CHICAGO -- The Food and Drug Administration's new Uniform Food Code, designed to create a single standard for food handling across all 50 states, includes some stringent measures for supermarket deli workers.
At a seminar at the annual convention of the Food Marketing Institute held here earlier this month, Steve James, assistant director for program standards for FDA's retail food protection brand, detailed provisions of the long-awaited code, introduced in January.
The Food Code was created to serve as a model for state and local governments to prevent food-borne illness. Several states are considering adopting it as law or incorporating parts of it into their existing health laws, although none has yet.
The Food Code, sometimes referred to as the Unicode, combines three previous codes into one and sets new requirements in food temperatures and worker responsibilities.
Chuck Stoffers, director of food safety for Safeway, Oakland, Calif., who also participated in the session, said he is pleased by the consolidation of the three documents into one because it eliminates the difference in regulations. He said it will help level the playing field for supermarket retailers who have been competing with drug stores, restaurants and even service stations for some food sales. Previously, separate codes were written for food-vending operations, food-service operations and retailers.
"I have always been a proponent of the Food Code and as a multistate retailer, we cut across many lines, and it is tough to coordinate compliance programs when there are different enforcement practices," he said.
What this all means to the supermarket industry, said Stoffers, is, "it brings more attention to process sanitation and less attention to the traditional structural sanitation when the inspector came in and looked at your walls and reported about the condition of the building."
Although he noted that implementing and maintaining some of the new requirements, including extensive hand washing and reporting of illness to management, could be somewhat controversial, he does see some immediate benefits.
"The reporting of symptoms will allow managers to make [work assignment] decisions based upon health," he said. In addressing how the new code differs from previous codes, said James, "our hot temperatures got hotter and our cold temperatures got colder."
Also, an important new aspect of the Code requires that "there should be a designated person in charge during all hours of operation to make sure that provisions of the code are adhered to," said James.
He said, "a lot of people think we have gone overboard on our hand washing, but when you look at incidence of food-borne illness that is directly related to poor personal hygiene, we thought we had a firm basis for strengthening our hand-washing requirements."
The Code requires employees to double wash their hands and brush under their fingernails after using the restroom, as well as washing their hands after they eat, drink, sneeze, cough, touch their mouths and every time they return to the food preparation area.
Washing instructions call for employees to lather up their hands and portions of the wrist and wash for 20 seconds followed by a rinse.
These are some other highlights of the new Code:
Cooking temperatures have been raised to 145 degrees F for meat, fish and eggs; to 154 degrees F for ground meat, such as hamburger and pork and 165 degrees F for poultry for 15 seconds.
Cooling requirements have been lowered for potentially hazardous foods from 47 degrees F to 41 degrees or less.
Refrigerated ready-to-eat food prepared and held for more than 24 hours must be marked with the date of preparation and discarded if not sold or served within 10 days.
Employees are restricted from contacting exposed, ready-to-eat food with bare hands, and required to use suitable utensils such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs or single-use gloves.
Employees who have been diagnosed or have symptoms of infectious diseases such hepatitis A, which can be transmitted through food, must be restricted or excluded from some work assignments.
Information must be provided on the risks to certain vulnerable consumers about eating raw or undercooked animal foods such as sushi or steak tartar, through brochures, menu, placards or label statements.
Shellfish supplies must be properly tagged identifying the approved source, and records be maintained for 90 days.
Persons in charge must demonstrate knowledge about food-borne disease as it relates to the food operation.
FMI recently completed a new video that includes personal hygiene elements from the new Food Code. For more information call (202) 429-8298.