FDA Food Code

Journal of Environmental Health, April 1996 | Go to article overview
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FDA Food Code

The Food and Drug Administration publishes the Food Code, a reference that guides retail outlets such as restaurants and grocery stores and institutions such as nursing homes on how to prepare food to prevent foodborne illness.

Provisions of the Food Code are compatible with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) concept and terminology. HACCP is a system for ensuring food safety that involves identifying and monitoring the critical points in food preparation where the risks of foodborne hazards (microbial, chemical and physical) are greatest. FDA is working to make HACCP the basis for its food safety regulations.

Local, state and federal regulators use the FDA Food Code as a model to help develop or update their own food safety rules and to be consistent with national food regulatory policy. Also, many of the over 1 million retail food establishments apply Food Code provisions to their own operations. Although the Food Code is neither federal law nor federal regulation and does not preempt state or local laws, authority to provide such guidance is granted by federal law.

Prevention of foodborne illness, the primary focus of the Food Code, is emphasized in several provisions. These include:

* detailed charts that give specific guidance for time, temperature and humidity for cooking meat and other raw foods derived from animals. For example, ground meat must be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit (68 degrees Celsius) for 15 seconds to be safe. The cold holding temperature is 41 F (5 C) or lower.

* recommendations to retail managers on how to ensure food service workers' health and hygiene practices (including restricting infected employees), how to clean and sanitize food utensils, and how to maintain equipment and facilities. In order to comply with the Food Code, retail management must be able to demonstrate knowledge of foodborne illness prevention as it relates to their own food operation.

The Food Code also includes provisions for:

* setting time limits for holding cooked foods safely outside of controlled temperatures

* allowing the temperature of frozen foods to be raised, short of thawing, before cooking, which is sometimes desirable for improving the texture of cooked foods

* using food additives safely

* marking the date of preparation on all potentially hazardous refrigerated ready-to-eat foods that are prepared and held for more than 24 hours in a food establishment

* preparing game animals, exotic animal species, and wild mushrooms

* ensuring honest presentation of foods to consumers

* advising consumers that certain foods should be ordered and eaten fully cooked in order to ensure their safety

The Food Code also has provisions for the safety of molluscan shellfish, such as oysters, clams and mussels.

Seven reference sections help users apply the code's provisions uniformly and effectively to their jurisdictions. The sections are:

* compliance and enforcement - shows model provisions on legal due process

* references - cites relevant scientific studies, laws, and regulations by model code section

* public health reasons - explains the purposes of each code provision

* establishment inspections - guides in planning, conducting and reporting inspections under the code

* HACCP - explains in detail the principles, terminology and applications of the concept

* food processing criteria - gives factors to be considered when preparing, evaluating and approving HACCP plans pertaining to certain food processing operations at the retail level

* sample forms

The Food Code is updated every two years, to coincide with the biennial meeting of the Conference for Food Protection.

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