Food Protection Connection: 2009 Food Code Update
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(reprinted from Dietary Manager, January 2010)
In November 2009, the FDA issued the 2009 Food Code. This document, which serves as a model for health jurisdictions as well as the CMS foodservice sanitation standards, is updated every four years, with a Food Code Supplement release in the two-year interim.
Although the 2009 edition is not “law” yet for most practicing dietary managers, it is likely a glimpse into the future of sanitation regulations. In addition, it represents best practices supported by current science.
Among the updates in this edition are new designations for the priority level of provisions, the designation of leafy greens as a potentially hazardous (temperature control for safety) food, a stipulation that foodservice employees be trained in food allergy awareness, updates to standards for sanitizing solutions, allowance for new hand drying technology, and a clarification that foodservice establishments should be free of pests.
New throughout the Food Code is a system for identifying the priority of each provision. The FDA has created three priority levels:
- Priority Item, marked with a superscript P, means a provision of the Food Code whose application contributes directly to the elimination, prevention, or reduction of a hazard to an acceptable level. The FDA applies it when there is no other provision that more directly controls the hazard.
- Priority Foundation Item, marked with a superscript Pf, means a provision that supports a Priority Item and requires specific managerial steps in order to control risks. These can be actions, equipment, or procedures, e.g., training employees, keeping records, developing a HACCP plan.
- Core Item, which has no superscript symbol, means anything that is not a P or Pf item.
The language in FDA definitions for these items is the language of HACCP. In many cases, dietary managers will recognize Priority Items as the types of controls often set as critical control points (CCPs). Depending on an individual operation’s flow chart, many of these items can represent the last step in the flow of food for controlling a hazard. For example, endpoint cooking time and temperature standards, as well as temperatures and concentrations of sanitizing solutions, are Priority Items in the new Food Code.
Meanwhile, examples of Priority Foundation Items, which are similar to control points (CPs) in many HACCP plans, include calibrating a food thermometer and using a handwashing sink only for that purpose. In this system, Core Items tend to correspond to standard operating procedures (SOPs), which forms the essential framework in managing food safety.
Also of note in this new system is the emphasis on active managerial control, a concept FDA offers in its publication, Managing Food Safety: A Manual for the Voluntary Use of HACCP Principles for Operators of Food Service and Retail Establishments. As defined by the FDA, this means “purposeful incorporation of specific actions or procedures by management into the operation of your business to attain control over foodborne illness risk factors.”
Cut Leafy Greens
A potentially hazardous food (time/temperature control for safety) is, as of the previous edition of the Food Code, represented as PHF (TCS). Foods in this category can support the growth of pathogens or formation of toxins. The addition of cut leafy greens, such as iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, escarole, endive, spinach, cabbage, and others, reflects strong initiatives to reduce foodborne illness linked to these foods (see Food Protection Connection, October 2009: New Guidance for Leafy Greens & Melons). “Cut” in the FDA definition means cut, shredded, sliced, chopped, or torn. The definition does not include herbs, such as cilantro or parsley. Cut leafy greens need to be stored at or below 41°F.
Food Allergy Awareness Training
You may recall that the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 took effect in 2006, and that the 2005 edition of the FDA Food Code introduced provisions for the person in charge to be able to identify major food allergens and describe what symptoms food allergy can generate in a susceptible individual. By way of background, we know that 11 million Americans have one or more food allergies, which are responsible for 30,000 emergency room visits and 150 deaths in the US each year. While many allergens exist, just eight are involved in the majority (90 percent) of serious allergic reactions and are termed major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish (e.g. bass, flounder, cod), shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Section 2-103.11 of the new Food Code, which describes responsibilities of the person in charge, now specifies that food allergy awareness be included in food safety training for employees.
Sanitizing Solutions & Tableware
Routine sanitizing is a key task in food protection, as contaminated work surfaces is one of the five most common causes of foodborne illness. New guidance refers to the time as “contact time” of the solution with the surface, rather than “exposure” time. Furthermore, the term “minimum concentration” has transformed into a “concentration range,” so we now see both a minimum and a maximum concentration for food safety. A new stipulation cites Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards as well, for better coordination, saying sanitizers should be used “in accordance with the EPA registered label use instructions.” There is also an update to the temperature suggestion for an iodine solution. (Keep in mind that temperature impacts the effectiveness of a sanitizing solution.) Iodine solutions should be prepared at a minimum of 68°F (previously 75°F).
On a related note, a new item allows application of a post-sanitizing rinse for commercial warewashing machines under specific circumstances. Clarification addresses guidelines for preset tableware that is not wrapped, covered, or inverted. Preset tableware can be permitted if unused settings are removed when the client is seated, or if unused settings are later removed, cleaned, and sanitized.
Revisions also state that toilets and urinals cannot be used as a service sink (e.g., for disposing dirty mop water); an alternate acceptable method of drying hands after handwashing is a high velocity blade of non-heated, pressurized air; ozone may be used in food service as an antimicrobial agent on fruits and vegetables (following the Code of Federal Regulations guidelines); and a foodservice operation is expected to be pest-free. For a summary of changes; complete text of the Food Code; and Annexes with rationales, references, and model forms, visit the FDA website.
by Sue Grossbauer, RD
Sue Grossbauer, RD, is president of The Grossbauer Group and the author of many ANFP publications and online courses. She supports foodservice organizations in areas relating to marketing, education, food safety, and technology.