Food Protection Connection: FDA Issues Food Code Supplement and More
(reprinted from Dietary Manager, January 2008)
Each Food Protection Connection column is approved for 1 CPE hour (level 1) for RDs and DTRs.
In October 2007, the FDA released a supplement to the 2005 Food Code. Considered a guide or model for public health regulations around the country, the Food Code is re-issued every four years. The next full Food Code will come out in 2009. In between, at two-year intervals, the FDA issues a supplement to make minor updates. Here are some highlights of the 2005 Food Code Supplement.
Due to involvement in foodborne illness cases, cut tomatoes are now a potentially hazardous food, according to the new Supplement. With the 2005 Food Code, the FDA expanded the “PHF” terminology to add this phrase: time/temperature control for food safety. This means the FDA advises strict temperature control with time constraints to keep cut tomatoes and other PHF foods safe. Thus, cut tomatoes should be held at 41°F or below, with proper date-marking controls. The PHF designation comes in response to numerous outbreaks. According to the FDA, tomatoes have been involved in at least a dozen foodborne illness outbreaks since 1990. The most common pathogen has been Salmonella.
Outdated Refrigeration Equipment
In past editions of the Food Code, the FDA made allowances for foodservice operations whose old refrigerators and coolers were designed to target a cold holding temperature of 45°F. This “grandfather” clause is now gone. Equipment must maintain cold food at or below 41°F.
New advice targets temperature control in vending machines. The FDA suggests that a machine subject to power failure or mechanical failure (resulting in loss of temperature control) should automatically shut itself off. Shut-off should kick in when ambient temperature exceeds 41°F for 30 minutes (cold foods), or drops below 135°F for more than 120 minutes (hot foods). The idea is to prevent service of foods whose safety may be compromised due to excessive time in the danger zone. This follows revision of standards provided by the NSF and the American National Standards Institute.
In yet another equipment-related guideline, the FDA has targeted flow pressure in the hot sanitizing rinse of warewashing machines, suggesting a minimum pressure of 5 pounds per square inch. Adequate pressure helps ensure successful sanitizing action.
Shellfish Identification Tags
These tags need to remain on file for 90 days to allow tracebacks in the event of illness. A new clarification explains that the 90-day “clock” begins the day a container of shellfish is emptied.
Past editions of the Food Code suggested sinks should be in “convenient” locations. The idea is to make frequent handwashing a practical option for foodservice employees. What makes a sink “convenient”? It should be in the work area or between work areas; it should not be blocked by portable equipment or stacked with soiled items that would make it unusable. It should also be clean and properly stocked with supplies, says the FDA.
Person in Charge
The Food Code specifies that a trained and qualified person in charge (PIC) must oversee foodservice operations at all times. However, the Supplement offers clarification for organizations that run multiple departments. While the PIC must always be available to answer questions and solve problems, this person does not need to be physically present in each department of the operation at all times—only when food is being prepared and served. Thus, when workers are cleaning or taking inventory, the PIC can be elsewhere and simply available.
Return to Work
A manager who has excluded an employee for health reasons should follow specific criteria for allowing a return to work. The Supplement strengthens and clarifies this policy. As an example, an employee diagnosed with infection from E. coli, Norovirus, hepatitis A, or Shigella must have a medical clearance to return to work. For an employee who has suspect symptoms (e.g., diarrhea, sore throat with fever)—without a diagnosis—the manager can allow return to work 24 hours after symptoms are gone.
It's important to remember that the Food Code represents guidance for health authorities, and adoption is typically gradual. Thus, these guidelines may not affect your operation for some time. Yet, it is helpful to know what may be coming. In addition, some advice is worth implementing immediately, regardless. For example, every dietary manager can take a close look at how cut tomatoes are managed. Time and temperature controls are warranted now, even before any new regulations may kick in. Likewise, a review of how truly convenient handwashing is in your work areas is a great idea. If you do not yet have a written employee health policy, it’s worth checking updates in the Supplement for advice, reference tables, and forms. Finally, if new capital equipment is on your agenda, be aware that a number of new recommendations can fold into specifications for food-safe equipment. For more information and full text of the changes, visit the FDA website.
New Food Protection Plan
In November 2007, the FDA announced a plan to enhance the nation’s food safety system. As with other recent FDA strategies, the focus of this plan is to be proactive, managing risks throughout the flow of food in the supply chain. The plan also targets imports and food defense systems.
American National Standards Institute:
FDA. Supplement to the 2005 Food
Officials note that $49 billion worth of foods are imported into the US each year, and they expect this figure to continue rising. Increased sampling and testing, collaboration with foreign food authorities, an FDA presence overseas, and electronic import certificates are elements of the new plan.
Another aspect of the plan is increasing responsibility of corporations who process and distribute food. The FDA proposes new legislation that would give the government the power to initiate food recalls if corporations do not comply with requests for voluntary efforts. (Remember that at present, recalls are entirely voluntary.) Furthermore, the FDA says it wants the authority to require special preventive (HACCP-based) practices for production of high-risk foods— those foods frequently implicated in foodborne illness. It would create new food product categories, and fine-tune recommendations and/or requirements for selected products.
In addition, the FDA proposes to conduct more actual food sampling, and improve its ability to trace-back products, identifying distribution patterns in cases where intervention is required. Stronger communications with the public are also part of the plan.
By Sue Grossbauer