In FDA’s sixth revision of the Food Code, which has been in place for 30 years in its current format, the 2022 edition provides updated food safety guidance and standards for retail and foodservice operations. Although the Food Code is not a federal regulation, it serves as a model for the development of food safety rules by state, local, tribal, and territorial agencies. The December 28, 2022, update contains key changes of which retailers and foodservice establishments should be aware.
Updated definition and their uses include:
- Sesame is added as an allergen in line with the FASTER Act, which makes it subject to all allergen regulatory requirements such as labeling, training, etc. It also includes informing consumers, in writing, of major food allergens as ingredients in unpackaged food, and labeling of major food allergens in bulk food that is available for consumer self-dispensing
- Nonintact meat now includes meats that are vacuum tumbled with solutions making the FDA definition consistent with the USDA FSIS mechanically tenderized beef rule of 2015. The Food Code also clarifies that cubed and pounded meats are not part of this definition as they are considered to be intact. The standard applies to handling, labeling, and time/temperature cooking requirements
- The phrase “fruits and vegetables” in the ready-to-eat section is replaced with the phrase “plant foods”; “shellstock” is replaced with “shellfish” in many sections; and restricted-use pesticides are now included as poisonous or toxic materials.
The 2022 Code also adds new provisions including:
- A cross reference that addresses allowance for pet dogs in outdoor dining areas where approved and when certain considerations are met.
- A Food Donation section describing when a food may be offered for donation, by establishing new criteria when the food may aid in public health protection. The section clarifies that the food has to have been stored, prepared, packaged, displayed, and labeled appropriately in accordance with the applicable provisions contained in the Food Code.
- A reference for the use of produce-wash testing devices to accurately measure the active ingredient concentration.
- A manufactured food cooking instructions section which includes the importance of their being followed.
One key change that we find to be of significant interest and relevance is the reduction in the standard for the hot water temperature at hand sinks from at least 38°C (100°F) to at least 29.4°C (85°F). Lowering the water temperature has been a long-requested issue, as research has demonstrated that water temperature has little to no effect on overall handwashing efficacy. However, warmer water temperatures certainly make it more comfortable to wash hands and may lead to better overall compliance. This lowered temperature is likely to result in energy savings as well. Described as a “scientifically sound technical and legal basis for regulating the retail and food service segment of the industry,” the Food Code is intended to provide a model for food control agencies to develop or update their own food safety rules to be consistent with national food regulatory policy.
However, its adoption varies among states, with some adopting it in its entirety and others implementing only certain sections. Additionally (as shown in the FDA map above), only 18 of the 50 states had adopted the previous 2017 version, with the others following one of the five previous versions, or not adopting the Food Code at all, as is the case with California, which drafted its own code.
While the continued updating of the Food Code is positive, and necessary to align it with scientific advances, the lack of states using updated versions is somewhat concerning and makes the goal of having consistent standards and policies across states that much less attainable. That, however, may also be one of the reasons that FDA has increased its focus on retail food safety, as we have discussed in recent articles – all the better, as the adage says, to get to retailers coming or going.