
  • Ensure that managers serve as role models. Employees will emulate their leaders, so they should lead by example.
  • Make it known that senior management was involved in the training development process and they expect all employees to embrace and follow the program.

A good food safety training program will be at the core of your food safety culture. The health and safety of your employees and guests depend on the food safety training and education that you provide, so make this a priority no matter how busy you are.

Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers numerous services, including consulting, food safety education and inspections, crisis management training, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. Her team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and convenience stores. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

I’m too Busy to Wash my Hands!

This is part two of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

Several years ago, I walked into a kitchen to conduct an audit. The head chef had five pairs of single-use gloves layered on his hands. When I questioned his behavior, he pointed to the sink and stated, “Ma’am, the sink is way over there. I don’t have time to walk that far every time I need to wash my hands!”

I couldn’t believe it. I’m sad to say that I’ve actually seen many people—including professionally trained kitchen staff—practice this erroneous behavior.

Oftentimes during kitchen inspections, trainings and audits, I tell foodservice employees to change their single-use gloves and wash their hands. I also explain that single-use gloves are only effective when used properly: one pair at a time, with proper handwashing each time they’re changed.

I’ve witnessed restaurant employees wear and not change their single-use gloves when opening cooler doors, checking cellphones, touching their hair or face, handling money, or touching other objects, such as doorknobs, menus, garbage bags, etc. These are all examples of classic cross-contamination, yet they happen daily because employees either don’t realize the danger or don’t feel they have time to wash their hands.

[Tweet “Handwashing with soap stops spread of disease & saves more lives than vaccine or medical intervention. @FSTS3787 #ACFChefs”]

Handwashing with soap stops the spread of disease and can save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. Each year, 19 million people get food poisoning due to improper handwashing. Improper handwashing can lead to each of the Big 6 Foodborne Illnesses:

  1. Hepatitis A virus
  2. Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC)
  3. Norovirus
  4. Salmonella Typhi
  5. Salmonella Non-Typhoidal (NTS)
  6. Shigella

Not to mention Staphylococcus aureus and more. Again, simple mistakes like a lack of handwashing or improper use of single-use gloves can sicken or even kill your guests and potentially destroy your brand.

Everyone assumes tragedies happen to the other guy. Well, what if the other guy is you? A foodborne illness or outbreak can destroy your company’s reputation, result in lawsuits and potentially put you out of business.

[Tweet “#Norovirus affects 1 in 15 ppl and is 100% preventable. Retweet to help prevent. @FSTS3787 #ACFChefs”]

Norovirus is the most common foodborne illness. It affects 1 in 15 people (approximately 20 million Americans) and causes 570 to 800 deaths annually. Norovirus is 100% preventable. On average, each of us gets Norovirus five times during our lifetime, leading to horrible gastrointestinal distress. If an employee neglects to wash their hands after using the restroom, one gram of fecal matter on the hands can host 1,000,000,000,000 germs! Norovirus is highly contagious and easily spreadable from dirty hands to food and other surfaces. Therefore, norovirus is a huge threat within the food service industry.

Several recent studies indicate that employees come to work even when they’re sick and 70% of infected workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks. It takes as few as 18 norovirus cells to cause illness and there is no cure. Hand sanitizers do not prevent norovirus. The only way to prevent norovirus is to wash your hands regularly and properly.

[Tweet “Hand sanitizers do not prevent #norovirus, only handwashing does. @FSTS3787 #ACFChefs”]

Norovirus can persist for days and even weeks on surfaces. Cold, moist conditions help it survive even longer. On hard surfaces, such as faucets, counters and door handles, the virus can survive up to 12 hours. On soft surfaces, such as carpet, norovirus can thrive up to 12 days. Some studies say the virus can persist even longer.

To help prevent norovirus, don’t allow employees to work while they are vomiting or have diarrhea, and then not for at least 24 hours after these symptoms stop.

Follow these steps to reduce the risk of any outbreak:

  1. Wash hands with soap and hot water (a minimum of 100 degrees);
  2. Apply soap;
  3. Scrub hands well, including in between fingers and under fingernails;
  4. Rinse under clean running water;
  5. Dry with clean, single-use towel;
  6. Turn faucet off with towel;
  7. Use towel to open door;
  8. Wash hands again when you return to your work station; and
  9. Implement a double handwashing policy. Wash your hands once in the restroom and again when returning to the work station.

[Tweet “The average door handle has about 360 types of bacteria on it? @fsts3787 #ACFChefs”]

Make sure good hygiene is part of your food safety culture. Proper and regular handwashing can significantly help prevent food safety incidents and outbreaks, so make sure that your employees are washing their hands!

Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers numerous services, including consulting, food safety education and inspections, crisis management training, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. Her team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and convenience stores. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.