NEW ORLEANS -- Retailers will have to address a significant number of issues at store level, if pending changes to the 2001 Food and Drug Administration's Model Food Code -- the industry's blueprint for food safety -- are finalized.
Speaking at the Food Marketing Institute's 2001 Supermarket Food Safety Conference, Lydia Strayer, chairwoman of the Council of Food Protection, and director of General Environmental Services for the Mississippi State Department of Health, Jackson, Miss., noted the changes include updated best practices for shell eggs, hand-food contact and fresh juices.
Among the most critical are new labeling requirements for fresh eggs, as the government mandates new rules designed to reduce the number of cases of salmonella.
"Basically, federal regulation says that shell eggs that are not specifically treated to destroy all the salmonella have to be labeled to include safe-handling instructions," a FDA spokesman told SN. Also included are new regulations for transportation, arrival and holding temperatures for eggs -- 45 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
Hand contact has been a major issue with the code for several years. Operating under the premise that "hand washing won't reduce contaminants to a level that would render a safe, clean hand," new rules would include support material that relates to a more regulatory approach. There will be further substantiation of the "no bare hand" issue, officials added.
Other key changes include juice regulations, which have reportedly been introduced to the code. According to the FDA, a packaged juice or juice product that has not been pasteurized to reduce potential hazardous organisms must carry a warning label.
"Our greatest concern is protecting the highly susceptible, at-risk population, usually associated with a nursing home or day-care facility," said the FDA source. "A lot of information that deals with eggs and juice relates to those highly susceptible populations who are either very old or young, or immune-compromised."
Elsewhere in the document, the language of date-marking will be adjusted slightly for clarification purposes, said Strayer. According to the FDA, food that has been prepared and held for more than 24 hours must be date-marked so that it is either used or discarded based on a time/temperature that is specified in the code.
But while public health issues regarding time/temperature, employee health and new handling requirements are most significant for food retailers, other contentious issues were narrowly defeated at the last conference meeting, said Strayer.
For example, reduction of the hot holding temperature, currently 140 degrees, failed again in a vote by the assembly of delegates, she said. The FDA spokesman told SN scientists are looking at that issue as it relates to "evaporative cooling," which plays a role in the food temperature dropping further as it sits in a hot holding unit.
First, officials are struggling to put out the 2001 edition of the Food Code.
"I am concerned that it hasn't been issued yet," said Strayer, adding the situation "is bound to cause a lot of contention and hard feelings" for many industry insiders. The CFP meets every two years and, in the past, the FDA Food Code has been revised and reprinted every two years, she said.
"Recommendations with which the FDA concurs will then be included in the text of the forthcoming edition of the Food Code," said Strayer. "Those issues with which FDA does not concur will be brought back to the executive board for further discussion and possible resubmission at the next conference meeting."
The most recent code was issued in 1999 and incorporated the changes of the '98 CFP. Now, with the biennial CFP conference looming in April 2002, it is not known which changes will need to be proposed at next year's conference if the updated code has still not been issued.
"If there is no published Food Code, or it hasn't been put on the Internet for viewing, none of the state regulators or industry experts will know if changes proposed two years ago have actually occurred," she said. "We are hoping that something will be available by late December or by Jan. 1, 2002, so we can evaluate any further changes," she said.
"Every two years is a monumental task. It's a little hard for the FDA to meet that commitment. It's also difficult for state and regulatory agencies that are adopting the code to keep up with the rapid frequency of changes, especially when they might have to go through their own state legislative process to update the changes," she said.
She said a recent survey indicated "most people would like to see a frequency of four to six years" for a new code -- and CFP also prefer that time frame.
An audience member asked how to approach a "definition" for adoption of the Food Code.
Said Strayer, "We need to be about consensus-building. We need to look toward uniformity. We are all after food safety and that should be our goal."